Japanese customs are at the center of Japanese culture. Visitors to Japan who are unfamiliar with these traditions are often struck by them upon arrival. In Japan, these customs are taken very seriously and it is important to understand them. Foreign visitors are mostly forgiven for not following the same etiquette rules. That being said, if you wish to really understand Japanese living, here are the five most common traditions and customs in Japan.
Taking off your shoes
If taking part in a class, tea ceremony, or dinner at someone’s home, guests are expected to take off their shoes upon entry. This is one of the most common Japanese customs and traditions and also applies to many ryokans (Japanese guesthouses), traditional hotels, restaurants, and onsens. There will usually be a shoe rack specifically for this at the entrance. In many hotels and onsens guests will have the added option to swap their outdoor shoes for indoor slippers. Join this Japanese traditional tea ceremony to learn more about how the practice intersects with Buddhism.
If there is a tatami mat on the floor, then guests cannot wear any shoes, even slippers. In bathrooms, you will often find more slippers which are to be worn whilst you are in the bathroom only. As the Japanese take their hygiene very seriously, it is not acceptable to wear bathroom slippers in any other area of the house.
Japanese Customs When Drinking at a Bar
When drinking at a bar in Japan it is important to be aware of the typical drinking etiquette. It is believed to be bad luck to pour your own drink so you may find another customer joining you in order to pour the drink for you. This can be a very nice way to start a conversation with the locals. If you are with a group, make sure to pour each other’s drinks. When at a bar it is considered rude to drink before saying cheers. The Japanese word for cheers is ‘kampai’.
Tipping in Japan
Though Western countries welcome and encourage tipping, in Japan tipping is not usually accepted and is sometimes viewed as an insult. When dining in a local restaurant it is best not to leave a tip. Often, waiters will even run after you to return the money! In international hotels and restaurants, a service charge may be added, but there is a general no-tipping rule for local restaurants, hotels, and taxis. If you meet someone who goes out of their way to help you (e.g. a host at a guesthouse) then it is acceptable to offer a small gift instead.
Greetings in the street
When walking around Japan, it is not uncommon to see businessmen bowing their heads several times as they go their separate ways. This form of head bowing is one of these Japanese customs and is the common local greeting. Children are taught to bow at school and it is a form of respect in Japan. It is also a sign of respect to address someone by using ‘san’ or ‘sama’ before their first name. Seeing a foreign visitor trying to gently bow their head upon meeting someone will be greatly appreciated.
Japanese Customs When Eating
When it comes to eating out there are a number of rules that visitors should try to follow. It is not appropriate to eat along the street or on the train so visitors should try to avoid this as much as possible. It is acceptable to walk whilst eating ice cream.
Noodles are a popular delicacy in Japan and a delicious one too. Slurping your noodles is a polite way to show your appreciation for the noodles, ramen, and soups. Join a ramen tour to get the proper experience of eating this Japanese delicacy. Trying to eat with chopsticks is a fun part of Japanese dining but there are a few rules. When receiving a variety of shared dishes, it is important to put the food onto your own plate before eating. Make sure to place your chopsticks on a holder and not on the table.