Jul 6, 2012
Francesco Agresti

Knowing your Japanese Etiquette

Social behavior and etiquette are considered to be very important in Japan. Many daily customs are significantly different from those of the western world, so we compiled a list of useful etiquette tips to help you feel more comfortable with your time in Japan.

Public Transport Etiquette


One of the reasons why Japanese trains are so spotless is because eating in one is frowned upon. You will rarely catch someone eating something as simple as a rice ball, let alone a full-blown sandwich. However,  drinking alcohol is acceptable. Everyone in Japan sets their mobile phones to silent mode and you should too. Talking on the train is a big no no, so stick to messaging until you leave the train. Applying make-up on a train should apparently be avoided but you will find several ladies breaking the rules during rush hour, so take it as you will.

Table Manners

Did you know that pouring soy sauce on your rice is bad manners? Japanese table etiquette is probably the most complex of all groups so we’ll break things down to make things more digestible (no pun intended):

  • – Always pour your own drink AFTER you pour for others.
  • – Slurping your noodles and soup is acceptable (it shows that you find it delicious).
  • – Say “itadakimasu” before eating a meal and “gochisousama-deshita” once you have finished eating.
  • – It is considered good manners to empty your bowl to the last grain of rice.
  • – It is expected to eat each piece of sushi in one bite.

You can master the way of the chopsticks by watching this entertaining tutorial video.


Public Bath Etiquette


Visiting a public bath or hot spring can be very daunting at first because you are required to bathe in the nude with complete strangers. The image above is pretty self-explanatory but the most important thing to know is that the Japanese take baths to relax, not clean. The cleaning is done by showering on small plastic stalls so you are clean when you enter the bath. You’re sharing the same water with everyone else after all.


Visiting Somebody’s Home

As you already may know, shoes are not worn inside Japanese households. Just as you enter a house you will find yourself at the “genkan” which is a small space just before the elevated part of the floor. Here you need to take off your shoes and then slip into a pair of slippers, which will already be provided. The host will even turn your shoes towards the door to make things easier for you when you leave.

It’s not over yet though because you will need to slip into another pair of slippers for when you enter the bathroom! The only other thing to consider is that Japanese people rarely invite others to their home, so it is considered an honor if you are. To show your appreciation, you should arrive with a gift which usually consists of either wine, cake or expensive fruit.



The above categories are the most common and important aspects of Japanese etiquette but the following tips are also useful to know:

  • – Japanese people may ask you direct and personal questions. This isn’t intended to be rude, but rather a polite way to show interest.
  • – People don’t tend to say “no” as it is too direct. They will probably use “maybe” in its place.
  • – If you are exchanging business cards you should give and receive them with both hands. Once you receive a card, don’t put it in your pocket. Keep it in your hand or on the table as a sign of respect.

*If you want to delve deeper into the complexities of Japanese etiquette, then you can check a whole Wikipedia entry on the subject.

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