Japan welcomes tourists from all over the world. However, the culture, attitude and language differences sometimes leave tourists confused, especially first-time visitors. If you are planning your first trip to Japan, here are some basic etiquette tips to keep in mind when travelling to the Country of the Rising Sun.
MEETING AND GREETING
As you may know, bowing is customary in Japan. Bow to show respect when meeting someone, thanking them, or saying goodbye. The angle of the bow indicates the degree of respect – the lower the bow, the greater the respect. Don’t worry too much if you don’t get it perfectly right all the time. Some Japanese have adopted the custom of shaking hands, so if they offer their hand, you can shake hands normally. In most cases, bowing is usually sufficient.
The Japanese speak quietly when riding public transportation so they don’t bother other passengers. In Japan, it’s impolite to talk on the phone while on the train or bus, so they usually do so discreetly when it’s necessary. In certain areas of the trains, you are not allowed to use your mobile phone, and are required to keep your mobile phone on silent mode while in those areas. Also, blowing your nose in public is considered rude. If you have a cold, wear a face mask.
SLURP YOUR NOODLES
Feel free to slurp your noodles appreciatively while eating at a ramen shop in Japan. While this is considered rude in other parts of the world, you’ll be surrounded by other people who are slurping their noodles in Japan, so slurp away!
- Don’t play with your chopsticks.
- If eating from a shared dish, don’t use your own chopsticks to serve yourself. Use the provided serving utensil to place food on your own dish.
- Don’t “stab” food with your chopsticks, stick your chopsticks upright in your bowl of rice, or pass food to or from someone else’s chopsticks with your own. These motions are all remindful of Japanese funeral customs and are considered taboo at the dinner table.
- Don’t place your chopsticks directly on the table. Use the provided chopstick rest.
DON’T EAT WHILE WALKING
Food and eating is a big part of Japanese culture. It’s believed that one should sit and eat food properly in order to fully appreciate its flavours and textures, rather than gulping it down hastily. Like Singapore, Japan is one of the cleanest countries in the world, and it’s nearly impossible to see rubbish thrown carelessly on the street. How do they keep so clean? One reason is that they typically don’t eat and drink while on the move. Even if you see tourists from other countries who don’t observe this, you should do your best to respect and maintain the Japanese culture of cleanliness.
WEAR THE RIGHT SLIPPERS
In Japan and most Asian countries, shoes are not worn indoors. In places such as hotels, restaurants, and ryokans, you can put away your shoes in a designated place and will be provided slippers to wear. Keep in mind that in some places, you will need to change to different slippers to go to the toilet. “Toilet slippers” cannot be worn outside the toilet, so remember to change back to your regular slippers when you are done.
KNOW WHERE TO STAND
While waiting for the train, queue up properly according to the lines on the platform, and always allow disembarking passengers to get off the train before boarding. When riding an escalator, there are designated sides for standing and walking. In Osaka, the right side is for standing and the left is for walking. In Tokyo, it’s the other way around. If you forget or you’re not sure, watch where others are standing and walking.
GIVING AND RECEIVING GIFTS
In Japan, exchanging gifts is very common. If you’re staying with a Japanese native or you wish to express appreciation, you should always bring a souvenir from your own country. When you receive a gift from someone, you should try to reciprocate with a gift that’s close in value. You are expected to politely refuse a gift the first time it is offered. When it is offered again, accept it humbly and gratefully. Open the gift in private, unless the giver insists that you open it at once. The gift wrapping is just as important as the gift inside; almost all shops in Japan provide gift wrapping service.
USE BOTH HANDS TO RECEIVE AND GIVE
Observing correct etiquette when exchanging business cards is extremely important in Japan. Always use both hands to give and receive a business card. (The same goes for giving and receiving gifts.) When you receive a business card, study it carefully for a few moments before putting it away in a cardholder (that you have of course prepared in advance). It’s considered rude to put a business card away without looking at it.