Japanese Customs


On this trip, you will be in a truly different culture: Japanese see the world differently than Europeans and Americans; they have different philosophies and beliefs, and they have different ways of doing things. Their habits may seem strange to us, but ours appear equally mysterious to them.

The main point to keep in mind is that you are their guest. They understand you will not know all the subtleties of behavior of a "civilized" person, and so they will forgive you quite a bit. On the other hand, it ingratiates you a lot to show you understand and appreciate the fundamentals of every day courtesy.

While we can't cover everything in this short space and time, here are some essentials:

  • You really should bow when you are introduced or meet someone you already know.
    Many Japanese who are familiar with Western behavior, will accept a handshake, but it is good to bow.

  • When you speak to someone, or refer to someone in conversation, you should add "san" to their name (first or last), unless they are a teacher / master of some art or skill, then address them as "sensei" (pronounced "sen-say")

  • Gifts (omiyage) - plan to give gifts to the people you meet in Japan; very nice gifts for people hosting you in their home, small gifts for people who help you out or who you want to be friends with. Talk to your escort or guide before leaving for Japan for suggestions.

  • In a home and in many restaurants, you will first remove your shoes before entering; some tourist sites will also require you to remove your shoes before entering. Either you will just wear your socks or they will provide slippers for you to wear. Never wear shoes on tatami (straw mats)!

  • There is no tipping in Japan

  • Never open a taxicab door - the taxi driver will do it from his front seat!

  • As a pedestrian, stay on the left side of the flow

  • Cross at cross walks and if there is a signal, obey it

  • Conisder bringing business cards if you have them; if not, consider having some 'name cards' made up with your name and email address, to give to people you want to get to know better

  • Generally, Japanese keep the bath room (where you take your bath) and the toilet room (where you use the toilet) as separate rooms. The main exception you will find is in lodging that is geared to Western habits.

As mentioned in our "Japan related links", the site http://wikitravel.org/en/Japan is an excellent source of information. Well worth the time to read it extensively.

Also, it pays to be observant: watch how the locals do things and follow their example.