Bow or handshake, table or phone manners on public places, find out about basic Japanese culture and traditions so you can save yourself from embarrassment.
Don't let them get a culture shock, learn about what to do and what not to do!
The Japanese live by a set of unspoken etiquette, and although they don’t expect non-locals to understand, it certainly helps in interaction when you know the rules of the game. Read on for some pointers so you don’t stick out like a sore thumb!
Japanese bow when they say hello, goodbye or express gratitude. In addition to bowing, it is prudent to address someone properly, with their titles, Mr or Miss. When addressing a Japanese, simply attach the suffix san to their last name, or sama, if you want to be more polite. When a Japanese bows to you, it is polite to return the act. They do sometimes shake hands too, but it’s better to wait for them to extend their hand.
Be early. Not on time but slightly earlier than your appointment time. And if you are going to pass someone your business card, use both hands to present it. It is also a great idea to bring a small gift from your home country, especially if you are staying with locals during your trip. Avoid anything flamboyant; just something simple like chocolates or souvenirs would be greatly appreciated.
On the streets
Don’t be that obnoxious dude that makes a lot of noise – Japanese are generally quiet. They are careful not to use their mobile phones on trains and buses, so switch it to silent mode. Politely queue up when you are waiting to board a train, and if you need to blow your nose, head to the toilet! You will get stared at if you blow your nose in public. You will also see people wearing surgical masks when they have a cold or flu to prevent the spread of germs.
No matter how hungry you are, don’t eat while walking. If you want to smoke, go to the designated areas. You might not find a dust bin to get rid of your ciggy butt, so if you don’t have that little pocket ash tray that the Japanese carry around with them, keep your stub until you see one.
Eating and drinking out
Didn’t your momma teach you table manners? Well, your mom may not be Japanese, but we are teaching you some right here. Prior to eating, use a wet towel to wipe your hands and say Itadakimasu before everyone tucks in! Funny enough, it’s ok to eat loudly or slurp your noodles noisily because it indicates that you are enjoying your food! Don’t poke your food with your chopsticks and don’t pass food from chopstick to chopstick. If you want to pass food to someone, use the back end of your chopsticks to place it in a dish for them. Your food shouldn’t look like a mess at anytime, so don’t leave scraps or bones on the table. Wipe even the condensation of your iced drink off the table! The good thing is that there’s no tipping culture here, and all you need to do to show your appreciation is to say Shokuji o arigatōgozaimashita before you leave the restaurant.
As mentioned above, it is courtesy to bring a small gift along. Nothing fancy, just a token. It is important to take off your shoes when you visit. Usually, a pair of guest slippers will be provided for you to slip your feet into. However, never wear slippers when you step onto a tatami mat.
Keep these basic customs in mind and you will avoid making a faux pas and embarrassing yourself. While in Japan, do as the Japanese do.