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In Japanese culture, having good manners is highly valued. Honoring cultural expectations and showing respect for others by taking the time to familiarize yourself with other cultures can help to avoid misunderstandings.

Here is a short list of the most important Japanese customs to help you better prepare for your trip to Japan.

street in Japan | Japanese customs to know

When you travel to another country, such as Japan, it’s important to be familiar with local customs.

  • Address Others with Respect

Bowing is a sign of respect in Japan, and children learn to show respect in this way from the time they start school.  After you bow, it is important to greet the person verbally.

Just as a “Mr. Jones” might be offended if you refer to him as “Jones” a Japanese person would be offended if you do not add the suffix “san”, or “sama” to their last name.

Typically, children are addressed by their names, but you can add “chan” for girls, and “kun” for boys if you prefer.

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  • Take Off Your Shoes Before Entering a Home

It is customary to remove your shoes at the door before entering a Japanese home. Shoes worn outside are considered unclean and should not be used in the home. Instead, you should use slippers designated for use within the home. It is polite to wear them.

Be sure to remove your shoes when visiting temples, ryokans, shrines, and even some restaurants.

Japanese room screen

Pay careful attention to etiquette when visiting someone’s home in another country from your own.

  • Practice Good Dining Etiquette

Dining etiquette differs significantly from that of western cultures. It is customary to say “itadakimasu” before you begin eating. This means “let us eat”.

When you complete your meal, you say “gochisousamadesu”, which means “thank you for the meal.” Contrary to western culture, it is not rude to slurp when eating noodles and soup.

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  • Riding Escalators

Because so many people commute daily through train stations, escalator etiquette is critical to prevent chaos. When you are on an escalator, always stand to the left, so that those who are in a hurry can pass to the right.

While this practice is being discouraged due to the number of escalator incidents, locals still follow this custom when using escalators.

Japan Downtown Buildings

Pay attention to the behavior of others in public to get an idea of what types of behavior are expected.

  • Mind Your Manners When Using Chopsticks

While in Japan, the chances are that you may see people eating with chopsticks. It may be a good idea to learn how to use chopsticks before traveling to this country. When dining, never play with your chopsticks.

Never use chopsticks in your rice, or poke food the way you would with a fork. Place your chopsticks on a chopstick holder provided when they are not in use. Do not place them directly onto the table.

  • Tipping Your Waiter is Considered Impolite

In America, and many other countries around the world, it is standard practice to tip the waiter after eating at a restaurant. However, in Japan, tipping a waiter is not customary, and is considered bad manners.

Traditional Japanese tower

  • Blowing Your Nose in Public

In Japanese culture, people are encouraged to function as a group, rather than as an individual. Therefore, doing things that draw attention to you as an individual is frowned upon in Japan. Examples of this include blowing your nose, or talking loudly on your phone while in public.

  • Present Your Host with a Gift

Being invited to a person’s home is an honor in Japan. If this occurs, you must always present your host with a gift as a token of your gratitude. It is also advisable to wrap the gift as elaborately as possible.

Refusing a gift once it has been offered to you is considered rude, but it is good practice to object to it at first. When living with a local, it is good practice to offer a gift from your country of residence for your host to enjoy. Present the gift with both hands.

The gift itself does not have to be extravagant, or pricey. Instead, offer meaningful, or edible gifts. Gifts bearing the number nine, or four are to be avoided because they are considered a bad omen. The numbers four, and nine are associated with death, and suffering, respectively.

Japan gate in water

Final Thoughts

Before heading off on your private jet to Japan to see its many natural attractions, temples, castles, and so much more, you should consider these Japanese customs to avoid sticking out like a sore thumb or offending any of the locals.

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