10 things that you should know before coming to Japan

February 6th, 2012By Category: Culture

Here are 10 things about Japanese culture that you should know before coming to Japan.

1. Respect


Bowing is an important method of greeting and apologizing in Japanese society. From the time they enter elementary school, Japanese people learn to respect older people — and bowing is a part of that. How deep you bow to whom is important, too. You bow to your friends quickly at an angle of 30 degrees and to your boss at work and older people deeply at an angle of 70 degrees. Polite language is common, of course. When you address an older person, you must always add the honorific “san” after their name.

2. Table Manners

If you are invited to a drinking party (“nomikai”), don’t pour beer just for yourself and start drinking. Good manners require you to lead with the toast, raise your glass with one hand and say “Kanpai!” (Cheers!) Usually, when you take your seat, a waiter or waitress will give you an “oshibori” (small wet towel) for you to wipe your hands with. Dining etiquette is strict in Japan; however, you can make a slurping noise when you eat noodles. That lets the chef know that you are enjoying the meal.

3. Tipping not necessary

In Japan, it is not necessary to tip hotel, bar and restaurant staff, taxi drivers, and so on. In fact, giving someone a tip would embarrass them and is a rather rude thing to do in Japan. It is normal for waiters to give the best possible service to customers. The prices include tips.

4. Chopsticks

You’ll need to use chopsticks when dining out in Japanese restaurants. Japanese people, for some reason, think it must be hard for Westerners to use chopsticks and they often profess surprise when they see a foreigner capably using them.

5. Entering a house

The custom in Japan is to take your shoes off when you enter a house and some companies and Japanese-style accommodation. You’ll often see a rack at the entrance, with slippers for you to put on. Some Japanese people often bring their own slippers just in case. There are also special slippers for wearing in the toilet, so make sure you don’t wear them outside.

6. Face masks

In most countries, you won’t see people wearing sterilized face masks outside of an operating room. In Japan, on the other hand, you’ll see thousands of people wearing them outside, especially in autumn and winter. They help protect the wearer from catching a cold or suffering allergies. It is frowned upon if a Japanese worker takes a day off because of a cold, so these masks are quite important.

7. Order and harmony

It has been said that Western culture fosters individualism. Japanese culture, on the other hand, values the opposite. Japanese people do not like to disturb the order and harmony of the group. Being conspicuous and self-assertive are virtues for Western people, but not in Japan. For example, talking on a mobile phone inside a train or bus, blowing your nose in front of other people, eating food while commuting are considered bad manners in Japan.

8. Japanese baths

There are many spas and public baths in cities and rural areas. The Japanese bath style is different from in the West. First of all, you wash your body before you get into the bath which is for soaking in. The public bath (“sento”) is a great place to relax. Of course, you’ll have to get used to other people seeing you naked.

9. English Conversation

Many Japanese people think that foreign people cannot speak Japanese or only know a little, so they will often try to speak English to them. You may be irritated a bit when Japanese people say “Hello” to you in a strong Japanese accent. Don’t be offended because they are just being humble and trying to be be polite to you.

10. Safety

Compared to other countries, Japan is a relatively safe place. Of course, murder, theft, assault and rape happen in Japan, but when you see Japanese workers sleeping on trains, you will feel that Japan is a safe country.

Source: Harupunte News

Author of this article


GaijinPot is an online community for foreigners living in Japan, providing information on everything you need to know about enjoying life here, from finding a job and accommodation to having fun.

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