Japanese Customs - How to Act Japanese

Published: 27th April 2009
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Do you want to go on an electronics shopping spree while eating all the sushi you've always dreamed of? If so, a trip to Japan is in order. Before you pack your bags, though, make sure you take some time to learn the basic Japanese customs first, so you can fit in and have a more enjoyable trip.

Respect is one of the most important values in Japanese culture, which is instilled in children from a very tender age. One way of showing this is by bowing. There are different types of bows, depending on the person you are talking to and the situation. If you just happen to talk to a Japanese, a short, fifteen-degree angle bow should do. However, make sure to bow longer and deeper when apologizing or in front of someone superior.

Another way of showing respect in Japan is by greeting other people, especially when they greet you. Common Japanese greetings include good morning (ohayo gozaimasu), good day (konnichiwa), good evening (konbanwa) or good night (oyasuminasai), as well as thank you (arigato gozaimasu) and goodbye (sayounara or jyaa ne). If you are talking to someone, make sure you address him or her by the last name, along with the suffix -san or -sama.

Removing your shoes upon entering a home or most business establishments is also one of the most popular Japanese customs. After taking them off, place them on the rack provided or beside the others with the toe facing the door. House slippers are usually provided so wear these, but remember to take them off before stepping onto a tatami mat.

If you don't know how to use chopsticks yet, this is something you must learn before your trip to Japan, not only since some Japanese restaurants do not provide spoons and forks even upon request, but more importantly because it is the best way to enjoy Japanese food. In fact, it is how Japanese food was meant to be enjoyed. Learning how to pick up food and put them in your mouth using chopsticks is not enough, though. You also have to know that you should never stick your chopsticks into your bowl of rice, rub them together unnecessarily or use them to pass food to someone else.

After mastering the use of chopsticks, you can now move on to table manners, which are also important Japanese customs. If you are offered an oshibori or wet towel before eating, use this to wipe your hands only, not your mouth, face or neck, then set it aside. Make sure you say 'itadakimasu', as well, which is the Japanese equivalent of 'Bon appetit'. Make sure you clear your plate and don't be afraid to slurp while eating your noodles since this is acceptable in Japanese culture.

If you are eating in a Japanese restaurant, place your payment on the small tray provided once you are done. Never hand the payment directly to the waitress or cashier. The same is true in most stores. Also, you'll be happy to know that tipping is not one of the Japanese customs so you can just pay whatever price is indicated without feeling guilty or worrying about being stared at. On the contrary, people will stare at you when you leave a tip since this is viewed as an insult.

Even when bathing, there are still Japanese customs to observe. One thing you should know is that the Japanese usually use the same water for bathing, as opposed to most people who drain or replace the water in a tub after their bath. Because of this, onsens or thermal baths and other public baths are popular in Japan. Keep in mind that these baths are used more like pools, though, which means you should wash and rinse before stepping into them.

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