Etiquettes and Behaviors, Tokyo
Bow first, then shake hands if offered.
Some Japanese will try to cater to your customs, but most will not feel comfortable performing customs foreign to them (like shaking hands).
Do not blow your nose in public.
The Japanese consider this rude behaviour, which is why you will see a lot of Japanese sniffing, when you think they should be blowing. If you must, do it discreetly, and turn away from the crowd.
Pedestrians wearing masks are not keeping germs in - they don't want to catch germs from others.
With such a large population in such a cramped space, germs float freely - it's a precaution against germs and pollution.
Do not spike your food with chopsticks.
They're not skewers, and they're not fork replacements. If you have difficulty using them properly, ask for a fork. It's more polite to admit failure than to offend by poking things!
Do not pass food with your chopsticks.
Germs - no different than here - within a family unit, sure - you'd feed your kids with your fork, but you probably wouldn't pass food to your friends, would you?
The Japanese store employee is subservient to you. It is their desire - their wish - their culture - their JOB - to make you feel welcome, and to help you with whatever you need. In Western society, we feel compelled to buy if a salesperson is pushy, and feel uncomfortable - but in Japan, it's more important to ensure the customer is happy, than to force the sale.
The greeting ladies at the front of department stores will bow deeply for you - it is not necessary to acknowledge them, and they'll probably be bowed down until you're well past anyway, so they couldn't see you respond.
The common greeting in almost every store or service area is a basic "welcome" - sounds like Irashayimassay.
If language is a barrier, & you need to escape, just say Thank You (Arigato) & walk away.
Unless you're braver than I, look for Western toilets.
The Japanese toilets are like a urinal planted in the floor - I don't care for squatting!
It is considered very offensive to blow your nose in public. If you are heavily tattoed some hotels will not want you to use their pool. Don't play with your chopsticks, there is usually a little stone or ceramic rest to place them on. Try not to pour your own sake, it's good form to let the other person do it (and vice versa).
Here are some of the so many cultural tips you must know before coming to Japan.
TIPPING: it's simple - no tipping.
BILLS: always remember to put your credit card or cash in the little basket on the counter never straights in hands of the cashier.
RESTAURANTS BILLS: in Japan eating and paying do not match. You always pay on your way out UNLESS it is specified at the table that you should do it while still sitting there.
MEALS: you will always get a glass of tea or water when you arrive at your table as well as an
* OSHIBORI: In most Japanese restaurants you will immediately be presented with a hot (or cool in the summer) wet towel. This oshibori should be used to wipe the hands clean before dining
...and how do you know your meal has reached the end? Well, you will be presented with a cup of japanese green tea.
* eating on the street is considered bad form
* 'Viking' meal = buffet meal
* soup is directly sipped from the bowl and slurpping sounds are acceptable also when eating noodles
* chopsticks should not be sticked vertically into the bowl of rice or pass morsels of food from one pair of chopsticks to another, as this is associated with death
BOWING: as it's the japanese custom everyone should do it including non-japanese. It's a polite gesture as shaking hands is not very common.
...AND THE STORY GOES ON IN MY 4 T R A V E L O G U E S !
Note:) I already put this tip in my Japan Page.
The cities may look very modern and Western and Japanese make the country definitely different from any other. The first and most obvious stumbling block is the language, which oftentimes poses an insurmountable barrier to verbal communication. Japanese is not a very easy language to learn, either in writing or in speaking. And while especially the younger generation has studied English at school, a fluent conversation with a Japanese person is not common. The Gaijin as a foreigner is called here. The conduct of Japanese people is often prescribed by strict rules and laws. The fact that a foreigner is in principle not aware of those rules, quite often makes for unexpected and sometimes hilarious situations. One of the most common troublecausers is a question to which the Japanese does not know the answer. Saying no is unpolite, so the poor person starts to sweat, move his face away, sometimes even tremble, and then stuttering out an unintelligible response.
when outside strolling around you should not eat anything. No one eats outside in public. and you don't blow your nose in public. When meeting people a slight bow is still the traditional mark of respect.
The Japanese get insulted if you try to tip them for a job well done. Instead, tell the manager or next in command what a fine job your service person did and comment overall on the high quality of the establishment. The Japanese are a gracious and gift-giving people. If staying with a family, or visiting friends, bring small, high quality presents from your home country. It is not recommended that you try to impress them with how 'Japanese' you can be. You may find teens and young adults calling you 'kawateru' meaning eccentric. Be yourself and observe good manners. If you speak Japanese use the polite neutral forms of speech. It is not expected that you know the intricacies of 'keigo', the highly formal language of courtesy that involves an in depth knowledge of ritualistic Japanese etiquette. I found that t-shirts and book bags from Ivy League Universities made very good presents for young Japanese. Older people may like a fine china or porcelin dish. Best to check with someone in the family about what items from overseas will be most welcome. If you are buying fragrances for women go towards the very light and floral.
lots of cultural tips here. Its ok, the japanese understand that foreigners wont know everything here.
Dont whatever you do blow your nose in public, its very bad!! try and hold it, or if it happens say sorry
Dont stick chopsticks into rice, it represents death
At some places dont forget to take off shoes, the line of shoes at the front should be a clue
Dont get aggressive or angry, the japanese unless drunk will rarely show this
Keep left! This is obvious if you're driving, but it's also important to keep left when you're walking too, especially in crowded subway stations. If you insist on walking on the right, you'd better memorize the phrase Gomen nasai (I'm sorry).
Don't take any crap from the Japanese. They have lived shoulder to shoulder for so long that bumping into others or pushing their way onto a train or bus is acceptable. Unless you want to be left standing on the platform learn to shove right along with the rest of them. Also, if you happen to have to stand in line for something, hold your ground, older Japanese women are notorious for blatantly cutting in front of anyone without a care. Lastly, carry some napkins or a small towel. Japanese eateries either don't have napkins or provide small tissue thin ones.
As an American or European, you will never fit into Japanese society, no matter how long you stay. Look what other people do, and try to copy them, but at the end of the day, you are going to get it wrong. Fortunately, the Japanese are very forgiving of foreigners - essentially you are exempt from almost all the rules of social etiquette that would bind a Japanese native, and you can get away with blunders that no Japanese could ever make.
A few of the more obvious ones are:
a) try not to stare at people on the metro, as Japanese people seem to make less eye contact than Westerners
b) don't shake hands unless they offer their hand to you - they may feel uncomfortable
c) don't try to open or close taxi doors - the driver does it by remote control, and if you pull on the door you might break it
d) there is no need to tip - in fact you'll probably confuse people if you try to
e) don't stick your chopsticks in your bowl of rice and leave them there when you've finished
f) be more polite than you normally would be - that's just the way things are here
My credentials: I lived in Japan for six years; I speak/read/write the language quite well, and I know the culture intimately.
Japanese people are quite restrained and conservative. However, they always make generous exceptions for gaijin, and in fact you will have a hard time finding a Japanese person who will treat you as they would another Japanese person. So, in essence, if you're trying to 'fit in': forget about it.
Most Japanese are very friendly, but very few speak English with any proficiency. Don't expect to be understood without a lot of hand-waving, etc. Some Japanese people think they speak English, but are in fact deluded. Others will be scared to death when they are actually confronted with this reality. If you need to find someone who speaks English, I suggest 1) finding another gaijin, 2) a hotel desk clerk, 3) a hip-looking salaryman (=business suit type), in that order with 3 trailing by a large margin.
You should never tip in Japan.
Language: 'konnichi-wa' (hello: daytime), 'komban-wa' (hello: nighttime), 'oHAyo goZAImas' (good morning), 'GENki des ka?' (how are you [feeling]?). If you want to catch someone's attention, though, just say 'ano...' and draw out the 'o' sound; this is like saying, 'ummm...' Thank someone by saying, '(domo) arigato goZAImas', or just 'domo'. Try to avoid leaving off the 'gozaimas' because it is mildly impolite. Note that 'domo' can also be used as a greeting, but I suggest tourists avoid that usage.
'Where is X?' = 'X wa DOko des ka?' or 'X wo saGASHte imas.' (I'm looking for X)
'I'm lost.' = 'MIchi ni mayoimashta.'
'Where is the station?' = 'Eki wa doko des ka?'
'Give me this.' = '(Kore wo) kudasai.' or 'Kore wo onegai shimas.'
'Give me the check.' = 'GoKANjo wo (onegai shimas).' But in many places waiters will leave the check/receipt near your table and update it each time you order; in either case, you are always expected to bring it up to the register (usually near the entrance) and pay there. Don't expect to be able to use credit cards; many places do not accept them. Bring cash. Always cash. Only yen. Don't worry: it is almost safe to carry around your entire life savings in Japan. I have seen people counting large wads of money on the street. Many people carry around Y40,000-10,000 (about US$400-1,000) in their wallet (I did). However, you need to be a little, tiny bit careful of pickpockets on trains.
Meal prices vary widely, but expect to pay around Y700 for a decent, cheap meal. If you go to an iZAkaya (restaurant, with emphasis on drinking) you will pay Y3000-4000 (about US$30-40). Now pay attention because I'm going to say something important: Westerners are accustomed to ordering a single meal and a drink, and maybe dessert or an appetizer. But that is not how Asians dine in general, especially on a night out with their friends. Instead, they each pick a few small dishes, which are set out on the table, and everyone shares the food. People who don't understand this are often unhappy with Japanese food and complain about the small portions; conversely, if you are dining with a Japanese acquaintance, it will turn into a major faux pas. (I speak from experience!)
However, you will probably want to eat at least one or two meals in a nice, traditional Japanese restaurant. Let me assure you it will be quite expensive (say, minimum Y10,000 for two people, but it can easily go up to twice that much), but worth it. In these places, you can often get an entire dinner course, and there is no need to pick out individual dishes yourself. If you get a chance and have the money, try some SHAbu-SHAbu, which is a delicious meal---meat dipped in sake. Sukiyaki is good too, of course. In both cases, it is worthwhile to have someone instructing you how to fix and eat it, though, because it is not entirely straightforward.
For lunch, you can find relatively cheap meals called 'TAYshoku' at many restaurants. These are set meals, about Y800-1000.
One thing you will learn very quickly is that Japanese people love to drink. There is very little stigma in Japan against getting drunk; in fact, drunkenness is a good excuse for any behavior (including being a pain in the ass to gaijin). Friday night you will find many drunken salarymen riding the trains, passed out on the street, throwing up in the corner of a bathroom or train station, etc. Ignore this; it is a perfectly normal part of the Japanese Experience.
Japanese people drink mostly beer, surprisingly enough, although it depends on the environment. But often you cap off a night with some sake (nihon-shu). There are both cold and hot variants. Try both. BTW, Japanese beer is quite good: I recommend Kirin and Asahi. If you order, you will be probably be asked to specify: bottle 'BOtoru', draft 'NAma', stein 'JOkki' (sizes: big 'dai', middle 'chu').
Things you must eat: saSHImi. Boy, do I love sashimi. Mmmm-mmm! Tuna ('MAguro') is best. Often there will be a 'potpourri' selection, which is 'MOriAWAse'. Sushi is OK, too, but you don't get as much flavor as with sashimi. (Sushi is sashimi on rice...) The good thing about sushi, though, is there are usually pictures so you can point it out. In fact, many menus have pictures, and many (most?) stores have plastic displays of their food outside their entrances.
YAkiTOri. This is chicken on a stick. You will be asked: 'SHIo' (salt) or 'TAre' (sauce). I prefer salt.
Ramen! These are noodles. You really should not pass this up; it's part of the Japanese Experience. There are tons of ramen shops, and many variations, but every place will always have just a plain 'ramen'. Other good ones are 'cha-shu-men' (includes pork) and 'SHIo-ramen' (salty).
O.K., I'm going to devote a few lines now to talk about the Japanese custom of BOWING.
The whole world knows (really?) that bowing is a customary practice here in Japan. While we typically offer our hands via a handshake when we want to show warmth or sincerity, the Japanese preference is to bow from the waist in a gesture of silent respect. Without having to utter a word, a bow can convey a salutation, a good-bye, or an expression of gratitude.
Do you know that there are THREE different ways in which you can bow? Let me start describing them one by one beginning with:
- The Shallow Bow - The 15-degree shallow bow is used only towards people whom we are familiar with.
- The Ordinary Bow - The 45-degree bow is used in most cases i.e. acquaintances whom you come into contact with.
- The Politest Bow - The 90-degree politest bow is reserved for ceremonial occasions such as a visit to a shrine or Buddhist temple.
Have Bow will Travel! Hope you'd enjoy your bowing experience in Tokyo... :-))
Don't you think this is a cool couple? Check out those resplendent typically Japanese wedding costume too! It left me speechless when I was given this pic. Oh, and the beautiful lady in the pic is not me... (Just in case you are reeeeally curious). ;-)
If you ever get invited to a Japanese wedding, please remember some important DOs and DON'Ts. I still want you to remain friends with your Japanese pals AFTER the wedding.
- You are expected to give cash as wedding gift. This act is called Oshugi.
- The amount of money to be given really depends on your relationship with the couple. The closer you are to them, the higher the amount. Panic, Panic!
- The current market rate for giving (average) is 30,000 Yen for a friend's wedding.
- Please ensure that you place the money in a special envelope called Shugi-bukuro and don't forget to write YOUR name on the front of the envelope. These cool envelopes can be purchased at a local supermarket or convenience store.
- And remember to dress in FORMAL ATTIRE when you're attending a wedding reception.
This is a pic of 2 very pretty girls of mixed parentage (Japanese + American Caucasian). So, if you want to know how your future kids will look like (if you're dating either an Oriental/ American, that is), I can't think of a better gauge than this.
Now, let's be serious and talk about Social Etiquette - Japanese Style!
- Unless you've been a hermit your whole life, you do realize that you MUST remove your shoes before entering the home of a Japanese? And in some Japanese restaurants with Tatami (straw mat) rooms. :-))
- The Japanese are by nature VERY well-mannered people... so it is considered terribly impolite to eat or drink something while walking down the streets of Tokyo. If you do get strange glares from them, it's not because you've forgotten to zip your pants or have smeared your lipstick!
- In a restaurant/ cafe/ your host's home, if you don't want any more to drink, leave your glass full. And DON'T ever wolf down your food. I'm sure you'd like to leave Tokyo with everyone loving you and thinking that you're the most well-mannered/ well brought up person, huh?
- DO NOT, I repeat, DO NOT use your chopsticks to skewer food, move dishes around with it and NEVER, EVER dish out food to another person at the table using the SAME ends you just ate from. This act alone is simply UNTHINKABLE and the fastest way to etch your name down as the world's rudest diner in Japanese history! But seriously, use the top ends of the chopsticks instead.
- It is a normal Japanese practice to hold up your rice/ miso soup bowl and place it slightly under your chin to keep stuff from falling. Spoons aren't usually supplied. So, if you want one. just ask. And NEVER, EVER leave your chopsticks standing up (like a flag pole, ya know?) from your rice bowl.
- Oh, and in Japan, don't be too horrified when you see your Japanese friends/ counterparts making loud slurping sounds when they're eating their noodles or drinking their soup. It is considered a NORMAL practice here. So, DO NOT give them this look of disdain!
- Don't be surprised also when you see people making LOUD gulping noises when drinking. Don't cringe your nose in horror at them O.K.? It's considered NORMAL to do that. It shows that a person is ENJOYING their drink.
- It is also considered NORMAL to pay a restaurant/ bar bill at the counter (located usually at the exit) instead of giving your credit card to the waiters/waitresses. So, don't sit there for the whole day and wonder why nobody ever bother to ask you for your bill. Oh, and you don't have to tip in Japan (unless you want to)! :-) That's the BEST news you've heard thus far, huh?
- When meeting up with a Japanese, you can forget about greeting them with a back-slap.... unless you want to be slapped back on your face! It's a cultural taboo to do so (the back-slapping, that is). What do you do, dear poor foreign Traveler?? You BOW, that's what you do!
- It is considered POLITE to put 'san' after a person's name. For e.g., if I see Yoko, I'd call her 'Yoko-san'. And Yoko will in turn call me 'Krystynn-san'. Get it?? If you do so, your Japanese friends will loooove you for life!
- Also, TRY NOT to raise hell on why nobody speaks English, why aren't you being given the restaurant bill or why restaurants are filled with chain-smokers. Entering a typical Japanese restaurant/ cafe/ eaterie is like entering a chimney, ya know? Well, just thought you'd like to know that THE 'health thingy' isn't THAT big an issue here. Yet. So hold your breath, dear non-smoker friends.
- And the Japanese have NO tradition of making sarcastic remarks to get a point across... or 'Bronx cheers' or 'the Finger'. DON'T even try to use them lest you'd be thought of as strange beings! Haven't I already mentioned earlier that the Japanese are, in general, a VERY POLITE bunch of people??
- The Japanese way of gesturing - 'Who, me?' is pointing at their nose, not their chest! And the Japanese gesture for 'Come here' is to put your hand palm out, fingers up, and raise and lower your fingers a few times whilst the Western gesture of palm up, closing your hand is only used to call animals to you. :-))
- All bosses will love to read this one: Japanese office workers will ONLY leave the office after their bosses have done so. Don't you just love to hire one of them?! They are VERY HARDWORKING, I must admit.
- This one's for the women: When a Japanese woman laughs, she'll often cover her mouth with her hand. This is derived from an age-old ancient Buddhist practice that showing your bone is considered unclean. If you're a woman, you're under no obligation to follow this practice BUT you will soon notice how frequently Japanese women do this!
- It's a polite gesture to see a guest (read: YOU!) to the door or the front of a building when you leave the home of your Japanese host. So, expect this to happen.
- TRY and avoid using the 'OK' sign. In Japan, it means money.
- If you ever get invited to a social event (yes, wedding dinners included), punctuality is NOT expected. It is de rigeur to be 'fashionably late.'
- Whether you're handing over your name card or giving your Japanese host/ friends a gift, do so with both hands (and a slight bow) and accept any gifts or name cards (from them) with BOTH hands too.
- Japanese people generally frown on public displays of affection i.e. kissing, hugging... the works! It is considered terribly inappropriate to touch/ kiss someone of the opposite sex in public! So, DON'T do it!
- Greet a Japanese with the usual phrases - 'Ohaiyo gozaimas' (How do you do?); 'Sumimasen' (Excuse me); 'Konnichiwa' (I think that means - Good morning/ Good afternoon); 'Konbanwa' (Good Evening), 'Sayonara' (Goodbye) etc. Hey, I'm writing all this down from memory so... forgive me if I've spelt some of these Japanese words wrongly! I must thank my very talented buddy (and a real linguist. She speaks English, Chinese, Japanese, Urdu, French and German!), Verena for teaching me some Japanese more than 10 years ago!
I hope you'd enjoy your visit to Tokyo after reading this list.... :-))
Note: How come I know so much about the Japanese culture? Er... let's just say that an ex-Japanese colleague some years back imparted his vast knowledge of the Japanese culture to me.
If you don't have any chest hair, maybe go out and get some extensions. People with hair all over their body are likely to get more attention than those without.