How much do you know about Japanese manners and customs? Read up on the most important etiquette tips before traveling to Japan.
1. Handling Chopsticks
Make sure to use your chopsticks with respect! Use the chopsticks to carefully pick up food in bite-sized pieces. Never aggressively stab your food or leave your chopsticks just sticking up out of your rice bowl. When taking food from a shared dish, use the chopsticks that were provided with the dish to take the food, or use the clean side of your chopsticks. When you’ve finished eating, place both chopsticks over the bowl or on the plate.
2. Don’t Be A Picky Eater
Japanese chefs work hard to select their menu items down to every perfect detail. When you ask to make changes to the food, it could be seen as disrespectful to the chef. Try to order exactly from the menu as is, and only modify things if you have an allergy need. It is also wasteful to leave food remaining on your plate, so try to finish every bite. In fact, Japanese children are taught to not even leave a single grain of rice left in the bowl!
3. Filling Water/Tea
It is typically Japanese custom for people to attentively watch the drinks of the people they are dining with, and notice when they need to be refilled. Japanese people are so polite that you rarely have to refill your own glass! Try to copy this politeness when you dine with others in Japan – when you notice their glasses are getting empty, offer to fill it or order another drink for them.
4. Show Your Thanks For The Food
Before you take your first bite, remember to put your palms together and say, “Itadakimasu!” which roughly translates to “I humbly accept this food!” All Japanese people practice this way of showing their appreciation for the meal. And, after eating, remember to gently place your chopsticks down, put your palms together, and say, “Gochisousamadeshita!” or “Thank you for the meal!”
5. Don’t Walk and Eat
Unlike in many Western countries, it is generally frowned down upon to walk and eat or drink at the same time in public. It is considered rude, for it creates the potential for an accidental mess. Many stores don’t even allow food or drinks inside at all! Therefore, if you are out in public and wish to eat or drink, find a restaurant or cafe and sit down and take the time to enjoy your food.
6. Forget the Tip
Certainly, the customer service in Japan is some of the best in the world, but if you wish to show your appreciation, you’ll have to do it in some other way besides tipping. Besides, restaurants or other service providers will typically have an additional fee set by their establishment into the bill. So, don’t worry about having to calculate a tip!
7. Use The Tray
When you pay for something in Japan, there is usually a small metal or plastic tray on the counter specially for the purpose of placing your money in it and passing it to the cashier. Be sure to place your money in there, since disregarding it is somewhat rude. Money, like chopsticks, should be handled humbly and with respect. So rather than just shoving your bills at the cashier, make sure you set your flat, unwrinkled bills and coins in the tray on the counter!
8. Present Your Card
At a business meeting, when meeting someone for the first time, it is customary to present your business card (meishi in Japanese). Pull the card out of the cardholder and present it to your new acquaintance by holding it with both hands, making sure the letters face them in a way that makes them easy to read. When the person reciprocates the action, be sure to accept their card with both hands and a small bow. Don’t put their card in your back pocket – that’s quite disrespectful as you will almost certainly just sit on it when you go to sit down – so try to gently place it in your cardholder, front pocket, or wallet in a way that prevents it from becoming wrinkled.
9. Give Up Your Seat
When using public transportation, there are certain seats specifically marked and reserved for elderly and/or disabled people to use. However, even if you are in a regular non-reserved seat on a crowded bus or train, and you notice someone elderly or disabled who is left standing, it is customary for the younger, healthier, more able-bodied person to give up their seat.
10. Take Off Your Shoes
Always take off your shoes when entering someone’s home. Japanese see the outside as being quite dirty, so it is expected that you take off your shoes and slide into some slippers when stepping into a house. This custom is practiced in some publicly shared spaces as well, in an effort to keep them clean for everyone’s comfort. Some restaurants, community centers, temples, and schools often require visitors to remove their shoes and use slippers in an effort to keep the place as clean as possible. Therefore, if you enter a new place for the first time, it is a good idea to scan the entrance for any signs indicating whether or not you can wear your shoes from the outside.