Jul 23, 2016
5 Basic Japanese Customs and Etiquette
When traveling to any country in the world, you should most definitely brush up on any local customs and etiquette so that you don't look like an idiot or offend anyone. So I decided to make a list of some basic Japanese etiquette for anyone wanting to travel to, or work in, Japan.
1. House Etiquette
The reasons for the basic etiquette of taking off your shoes in the house includes the fact that a) people do not want you to track dirt into their house, b) many traditional houses have tatami mats which are delicate against rough shoes, and c) traditional Japanese life is very centered around the floor - with low dinner tables and futons being used on the floors.
But if you have a bare foot phobia, worry not, many houses have house slippers for you to use on wooden floors... and some people even have separate slippers to use in the bathroom!
2. Train Etiquette
Sure, quiet chatter is accepted on the trains in Japan, but anything above that is too noisy and you will get the infamous Japanese stare...
And if you have to answer your phone, it's best to cover up using your hand and making the phone call brief (the same goes with having to eat on the train).
However, this is where train etiquette stops - especially in Tokyo. You see, everyone on the train wants a seat - who wouldn't? So... during peak hour, people just jam themselves in, trying to grab any seat they can - even if it means taking priority seats and displacing little old ladies and injured youngsters.
3. Food Etiquette
Food in Japan is very important - meal times are almost sacred, and therefore of course have plenty of rules. So let me just quickly list a few:
1. Saying 'itadakimasu' before a meal and 'gochisousamadeshita' after a meal shows your appreciation.
2. Do NOT stick your chopsticks upright into rice - it's brings up images of funerals where incense is stuck upright in bowls of rice.
3. Do not point at people using your chopsticks - it's rude.
4. Do not eat while walking. Meal times are important in Japan and eating while walking or on the train is considered to be bad manners and unappreciative of the food you are eating. If you do need to eat in public, however, just do the same as with your cellphone and keep it hidden.
5. There are of course plenty more where that came from, but those are just the main ones to remember...
4. Greeting Etiquette
In terms of bowing, many foreigners are not normally expected to know proper bowing rules and therefore, the more casual head nod is usually sufficient. For actual greetings, check out the video above for the most common ones.
5. Gift Etiquette
Giving gifts in Japan is an important part of the social culture. Omiyage (souvenirs) are so common that there are souvenir stores in every major train station in Japan. Normally the best souvenirs to bring people include treats and snacks that everyone can share. So if you really want to impress people in Japan, bring a local delicacy from your country to give to your new coworkers, home stay parents, or housemates.
So that's it for 5 Basic Customs and Etiquette in Japan. If you have any questions, or know of any other basic customs that I left out, leave them in the comments below.
I'm a South African working and living in Tokyo, Japan. I'm an avid traveler and I want to document my travels around Japan and South East Asia.