Short Guide to Japanese Customs

photo by Jesslee Cuizon/flickr

Japanese customs greatly vary from the social conventions of the West. They have quite strict rules regarding social behavior in all aspects of life and though the Japanese people are aware of the cultural differences, they expect visitors to present a high level of respect no matter the place or situation and might easily be offended if the visitor does not respect the local rules. Hopefully this short guide to Japanese customs will help you to understand and learn their ways of behaving before you visit their country. These might seem strange for someone from a Western culture, but it has great importance to the Japanese people, so if you want to be really welcomed, pay attention. 🙂


photo by Jesslee Cuizon/flickr

Japanese people know that there are social differences between their own and Western cultures, thus they don’t necessarily expect foreigners to behave according to their social norms, however, they do expect you to be well-mannered and behave with respect. Among Japanese customs, bowing is one of the most important elements. It can express respect, greeting, apology, acknowledgement and they mostly depend on social status, age. Returning the bow is always mandatory, otherwise it is considered a sign of great rudeness and can be taken as an insult. Regarding men and women, there is a slight difference, and the Japanese learn the way of bowing already from a young age.

Table Manners

photo by wakachan/flickr

Behaving properly at the table is also very significant among the Japanese. Before you start, you always say ‘itadakimasu’ which generally means ‘Thank you, I accept the meal’. In restaurants you usually get a small wet towel which is used to clean your hands, but never touch your face with it. You should also learn to use chopsticks before going to Japan, because asking for cutlery would mean that the food is uneatable and unpalatably hard. You shouldn’t stick your chopstick into the food, nor lick, nor point with it. It is interesting to know that slurping the food is acceptable; it shows you are enjoying your meal. After you finish, put everything back into its place.

House Visit

photo by Debs/flickr

Japanese invite people to their home very rarely, but when they do it is a sign of great respect and you should always bring a small gift. Before you enter the house, you should put your shoes in front of the door, facing it. You will receive a pair of slippers. In rooms with tatami floors, however, one can only enter bare-footed or in socks, not in your slippers, which is understandable, seeing they sit and sleep in those rooms. They also have separate slippers to their bathrooms and toilet which are used only! there. Always wait before you’re shown to your place.

Other Customs

photo by Bert 23/Wikimedia

Among Japanese men it is not customary to arm their wives. Nowadays, however, you can see young Japanese couples walking hand-in-hand. Blowing your nose in public is extremely distasteful; also you’re not allowed to talk on the phone on public transportation. You should also not point with your fingers, it is considered a threat. Japanese people don’t tip, so you shouldn’t either; what you are paying for has already got a price. When making payment, put the money on the tray designated for that, never into the server’s hands. Both at home and in public baths, you have to wash yourself before using the bath, which is used for enjoyment and relaxing purposes only. Also you may not be allowed to enter a public bath if you have tattoos so cover them before going.

There is quite a long list of social conventions to learn; this was only a short guide to Japanese customs. Most important aspect you should be aware of is showing respect in any kind of situation.


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