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Know Before You Go: Mastering Japanese Etiquette

Japan has a rich cultural heritage with various customs that play a significant role in daily life. Adhering to Japanese etiquette is paramount when visiting the country, as it reflects respect for the local culture and traditions. The significance of following etiquette can be understood through several key aspects.

Below are some of the most important customs in Japan, both in public and in homes. As a tourist, you are expected to follow these rules at all times. For extra help, we've also compiled our hitlist of what not to do while visiting Japan.

Japanese Etiquette as tourist in Japan
A lively street in Osaka, Japan

Japanese Etiquette Tips In Public:

1. Quietness in Public Spaces: 

  • It is polite to maintain a quiet and reserved demeanor in public places, such as public transportation, waiting areas, and restaurants.

2. Queueing (Line Etiquette): 

  • Forming orderly lines (queues) is essential in public places, whether waiting for transportation, entering buildings, or at events.

  • Cutting in line is strongly discouraged.

    • For trains and buses, step to the side to let others off before trying to get on.

3. Mobile Phone Etiquette: 

  • It is discouraged to use phones while on public transportation.

  • Bullet trains will have a separate compartment between the cars where you can use the phone if necessary.

4. Public Transportation Manners: 

  • Priority seating is given to the elderly, pregnant women, and individuals with disabilities.

  • If you sit in a spot that is for the elderly, pregnant, and individuals with disabilities, you give up the seat you are in for them.

    • You may need to offer it 3 times before they will sit down.

5. Proper Greetings and Farewells: 

  • When entering and leaving a public space, greeting those around you with a polite bow (Ojigi) or nod is customary.

6. Disposal of Trash: 

  • Keeping public spaces clean is crucial. It is customary to carry trash with you until you find a suitable place to dispose of it properly.

  • Be sure to carry a backpack with you to hold your trash.

Japanese Etiquette Tips In Homes:

1. Taking Off Shoes: 

  • Removing shoes when entering someone's home is customary.

  • Slippers will be provided for indoor use.

    • There is a separate pair of slippers for the bathroom from the indoor slippers.

  • Always bring a pair of new white socks with you everywhere you go.

2. Gift Giving and Receiving: 

  • Bringing a small gift as a token of appreciation is common when visiting someone's home.

  • Gifts are generally offered and received with both hands, and it's polite to express gratitude.

3. Respect for Personal Space: 

  • Japanese homes often have designated spaces for various activities. It is important to observe these boundaries and respect personal space.

4. Proper Seating Arrangements: 

  • Traditional seating arrangements, such as sitting on cushions or tatami mats, may be followed in some homes. Guests should wait to be directed to their seats.

5. Dining Etiquette: 

  • When dining at someone's home, it is customary to say "Itadakimasu" before the meal (expressing gratitude) and "Gochisousama" afterward (expressing satisfaction). Waiting for the host to start the meal is a common practice.

6. Helping with Cleanup: 

  • Offering to help after a meal or gathering is considered polite. It shows gratitude and respect for the host's hospitality.

7. Respecting Elders: 

  • If elders are present, showing them respect and deference is essential. This may include allowing them to lead conversations and serving them first during meals.

What Not To Do While Visiting Japan: Our Hitlist

  1. Do not eat on the go:

    1. No eating or drinking on public transit systems.

    2. Walking/Standing and eating is also discouraged.

    3. Make sure to sit down before partaking in your snacks and such.

  2. Chopstick Etiquette:

    1. Never stick your chopsticks upright into your rice.

    2. Never pass anything from chopstick to chopstick - this is part of Japanese Funeral Rights and reminds people of death.

    3. Never point at people with your chopsticks.

    4. Do not rub your chopsticks together.

  3. Do not leave a tip in Japanese restaurants - this is considered rude to the staff.

  4. Do not wear shoes inside or walk on tatami mats with bare feet. Wear the indoor slippers provided or the new white socks you bring.

  5. Using mobile phones on public transportation is considered a disturbance to others. Wait until you have exited to call the person back.

  6. Do not be late - arriving 15+ minutes early is always recommended.

  7. Do not jaywalk.

  8. Do not blow your nose publicly - find a bathroom or private place to do so.

  9. Hot Spring (Onsen) Tub Etiquette:

    1. Shower before entering the tub.

    2. Your towel should not touch the water.

    3. Check-in with your Onsen for tattoo rules - tattoos are usually not allowed in public baths.

Adhering to Japanese etiquette rules is a matter of cultural sensitivity and a key factor in creating positive and meaningful interactions. It enhances the overall travel experience, fosters cultural exchange, and contributes to the establishment of a respectful and harmonious relationship between visitors and the local community.

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