Japanese Etiquette Tips – Preparing for the Olympics!
When visiting Japan, it is not hard to find yourself a bit overwhelmed by the Japanese way of living. The difference between the Japanese culture and western culture is drastic and can confuse a lot of visitors. Thinking of this, EnableJapan.com created this mini guide on Japanese etiquette. These tips on Japanese etiquette concern the general social norms of daily life. Hopefully after reading this, you will be able to enjoy your trip without any concern and cheer for your country in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
Japanese Etiquette – Bowing
The first thing you will notice when you get to Japan is the greeting. In Japanese etiquette, you will rarely shake hands or have any other physical contact with another person. Things are changing fast, but the safest form to greet someone would still be by bowing. If someone bows, depending on the person, a simple nod will be fine, but try your best to respond with another bow. Sometimes people shake hands, but is better to let the other person to offer it. The greeting will most of the time depend on how well rounded is the other person and how much contact he or she has with foreigners. Either way, bowing is always the way to go in Japan. Better be safe than sorry!
When visiting a friend’s house, some hotels, or even a Japanese style restaurant, you will have to take off your shoes and put on a pair of surippas (indoor sandals). They do this to prevent the dirt from the street from entering. At the entrance, you will find the genkan, a small space for you to take off your shoes. In the genkan, you take off your shoes and position your shoes pointing to the door. Once you take off your shoes, you are not allowed to step in the genkan anymore. The host will likely give you a pair of indoor shoes for you to use, but remember to take them off when entering a tatami room. In tatami rooms you will have to walk around with your socks, so use socks that you will not regret wearing later on. If you think you might have an odor situation, always carry some wet tissues, foot deodorant and clean socks with you.
Another thing that may surprise you when you get in Japan is the respect for queues. Anywhere you go, there will always be a queue and NO ONE trying to cut in. The most common place you will see this is the train station. You will see people forming queues on each side of the door, leaving the middle space for the passenger getting out of the train. This way the flux of people is free to come and go. The Japanese society is known for their respect for the rules and having a culture of being mindful about others, which leads us to the next tip.
Be as quiet as possible in public places such as trains, buses, shrines and cafes. If you get in a train, you will notice that everyone is on their phones or reading a book, always very quiet and calm. You will rarely see someone talking on the phone. To make or receive phone-calls in public places is rude in Japan. You will see signs all over the train and train stations, asking you to set your phone to silent mode and to refrain from talking on the phone. This is due to the belief that you may bother people around you. So, if you need to make a call, excuse yourself and leave the place, coming back once you have finished the call. If you are walking around with your friends, also remind yourself to speak in a volume that will not bother others on the way.
Colds and Respiratory Ailments
With the mindset of being as discreet as possible and not bothering anyone else, please do not blow your nose in public. Loud noises and behaviors are not welcomed by the Japanese society, even when it is about health. Here in Japan you may experience the kafunsho (pollen allergy) and/or colds. When that happens, please cover your mouth and nose with a surgical mask, which is available at every convenience store. You will see many people using it as an act of prevention or respect. If you are sick, please use the mask. If you are afraid of getting sick, you can also use the mask.
The famous over-complicated Japanese toilets, gotta love them! The Japanese etiquette of the bathroom is quite simple. Inside the bathroom are another pair of slippers, to be used only in the toilet room. Always use these designated slippers inside the bathroom, and change back to your house slippers after finishing. Some houses and public places will also have a separate pair of shoes to use inside the bathroom. If present, please use them.
The next rule in the bathroom is the trash. In Japan you must throw away the toilet paper inside the toilet and nothing else! In your cabin you will find a tiny trash can, and everything besides the toilet paper must go there. Also, remember to always flush and wash your hands. And don’t try to push all the buttons! It will be embarrassing for you and troublesome for the cleaning crew.
If you are a smoker, you will find that the Japanese government is trying to help you quit your vice. Japan prohibited smoking in all public areas and streets. You will not get arrested for it, but the police officers will confiscate your cigarettes and warn you about the rules. There are many smoking areas around stations and public spaces. You will also find smoking areas in restaurants and cafes, so don’t worry! Just be careful where you disposal your cigarette butts.
You will rarely see trash on the floor even though there are a limited number of trash cans on the streets. Why? Japanese people keep their trash with them until they get home or until they find a trash can. If you come to Japan, you will have to do the same.
A tip would be to always carry a tiny plastic bag with you to gather all the trash you produce during the day. Remember to always throw the trash in the right trash can-separate into burnables, can, glass and plastic. If you are moving to Japan, be aware of the right days to put out your trash. Every type of trash has an specific day, and you must follow it. The rules change from prefecture to prefecture, so make sure you got all the information you need from your landlord or city hall.
Everything has a time and a place in this world, and your outfit should follow the same rules. I have been to many shrines and temples in Japan and I still can’t believe some of the clothes people wear when visiting sacred places. Keep in mind where you are going and the culture of the place. This tip will help you not only in Japan, but anywhere in the world.
If you are going to a sacred place, be modest and try to cover yourself as much as possible. No tank tops or mini dresses. This is not a way to oppress your style, but a way to remind yourself that you must respect the place and everything with it.
In Japan, a good service is part of the job of the waiter or waitress, so tips are not common in the country. The person is already getting paid to serve you and should not need more money to give the customer a good service. If you leave extra money on the table, the only thing you will give to the server is a headache, since the server will have to chase you down to return your money.
Please remember this rule when you go out with your family and friends in Japan. It is a common mistake, but still a very uncomfortable situation to the staff, that sometimes are too shy or simply not capable to explain the “no tipping” rule to you.
Japan have beautiful bath-houses and clubs called onsen. Some places will provide you with all the essentials such as towels and soup, but it is wise to ask upfront or just be cautious and have it with you.
When you enter the onsen, Japanese etiquette says that you must clean yourself in one of the booths available in the place and then head to the hot-spring and bathtubs. Since you will share the space with all the other customers, there are some restrictions on the entrance of the place due to body exposure or public health.
Since tattoos are still a taboo in Japan, it may preclude the visitor to enter some places. Depending on the place, they might provide a bandage to cover the tattoo, but only for small ones.
Some places may also decline your entrance if you are sick, due to the risk of contaminating the place and spreading the disease to other customers. So if you are sick, please stay in your hotel or walk around Tokyo using a surgical mask, enjoying the rest of your trip.
Besides these few basic rules of Japanese etiquette, each bath-house has its own set of rules, so watch for signs.
Tattoos in Japan are still controversial, depending on the generation of people you talk to and the places you visit. The older generation associates tattoos with the Japanese mafia, and they have a bad image. On the other hand, the younger generation is more open minded and have more contact with foreign cultures, making it more acceptable.
If you have a tattoo and are coming to Japan, you might not be able to enter public pools, gyms, bath-houses, or a hotel’s shared bath area. Some hotels and bath-houses offer bandages to cover small tattoos, but big tattoos are still hard to pass.
Don’t worry too much about it. Enjoy your trip, exploring the culture of Japan and maybe try to invest in a waterproof make-up foundation.
In Japan, it is really common to see pictures on social media where people cover the faces of their friends with emojis and drawings. This happens because people avoid posting pictures of others without their consent, especially if there are children in the photo. So be careful when you take photos in public places and try to blur the images before posting on social media. Avoid taking photos of random people, and also always watch for signs. Some places allow you to take photos only outside of the building, but not inside, so watch out for that before getting called out.
There are several points of Japanese etiquette concerning omiyage (souvenir). Whenever you travel, you must bring something to friends and family. Something as simple as key chains and chocolate, nothing too expensive.
The same thing happens when you go to a new country. You must bring with you something from your country to give it to your host family or friends as a form of thanking them for their help. If you want to make friends in Japan, try to bring something from your country and distribute them to people you like. It will give you a head start in the relationship, and will warm up their feelings about you.
In western countries, it is common to see people going in and out of places with their umbrellas on their hands. This is poor Japanese etiquette.
In front of every store, commercial building or office, you will find an umbrella hanger. The umbrella must stay outside or in a plastic bag to prevent dripping. It helps to keep the place clean and safe to walk around, but at the same time it also becomes a frustration due to the risk of having someone else taking you umbrella.
I hope you have an awesome trip! If you want to learn more about Japan, feel free to explore our website and be immersed in fun and fashionable Japan!