If you are going to visit Japan soon or if you are already here, you may know that life in Japan is ruled by many codes and customs.
This is mainly to ensure mutual respect between people and create a good atmosphere. And to be honest with you, it works! 🙂
Indeed, living in Japan is something really pleasant and you get used to it very easily. People are polite and the country is super safe.
But to keep this cool ambiance, Japanese follow some rules and they are not all business-as-usual for foreigners.
Even if Japanese are kind of strict with these things, they are more flexible with Gaijin (foreigners) but if you can avoid to do these 10 mistakes, I’m sure Japanese people will be very grateful and it will help you to skip weird situations. 😀
1. Giving tips
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In western societies, this is something very usual and it’s a way to show satisfaction and appreciation. But in Japan, they don’t see it that way. As they are very organized, they don’t really understand why people should give more money for products or services which have a fixed price.
And most of the time, giving tips is seen as a sort demonstration of superiority and contempt. So don’t send the wrong message and keep your money! 🙂
2. To not finish your dishes
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As Japan is a country with unfavorable weather (to say the least), people in the past didn’t use to have abundance of food. Wasting food was obviously something very bad and inconceivable.
Japanese have actually an expression for that, it’s Mottainai (勿体無い). It basically means the regret of wasting a resource which can be food or something else. Even in their way of cooking, they make sure to use all the ailments and to trash almost nothing.
So if you are in a restaurant or invited at Japanese friend house, make sure you finish your plate to avoid upsetting them.
3. Going in the woman-only car in the metro if you are a man
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Taking the women-only car as a man is a big no go. Note first that this rule is not applied all day long but only at rush hours. People in need of assistance as well as children are also exempt from this rule.
Why do we have this separation? The reason is a quite serious one. Women in Japan are often being groped on by men on public transport, especially in crowded rush hour trains. This has been a huge issue for decades now and you might have noticed posters on the subways that tell perverts to stop as well as some encouraging women to defend themselves. Unfortunately, not so much has changed because many women are ashamed to speak up about it and it is often difficult to tell who actually did the groping in a crowded train. The women-only car is definitely not the solution to the groping problem. But it gives many women the chance to feel more at ease when taking the rush hour train.
So if you are a man in the metro and you feel surrounded by women staring angrily at you, you are maybe in a women-only car.
4. Drinking or eating in the streets
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Drinking and eating in the streets is not common at all in Japan and even if you may see some people doing it, it is something you should avoid. Parks are normally exceptions and you will probably see many people sitting down to eat or drink something. The rule of not eating does also include subways and trains with the exception of Shinkansen.
5. Blow your nose in public or during a meal
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Blowing one’s nose might totally be fine in other countries but in Japan, they are a bit more strict about it. So if you want to blow your nose, try to do it in the toilets or make sure you are far from people when you do it in the street. Or else deadly/disgusted/shocked stares will hit you.
Whether the Japanese alternative of snorting snort back up one’s nose is actually better is of course a completely different story…
6. Physical contact
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Forget hugs, kisses and even hand shakes. If you are a little bit observant, you will probably notice that nothing of that kind will happen between two Japanese people in public. The norm in Japan is to say hello without any physical contact. The usual way to salute is probably to nod slowly. Women often wave their hands to say hello or goodbye. Couples as well as female high school friends might hold hands but that’s about it.
7. Entering a house or a temple with your shoes
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Big warnings here! Indeed if you are entering a Japanese house or a temple, make sure you put off your shoes as a sign of respect, they can get really angry if you forget it. And don’t forget to change into the toilet slippers when entering the toilet (and change back when exiting).
8. Talking loudly in public
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Don’t get me wrong, Japanese people can talk or sing loudly but it would be done in a party or a club but not in public places. So try not to get crazy in the streets, even if you are a bit drunk.
Same thing is true for talking on the phone in public (talking to someone on the phone while on the train is also a big cultural no go).
9. Not respecting the queue
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This is an ultimate rule in Japan. No matter what – respect the queue!
Japan is fantastic because as soon as there is a waiting time for no matter what, they organize themselves instantly and instinctively in a queue. So please try to do the same. Japanese are usually shy so they won’t ask you to do the queue but be sure that it will annoy them if you don’t. On the other hand, it might occasionally happen to you that you start a queue unintentionally…people just line up behind you because they think you are waiting for something they are waiting for as well.
10. Pointing the finger at someone
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The last one is also applies to western culture, because there it’s also never polite to point the finger to someone right? And it’s a bit more important in Japan as they see this gesture as a way to accuse or blame someone.
Japanese people might not even point their finger at an object. Instead, they will use their open hand to point something or someone out (but rather gently, not right in your face).
I hope you enjoyed this article and that it help you to avoid awkward situations while traveling in Japan. If it was helpful, please share it with your friends.
Any other mistake to avoid in Japan? Please tell us.
And to be honest, don’t worry too much about it. Japanese have many manners but they are also open minded and flexible. 🙂
A reminder to let you know that if you are looking for an accommodation in Japan, our portal JapanRoomFinder.com has plenty of apartments and rooms in share houses available all over Japan. Send us an enquiry if you like one of them.