Every country has its special quirks and own etiquette. Some things that you might think are totally normal in your country and that you’ve never questioned before might turn out being completely abnormal or rude in another one.
If you want to travel in Japan, it’s better for you to know a bit about the culture and the things to do/avoid doing there before coming. So, here’s a list of some things you should try to do and things you shouldn’t do while visiting the land of the rising sun.
Let’s start with the DOs!
1. Do take off your shoes when entering a house (or any place that has an entrance with a step). This one is the most known aspect of Japanese culture, but I still couldn’t write this post without mentioning it.
2. Try to finish your bowl of rice, to the last bit of it. You can leave a plate unfinished if you’re full, but always eat all of your rice. It’s rude not to do so.
3. Do use those slippers provided to you in the houses/every place where you have to take off your shoes. Also, do change your slippers when you go to the toilet for the ones provided there — and don’t forget to change back when you get out!
4. Try to bring back some souvenirs (especially food) to your Japanese friends when you just came back from another city for traveling. This one is not mandatory, but you will soon realize that it’s a very big part of the Japanese culture to bring back something special from the place you were visiting to the people close to you. You will probably yourself receive many of those presents from your entourage. It’s just a normal thing.
5. Do wash your hair and body in the shower before entering the bath (if you take one at all). The water in the bath is reused many times and for everyone in the house. The sole purpose of those baths are to relax, not to wash yourself.
6. Do try to pay for your own bill even if someone clearly said they are inviting you. Even if you know you’re not going to pay, you should still make the move to get out your wallet, and wait for the person to protest. Only then it’s fine to let the other person pay for you. I’m aware this is all a facade, but it’s a question of mannerism and culture.
7. Do bow when you great/thank someone. Or even if you did a mistake and have to apologize.
8. Do cover your mouth when you are using a toothpick (I’m personally guilty of this one!).
9. Try to lift your bowl of rice (or other small plates) with one hand to make the eating easier.
10. Do stand to only one side of the escalator. The “right side” can change from a city to another, so just follow the people in front of you. DON’T block the entire escalator by yourself, or even if you’re with a friend. Let a space so that people who are in a hurry can climb the stairs while you’re not moving.
And now, it’s time for the things you should avoid doing in Japan.
1. Don’t accept compliments. And that means, don’t say “Thank you (ありがとう)” when someone says you’re beautiful or good at Japanese (or whatever the compliment). Saying thank you is like saying a cocky “Yeah, I know” in those situations. As an alternative, you should always refuse the compliments, either by saying “No no that’s not true/there’s no such thing ( いいえ！そんなことはないです！)” or just by laughing shyly and moving your hands in a “no” fashion. This can be a bit tricky, because when you refuse a compliment, they might continue to shower you with it. But even then, never accept a compliment.
2. Try to avoid blowing your nose in public. I noticed some people don’t mind, but some people do, so just don’t take the chance.
3. Don’t eat while walking on the streets. I don’t know why, but it’s rude.
4. Don’t eat, drink (water is ok) or talk on the phone in trains. Also, don’t talk too loudly, and be careful of the sound leaking from your headphones when you listen to music. And don’t sit on the priority seats unless you are pregnant, an elderly, hurt, or carrying a child. If you do, there is probably a grandma or a grandpa that will have the utmost pleasure to pick you up by your arm and shove you out of the priority seats’ section while saying ‘you’re strong enough to stand up, you young fool’.
5. Don’t point people with your chopsticks or shove them straight in your bowl of rice. Also, don’t pass food to another person’s chopsticks with them.
6. Don’t be too pushy to be friends with people you just met. Japanese take quite a long time to become close friends with others — they value their private life a lot. I always wait for them to make the first move (even if that move is only to exchange numbers, Line ID or Facebook names). I used to be too pushy and they would stay away from me after a few encounters.
Also, if someone cancels some plans with you, try not to ask why. In Japan, nobody asks why. They will tell you why if they feel the need to, but usually, they just say “I can’t go, sorry”. This can be quite frustrating at first, but recently I surprised myself thinking that it’s actually weird how back in Canada we always have that need to say why we can’t go somewhere, even if we have to lie about it. Also, you will soon notice that using the Japanese method can be quite useful; they will never push you to know why you can’t do something, and that’s quite relaxing from what I was used to.
7. Don’t point people with your fingers. You can however point them with your whole hand and palm turned toward the ceiling.
8. Don’t pay if you’re out on a date with a guy (and sometimes even when it’s not a date and just a night out with some friends). Let him pay. He will never let you pay anyway and if he does, it will be a very embarrassing moment for him. You can always give it to him later, but chances are, he will not accept it even then. So, my secret is; put some money in his wallet when he’s sleeping/not paying attention. He will surely notice it and thank you for it, but at least he won’t feel like he forced you to repay him in some ways and won’t be embarrassed. I personally don’t really like that, as I like being independant and I feel like it’s a bit unequal towards the sexes to always make the man pay, but hey, I live here, so I should respect that and go with the flow.
9. Don’t tip for services. Tipping is not part of the culture in Japan, and that waitress will probably follow you outside the restaurant to tell you you forgot your money on the table.
10. Don’t use “Sayonara (さよなら)” when you part with someone for the day. This one is not rude, it’s just really weird. “Sayonara” is more like “Farewell, I hope we will meet again someday” kind of feeling rather than just a normal goodbye. I absolutely don’t understand why every textbook teaches that word, when really, almost nobody uses it. Instead, you can say “Mata ne (またね)” when you know you’re going to see that person again soon.
There are still many things to say about the Japanese culture — I could probably make a list twice as long as this one — but I will stop here. And also, don’t take this too seriously. If you make mistakes, the world is not going to explode. It’s just normal, you’re a foreigner after all, and the Japanese will understand that. Don’t worry too much about it!
Do you guys have any other things to say about do’s and don’ts in Japan? Is your own country very different from this list?