Japanese Etiquette 101 for First-Timers

by Alexandra

Japanese Etiquette (Do’s and Dont’s)

It’s very well known that Japan is a land full of obscure customs and unwritten rules unknown to the unwary foreigner. The code of etiquette in Japan governs the expectations of social behavior in the country and is considered very important. So if you’re planning on traveling to Japan, knowing a few things about Japanese polite society can spare you a lot of embarrassment.

1. Taking off your shoes

In Japanese culture, it is considered respectful to take off your shoes before entering the household. These rules apply everywhere, it doesn’t matter if it is house, hotel, museum, etc. You will probably have a place where you can leave your shoes, like a locker or maybe you will be given a bag in which you can carry your shoes with you. You will be also given slippers.

2. Know how and when to bow

In Japan, people greet by bowing. You will see it everywhere you go. Small bow and nod are informal, it’s for a casual hello among friends. Deeper bows are more formal. The deeper the bow the more gratitude you’re showing. Also, there is a difference between male and female bows. Japanese men bow with their arms at their sides, women bow with their arms straight, fingers clasped. But usually people don’t expect foreigners to know all these rules, so there is a big chance that they would want to shake your hand.

3. Dining etiquette

There are many specific rules when it comes to table manners and there is a part of Japanese culture for decades and you would be considered quite disrespectful if you don’t follow.

You should start your meal with a phrase itadakimasu which is similar to saying thanks for the meal. Eat nigiri sushi with your fingers and sashimi with chopsticks. While eating soup, you should eat solid parts with chopsticks and drink liquid directly from the bowl. And feel free to slurp soup, loudly. It’s actually considered a great compliment.

When eating with chopsticks you shouldn’t use your own chopsticks to pass food around, also while eating from a shared plate you should use the other side of chopsticks for sanitary reasons. Don’t play with your chopstick, rub them or jab them into your food.

You should also avoid eating and drinking while walking, blowing nose in public and you should never leave a tip. It’s not just unnecessary, it’s insulting.

4. Greetings

Greetings are very important part of Japanese culture. There are different kinds of greetings for various situations. But the most basic things you should know are Ohayou for good morning, konnichiwa for basic hello and konbanwa for good evening. You will probably not use sayonara for goodbye because it has a certain sense of finality to it, so it’s better to say otsukaresama or ittekimasu or ja ne.

5. Business

In case you are about to offer someone your business card you should do it holding it with both hands, information facing the recipient. And take theirs with your right hand or both. Spend at least fifteen seconds reading their business card or you will appear disrespectful. Don’t shove a business card in your back pocket and sit on it- that’s considered the height of rudeness. If you are at a business meeting, always wait to be seated by your host. Where you sit is predetermined by your status. If you are served tea or coffee, accept it as it is, which may or may not be with milk and sugar. Take a few sips even if you don’t want it.

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