Foreign Travel Etiquette - Japan

In spite of the fact that Japan is becoming more Westernized, especially with younger people, it is still important to abide by their customs whenever possible. Remember to be polite and respect Japanese traditions.

1. Dress Attire

  1. DO dress appropriately for business occasions. Casual attire in the workplace is not the norm in Japan. For a man, a suit and tie is appropriate and for a woman, a dress and pantyhose is fine.
  2. DO dress conservatively if visiting a temple or shrine.

2. Table Manners

  1. DO eat "family style." Many times at people's homes and at certain restaurants, you will share several dishes at the table instead of having your own individual dish.
  2. DON'T take food from the serving plate with the ends of your chopsticks that you've eaten from. Instead, turn your chopsticks upside down and then pick the food up.
  3. DON'T pour an alcoholic beverage into your own glass. Instead, serve your dining partners their drinks.
  4. DON'T get noticeably drunk at a nice restaurant.
  5. DON'T start drinking until everyone at the table is served and the glasses are raised to toast. The Japanese drinking salute is usually "Kampai!"
  6. DON'T pour soy sauce over white, steamed rice.
  7. DO drink miso soup out of the bowl and use your chopsticks to eat the solid pieces.
  8. DO slurp noodles and soup.
  9. DO keep the bowl close to your mouth when eating noodle soup. This will avoid a mess.
  10. DON'T stick chopsticks into your food or spear your food with the chopsticks.
  11. DO drink alcohol if you can. It is socially important in Japanese culture and you will probably be pressured to participate. If you cannot partake, be ready with an excuse and an explanation.
  12. DO pay at a restaurant if you are initiated the invitation. Splitting the bill is not traditionally done in Japan.
  13. DO make an attempt to pay at a restaurant, even if someone else invited you. They won't let you pay, but your effort, as insincere as it may have been, will make a good impression upon those you are dining with.
  14. DO try to reciprocate by offering to pay for drinks or coffee after the meal. It's pretty common to extend the evening by going out for some drinks or to a coffee shop after dinner. But if you are paying for drinks, be aware that they can get very pricey!

3. Tipping

  1. DON'T tip. It is not customary in Japan.

4. Gift giving and Accepting Gifts

  1. DO give and receive gifts with both hands.
  2. DO give a gift to thank somebody. Good gifts include cake, sweets, and sake.
  3. DON'T open a wrapped gift until later.
  4. DO avoid giving gifts that have to do with the number four. It is bad luck.

5. Body Gestures

  1. DON'T use your chopsticks to point to something.

6. Greetings

  1. DO bow when greeting someone. A bow can range from a small nod to a ninety degree full-body bow. If you are greeting someone with a higher social status, the bow should be more pronounced. For the most part, however, as a foreigner in Japan, you won't be expected to know the specific bowing etiquette.
  2. DON'T say something to the effect of "I hope to see you again" when parting.

7. Bath Etiquette

  1. DO be aware of the communal bathing culture in Japan. Japan has a long history of communal bathing and it can be traced back to the eighth century. There are public bathhouses called sento and hot springs called onsen. There are usually separate baths for men and women.
  2. DO wash yourself outside the bath before getting in.
  3. DO bring your own toiletries, such as towels, pumice stones, toothpaste, shaving supplies, etc.

8. Visitors Etiquette

  1. DO take your shoes off when entering a Japanese person's home. Your host will likely provide you with a pair of slippers.
  2. DO take slippers off when entering a room with a tatami floor. Tatami mats are associated with religious rites and tea ceremonies. Slippers can damage the mats, but you may walk on them either barefoot or in socks.
  3. DO take your slippers off when entering a bathroom. There will be special toilet slippers there for you to put on.
  4. DO bring a gift. It's rude to go to a Japanese person's home without one.
  5. DON'T drain the water after taking a bath at someone's house. Everyone in the household uses the same bathwater. As a guest, you'll probably be able to use the bath first.

9. Business Meeting

  1. DON'T sit until told where to sit. Usually there is a seating arrangement based on professional status.
  2. DON'T stand once the meeting is finished until the person with the highest professional status stands.
  3. DO bring a gift, such as a little souvenir from your native city.
  4. DO show a lot of gratitude if given a gift by a business associate. Ask questions about the gift to show how interested you are.
  5. DO take notes during a meeting and use a black or blue pen.
Even though Japan, especially in the major cities, is adapting more to Western influences, they are still maintaining many important Japanese traditions. Throughout your travels, keep some basic Japanese etiquette in mind to make a great impression!

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