A Beginner’s Guide to Japanese Etiquette

 In Culture

Japanese culture on a whole is very respectful, honourable and modest in nature. When travelling around Japan, a certain level of humility and politeness will be required.

So let’s break down the faux pas to avoid.


1. Don’t blow your nose in public.

This is just one of the simple differences between Japan and the West. Make sure you always go to the restroom and blow your nose privately to avoid some unpleasant looks.


2. Feel free to slurp your food.

Unlike in the west, it is considered flattering if you slurp your food – the chef takes this as a sign that you are enjoying your meal. It is also common for Japanese people to bring their bowls to their mouths in order to eat faster and with a bit less mess, so feel free to do this too while you slurp away!


3. Return your chopsticks to their resting place when they are not being used.

Usually, restaurants will have tiny rectangular blocks for you to rest your chopsticks on, and you should use them. Sticking the chopsticks vertically into your food is reminiscent of Japanese funeral rituals and is therefore considered very rude.


4. Be quiet on the trains.

It is a big no-no to be loud or draw attention to yourself whilst on the train. Eating is also not recommended. It is best to sit quietly on your phone, or quietly listen to music and keep to yourself.


5. Bow when you greet a person.

This will not be necessary for everybody, but if you are being introduced to someone for the first time, or are thanking someone for their kindness, you should bow. To be clear, I’m not talking about a full 90-degree bow. For most situations, a 30 – 45 degree bow will be sufficient.


6. Keep to the left (sometimes).

This might be a tricky one to get used to, but in the east of Japan you keep to the left, and in the west of Japan, you keep right. This is a general rule, so if you’re in doubt, just follow what the locals are doing. When driving in Japan, you must always keep left.


7. Wash yourself before entering an onsen.

If you are visiting an onsen in Japan, remember that they are for soaking, not for bathing. At all onsens you will see a special section before the pool where you wash with soap before entering the water.


8. Do not wear clothes in an onsen.

Swimming costumes or any other kind of clothing is not allowed in the onsens. If you are feeling self-conscious, you may cover yourself with the small towel provided.


9. Remove your shoes before going inside.

Before you enter a home, temple and some restaurants, you will need to remove your shoes. Some places will even give you temporary slippers to use inside.


10. Only walk on tatami mats with socks or bare feet.

If the place you have entered has tatami mats, then make sure you are wearing socks or are bare feet, and that you don’t step on the edges of the mat.


11. Use special slippers to use the bathroom and to go outside.

If you have left your shoes at the front of the building, don’t hunt them down to go to the bathroom or out the back. Special slippers should be provided in both instances. If in doubt, ask your host.


12. Don’t take photos inside temples, and watch for ‘no photos’ signs.

It is common regulation throughout Japan that taking photos inside the temples is banned. This is to respect those who visit the temples as a place of worship rather than a simple tourist destination. There are also ‘no photos’ signs that are sometimes hung in tourist areas, such as in some restaurants and arcades.


13. Line up at the train station.

When you arrive at the platform, look down. There are markings on the floor for where you should line up for the train. If there are two different train lines that run from this platform, the difference will be marked with different colours. Be careful with this – you don’t want to miss out on getting on the train because you stood in the wrong place!

What do you think about my list? Do you plan on sticking to Japanese etiquette rules on your trip to Japan? Let me know in the comments below!


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