Japan is an island country in East Asia, often seen as a land combining tradition and modernity. It is known for its highly structured society, governed by an unspoken set of strict etiquette rules. Here are some etiquette tips to keep in mind for your next trip to Japan.
There are two places to lay your chopsticks down on the table: flat across your bowl, or leaning on the chopstick rest. Never leave your chopsticks sticking straight up in your rice bowl, and never pass food from chopsticks to chopsticks, as both of these mimic funeral rituals and are considered disrespectful. If you want to pass food to someone, use the back end of your chopsticks to place it in a dish for them.
A meal at a Japanese table is not a free-for-all. Politely wait for everyone to be seated before saying itadakimasu (I humbly receive) together. At the end of the meal, be sure to thank the cook by saying gochisō-sama deshita (That was a great feast). Your host will definitely appreciate the gesture.
Give Up Your Seat
When using public transport, be sure to give up your seat to those who need it more, and be careful not to use those seats reserved for the elderly and disabled, as well as pregnant women and those with small children.
Don’t Walk and Eat
In general, walking and eating or drinking is frowned upon, although some foods are acceptable to be eaten while walking, especially during festive occasions. You’ll see most people carrying their takeout in secure bags to eat later, or finishing their drinks while standing at the vending machine. Drinking and eating are also not allowed on public transport, but of course there’s always a rebel now and then.
Forget the Tip
Tipping is not common practice in Japan. Restaurants or other service providers will usually have an additional fee set by their establishment built into the bill. If you do need to give someone cash, say, to pay your home-stay family or to tip an especially helpful maid at your accommodations, place the money in an envelope first.
Use the Tray
Many stores will have small trays to place the money in when paying for an item, rather than handing it directly to the cashier. If you spot such a tray, be sure to put the money in there, since disregarding it is somewhat rude. Another thing to keep in mind is that most people pay with cash, and few places accept credit cards besides the ‘superstores’ or expensive restaurants and hotels. Always be sure to carry enough cash with you to cover your expenses.
Present Your Card
If you have a business card or meishi, present it to your new acquaintance at the beginning of your meeting (bonus points for having it printed in both Japanese and English). Hold the card in both hands when receiving. Either place the card face up on the table in front of you for reference, or tuck it safely away in a business card holder – nowhere else. It’s also okay to ask how to pronounce someone’s name at this point (but never write on the card in their presence!)
Take Off Your Shoes
Always take off your shoes when entering someone’s home. A Japanese home will always have slippers for guests to wear, so you don’t have to worry about getting your socks dirty. Some temples and restaurants might also ask patrons to remove their shoes before entering.
It’s very common in homes, and even in some traditional restaurants, to sit on the floor around a low table to eat rather than in Western-style chairs. For formal occasions, both genders sit up straight with their bums on their feet, legs together. For more casual situations, women sit with both legs on one side, and men can sit in the cross-legged seated position that many cultures are familiar with. Be sure to sit in a position appropriate to the situation.
Credit: The Culture Trip