After living in Japan for a few years I have learned what to do and what not to do. Japan is a very traditional country centuries old and there is a set of unspoken rules to live by. Even visitors should know these rules to prevent dirty looks on occasion. Remember you are in their country and not your homeland.
Here is a list of Japanese cultural facts about do’s and don’ts in Japan. How not to offend the Japanese is an important part of enjoying yourself in the land of the rising sun.
- Wait until everyone is served before taking a drink.
- Say Kampai when making a toast. Say it with energy.
- Finish your drink unless you want another.
- Let others’ glasses empty without refilling them.
- When using chopsticks bring the serving size bowls and plates to your mouth.
- Slurp your noodles
- When using a toothpick cover your mouth with your other hand.
- Dip your sushi and sashimi in soy sauce.
- If others are giving thanks for the food then follow their lead.
- If others are giving thanks after the meal then follow their lead.
- Lift serving dishes to your mouth.
- Eat your noodles like Spaghetti, use short slurps not long ones.
- Pour sauce directly on your food.
- Blow your nose
- Accept with both hands.
- Read the card.
- Place in a wallet or purse pocket.
- Throw the card, always place
- Put in a pants pocket or other non-special area such as loose inside a purse or wallet where you can easily fall out.
- Bow if a person/persons bow to you.
- Bow if you are older or the other person/persons superior then rise to the upright position before they do or they will continue to bow.
- With your hands in your lap for a lady or girl and hands to your side if you’re a man or boy.
- Bow consecutive times if the person/persons do.
- Lower if the person is older than you or is of higher status.
- Bow from your middle with a straight back.
- If the person you’re bowing to is older or a superior then don’t come to an upright position until they do.
- Bow to children.
- Bow after a purchase.
- Ask how to use chopsticks correctly.
- Use a fork if you’re uncomfortable using chopsticks.
- Remove splinters from disposable wooden chopsticks with discreet.
- Use chopsticks to move dishes or serve ware.
- Point at anything.
- Skewer the food.
- Use chopsticks to transfer food to another person’s chopsticks.
- Gesture with chopsticks.
- Stick your chopsticks straight up in a bowel. This is for funeral services only.
- Ojama Shimasu is the proper phrase to say when arriving at a person’s home.
- Take your shoes off when entering any place that requires you to step up to enter.
- Take your slippers with you if you’re unsure if slippers are not provided.
- Put on slippers after removing your shoes. (home, temple, school, shrine)
- Ojama Shimashita in the proper phrase when leaving a person’s home.
- Forget to arrange your shoes after removing them, side by side with toes facing the door.
- Ware any footwear on a tatami mat floor, usually light yellow and made of rice straw.
- Forget to bring a wrapped gift when visiting a person’s home. Food, candy, flowers
- Pack using small luggage. Mass transit in Japan does not accommodate large luggage.
- Offer Handicap or older people your seat.
- Take everything you brought with you, don’t litter.
- Keep control of your bags and luggage at all times.
- Set your phone to mute.
- Eat or drink on mass transit but water is fine.
- Put luggage or bags on the seat because others need a place to sit.
- Make noise on mass transit.
- Talk on the phone because this is extremely rude.
- Completely bathe before entering any sento (public bath) or onsen (hot spring) in Japan.
- Take off all clothing before entering into a bathing area including a public onsen.
- Take a large towel or bathing suit into a sento or onsen. Only a small towel is acceptable.
- Have any soap on your body while entering a sento or onsen.
- Put the small towel in the water, fold it, and place it on your head or on the rim of the sento or onsen.
- Be polite and courteous to the cab driver.
- Wait until the door is open before getting into the cab. Door will open when the cab driver presses a button in the driver’s area.
- Show the driver where you want to go by using your phone. However, if you speak Japanese then just tell them.
- Tip anyone in Japan. This is considered rude and insulting.
- Close the door after getting out. The driver will push the close door button from the driver seat.
- Watch where you’re going. There are few sidewalks in Japan so walking in the road occurs a lot.
- Greet people you pass.
- Walk on the left side.
- Eat or drink. This is very rude. Stop if you need a drink of water.
- Smoke, there are Designated areas for this.
- Play games, drivers sometimes don’t watch for pedestrians.
- Blow your nose.
- Talk on the phone
- Keep to the left side.
- Walk up the escalator if using the right side.
- Use the escalator with large bags or suitcases. Use the elevator instead
Enjoy yourself in Japan! Don’t forget to check out my page on planning a trip to Japan here.
Although Japan’s culture may be different from your own, it’s important to conform to a country’s culture so your visit will go smoothly. I know you would want the Japanese to act the same if they visited your country.
Thank you for taking the time to review this list. Please leave a comment below if you don’t understand something or just want to leave an experience you’ve had in Japan that involves culture.