Japan is a country rich in culture, traditions, and customs that can sometimes be surprising and even strange to outsiders. From bowing as a sign of respect to otōshi in restaurants, there are many common senses in Japan that may seem unusual or unfamiliar to those unfamiliar with Japanese culture. However, these customs and practices are deeply rooted in Japanese society and are considered essential to maintaining social order, showing respect, and creating a sense of community. In this blog post, we will explore five Japanese common senses that may seem strange to those unfamiliar with the culture, but are fundamental to the way of life in Japan.
Taking off shoes before entering a house
In Japan, it is customary to remove one’s shoes before entering a home or certain types of indoor spaces, such as temples, traditional teahouses, and ryokan (traditional Japanese inns). This practice is rooted in traditional Japanese culture and is based on several reasons, including:
Removing shoes helps to keep the living space clean and free of outdoor dirt, mud, and other contaminants.
Taking off shoes is a sign of respect for the host and the cleanliness of their home.
This practice has been part of Japanese culture for centuries and is considered an important part of their social customs and traditions.
Shoes can carry bacteria, germs, and other substances that could contaminate the floor. By removing shoes, people can avoid spreading these substances indoors.
In Japan, shoes are often kept in a designated area near the entrance of the home or building, and slippers are provided for indoor use. This is another aspect of the Japanese custom of separating indoor and outdoor spaces and maintaining cleanliness and respect within the home.
Bowing as a form of greeting and respect
Bowing is a traditional form of greeting and showing respect in Japanese culture. It is a way to express gratitude, apologize, show respect, or offer congratulations. The depth and duration of the bow can vary depending on the situation and the relationship between the people involved.
Here are some examples of the different purposes of bowing in Japanese culture:
Bowing is often used as a way to greet someone, whether it’s a formal business meeting or a casual interaction with a friend.
- Showing respect:
A deeper and longer bow is used to show respect to someone who is older or of higher social status.
A bow can be used to apologize for a mistake or to show regret for a wrongdoing.
- Expressing gratitude:
A bow can be used to express gratitude or thanks for a kindness or a favor.
A bow can be used to congratulate someone on a job well done or to express joy for a happy occasion like a wedding or a birth.
Queuing for everything, from trains to toilets
Queuing is showing respect for others and conformity and following social norms. The Japanese are willing to wait in long lines for good food. The Japanese culture places a high value on politeness, consideration for others, and social order, and this is one reason why queuing is a common practice in Japan. There are several reasons why the Japanese queue for many things:
Queuing is an effective way to organize large crowds, especially in crowded urban areas where there are many people and limited space.
- Respect for others:
By queuing, people in Japan can show respect for those who arrived earlier and ensure that everyone is treated fairly.
- Avoiding conflict:
Queuing helps to prevent conflict and disputes between people who might otherwise try to push their way to the front.
Queuing promotes a sense of orderliness, which is highly valued in Japanese culture.
Queuing has been a part of Japanese culture for a long time, and it is seen as a way to uphold important cultural values such as respect, politeness, and consideration for others.
Not tipping in restaurants or for service-based industries
In Japan, it is not customary to leave a tip for services such as restaurant meals, haircuts, or taxi rides. The reason for this is rooted in the Japanese culture of hospitality and customer service, which places a high value on providing exceptional service as part of the job, rather than expecting a tip. Here are five reasons why Japan does not have a tipping culture:
- Exceptional customer service is already part of the job:
In Japan, workers are expected to take pride in their work and provide exceptional service as part of their job, rather than as a means to earn a tip.
- Transparency in pricing:
The price of goods and services in Japan typically includes all applicable taxes and service charges, so there are no hidden fees or surcharges that would necessitate a tip.
- Insult to workers:
In some cases, leaving a tip in Japan can be seen as an insult to the worker, as it may imply that they are not being paid enough for their service.
- Cultural tradition:
Japan has a long tradition of exceptional service and hospitality, known as “omotenashi,” that places a high value on providing a memorable and enjoyable experience for customers without expecting a tip.
- Avoiding power dynamics:
Tipping can create an awkward power dynamic between the customer and the service worker, where the customer may feel entitled to better treatment because they are offering a tip, and the worker may feel obligated to provide better service because of the expected tip. By eliminating tipping, Japan creates a more equal and respectful relationship between service workers and customers.
In Japanese izakaya or restaurants, “otōshi” is a small dish that is served to customers upon seating, typically for a fee. Here are five reasons why otōshi is a common practice in Japanese restaurants:
- Provides a welcoming gesture:
Otoshi is also seen as a welcoming gesture to customers, as it is a small dish that is served immediately upon seating and shows that the restaurant is attentive to their needs.
- Showcases local ingredients:
Some otoshi dishes may feature local or seasonal ingredients, which can provide customers with a taste of the region and create a sense of authenticity and uniqueness for the restaurant.
- Enhances the dining experience:
Otoshi can enhance the overall dining experience by providing customers with a small taste of the restaurant’s cuisine, setting the tone for the meal, and creating a sense of anticipation and excitement for what’s to come.
- Covers the cost of table service:
In Japan, otoshi is often used to cover the cost of table service, which includes things like bringing water, clearing dishes, and other general upkeep of the table.
- Supports the restaurant’s revenue:
Otoshi can provide an additional source of revenue for restaurants, which is especially important in a highly competitive industry like the restaurant business.
In Japan, exceptional customer service is the norm, and workers take pride in their work and strive to provide the best service possible, without the expectation of a tip. This service-oriented approach, known as “omotenashi,” is a fundamental aspect of Japanese culture and is seen as a way to create a memorable and enjoyable experience for customers.
The unique customs and common senses of Japan are based on a deep sense of respect, consideration for others, and a commitment to providing exceptional service and hospitality. These values are deeply ingrained in the culture and create a unique and memorable experience for those who visit Japan.