Japanese Etiquette: A Crash Course in Customs

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Japan is often regarded as one of the most polite countries on the planet. That’s because they are taught from birth to think of the well-being of others. The result is a harmonious and polite society where you can leave your laptop out at a café while running to the bathroom and find it exactly as you left it or leave your bicycle outside without locking it up and knowing it will be there when you return.

In order to keep the peace and harmony here, take this brief crash course in Japanese etiquette that covers the basics so you can avoid embarrassment.

  1. Always remove your shoes

You’ll find that everywhere you go, you’ll be required to remove your shoes and slip into slippers that will be provided for you. If you’re not sure what to do, just watch what others are doing and follow suit. You’ll have to do this everywhere but in the name of all that is holy never wear shoes on tatami mats. Again, watch what everyone else is doing!

  1. Learn the art of the bow

Bowing is a sign of respect to express thankfulness or apology. You can get away with a slight bow or a nod of the head. But as the Japanese are really in tune with making things comfortable, usually when they meet a foreigner, they’ll shake hands which will take the complexities out of the bowing process.

  1. Eat like the Japanese

Unlike Western culture, in Japan, slurping noodles or soup is a sign of appreciation for the food. So be noisy! With chopsticks, don’t stick them straight up in your bowl or pass food with them. And never rub them together!

  1. No tipping

There is no tipping in Japan. In fact, you’ll wind up offending someone. Should you leave extra money on your table at the end of a meal, they will chase you down to return it to you. Just don’t.

  1. Be on time

Japanese people are punctual. If you have a meeting or meal with a Japanese person and show up late, it’s considered very rude.

  1. Take care of business right

Business cards should be both given and received at the beginning of a meeting with both hands and a bow. Treat it just like gold even if you can’t read a single thing on it.

Japanese customs and etiquette is extremely complex but thankfully, Japanese people are too polite to criticize you. Just do your best and learn from your observations to master the art of Japanese etiquette.

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