Cultural Etiquette: Dos and Don’ts When Visiting Japan

ByJustin Hanus
Apr 19, 2021

Cultural Etiquette: Dos and Don’ts When Visiting Japan

There are major differences between Japan and western countries, many of which are apparent in everyday life. Since the last thing you want is to be a nuisance, it’s crucial to learn the basic dos and don’ts beforehand.

Do: Bring a Small Gift

Bring some small gifts from your country to give people you meet. There’s no need for these to be anything expensive — just something traditional from where you live (such as food or drink) is perfect. Bring enough to give the hosts at the places you stay, your travel guides, and people who provide an exceptional experience for you.

Don’t: Be Loud

Making a lot of noise is considered disruptive in Japanese culture. Keep your cell phone on silent and make sure you never talk too loudly in public places, such as on trains. Bear in mind that your normal speaking voice may be loud by Japanese standards — a good rule of thumb is to talk as if you were at a museum.

Do: Flag Down Your Waiter

Unless you’re at a restaurant aimed specifically at tourists, you can expect the wait service to be different than what you’re used to. If you want to order something else, flag down the waiter.

Don’t: Talk to Strangers

Outside social events, avoid talking to strangers unless you absolutely have to. In fact, you shouldn’t even smile at strangers. If you come from the kind of place where it’s common to greet everyone you see as you walk down the street, this may seem odd; however, in Japan, smiling at strangers will make you appear to be suspicious of those around you.

Do: Learn Chopstick Etiquette

There are a few things to bear in mind to ensure you’re using chopsticks politely. First, never rub them together — it’s unnecessary (chopsticks don’t give you splinters) and very rude. Also, never pass anyone food with your chopsticks (this would not be easy anyway), and never point your chopsticks at anyone. Finally, make sure you don’t leave your chopsticks sticking straight out of your rice bowl, as this would be considered offensive to one’s ancestors.

Don’t: Close Taxi Doors Yourself

Most taxis in Japan have doors that automatically close behind you — plus, you’ll notice that doors open automatically when you approach. For this reason, you should never try to close taxi doors yourself.

Do: Offer Elderly People Your Seat

To offer an older adult or a pregnant woman your seat on public transit, it’s a good idea to stand up to clear the space. Otherwise, the person may feel embarrassed about accepting.

Don’t: Wear Something with Kanji on It Unless You Know the Meaning

This is more important for purchases that you make outside Japan and bring into the country. If you don’t know the meaning of the kanji, you could unwittingly be wearing clothing that says something offensive or ridiculous.

This list of dos and don’ts may be long, but they’re all simple and easy to remember. You’ll find that following cultural etiquette makes a huge difference in your stay in Japan — both for yourself and everyone you encounter.

Karl Baron, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

About the author

Justin Hanus editor

1 comment so far

Chris GerlachPosted on11:00 am - May 3, 2021

Some additional important points of polite activity in Japan.

1. Bowing is part of daily life, and polite to do and to acknowledge.
2. When visiting always greet your host and when leaving thank them.
3. Be mindful that motorcycles and bicycles are legal on sidewalks in many places and you are responsible if you cause an accident with a rider.
4. that brings to mind, the Police will require you to apologize to anyone in any incident that you get involved with them in.
5. Learn the correct use of honorifics and use it always.

Leave a Reply