Asia | Tips

September 4, 2017

Etiquette Tips for Your Japan Trip

Japan’s traditional culture and values are two things that make it a compelling destination. Below, we share a few etiquette tips you need to take note of before you depart for Japan.

How to say hello

Meeting with new friends in Japan? Remember to bow politely when you greet them. Bowing is also expected when you want to show your gratitude or when you’re saying goodbye. Shaking hands isn’t a common gesture, so it’s best to wait for your new Japanese friend to offer their hand before you offer yours.

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In business or formal settings, exchanging of business cards is an important part of introductions. Note that it’s best to use both hands when giving and receiving cards, which also goes the same way

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If you’re doing a homestay with a local family, it will be appreciated if you bring a small token from your home country. It need not be expensive, it can be something simple like souvenir magnets or key rings, maybe some treats only available in your country. Using both hands for giving and receiving gifts is also common courtesy.

Entering homes, ryokan, and historic sites

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Remove your footwear before entering a private home, a ryokan, or a historic site such as a temple hall. You are also expected to do this in restaurants with tatami mats. Leave your shoes by the door, where there will be shelves for your shoes.

Dining and drinking

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The most important rule in terms of dining is to never leave your chopsticks standing upright in a bowl of rice and never pass food from chopsticks to chopsticks, as these are traditionally associated with funeral rituals and the dead. If you need to lay them down, do so by laying your chopsticks flat across your bowl or putting them on the chopstick rest.

You should also avoid playing with your chopsticks, using them to move dishes around, to skewer food, or use them to point or wave at somebody. It is also considered rude to dish out food to another person using the same ends you ate with.

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You can express your appreciation for a meal by saying itadakimas before eating and gochisosama despite after eating. Saying oishi is also a nice touch.

Unlike other destinations, slurping your noodles in Japan is common practice. If you’re out drinking, it is customary for you to pour out the drink for your companion and for your companion to pour out your drink for you. Should you be done with drinking, leave your glass full so your companion will no longer refill it for you.

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Tipping is not common practice, but you will be expected to bring the bill to the cashier (who is usually located by the exit) and pay as you leave. In other restaurants, there can be a meal ticket system where you get a ticket from the vending machine located at the restaurant entrance, then hand it over to the staff as you enter.

Need a quick meal? Get some take-out if needed, but avoid eating or drinking while walking. It is also considered disrespectful to eat or drink on public transportation.


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One of Japan’s highlights is its long list of Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines worth visiting. While these are open for all, take note that these are more than just landmarks, they are religious sites. Dress respectfully when visiting temples and shrines, keep your voice low, and respect areas that are clearly marked as off-limits.

If you wish to participate in temple rituals, you can do so by lighting and burning incense. Extinguish the flame by waving your hand instead of blowing it out, then fan the smoke towards you. The Japanese believe that the smoke has a healing power.

You can expect a purification fountain near a shrine’s entrance, where you are expected to fill a ladle with water and rinse both hands. Afterwards, transfer some of the water into your mouth for rinsing. Do not swallow the water or spit it back to the fountain, you should spit it outside the fountain.

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Photography is usually allowed on most temple and shrine grounds, but there are instances where indoor photography is forbidden. Keep an eye out for signs before snapping photos.

When you’re riding a train or a bus on the way to sightseeing, avoid talking on your mobile as this is considered to be disrespectful. For appointments made, make sure you arrive on time or even earlier than the agreed time.

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