Etiquettes and Behaviors, Tokyo
It doesnt matter how talented you are with chopsticks..it's better to follow some rules. If you are taking some food from communal bowl or tray, you are supposed to turn your chopsticks unside down and use the part that hasnt been in your mouth, after you put the food on your plate you turn chopsticks back to their proper position. The exception is chabu-chabu and sukuyaki (you put chopsticks in communal bowl with boiling broath, so it's killing bacterias). Also a very important rule-never stick your chopsticks down vertically into your bowl with rice and leave them there, which is done when a person has died. Also never pass anything from your chopsticks to another person's chopsticks-that's done only to pass the bones of the cremated. I found this info in a book about japanese cuisine which i studied carefully before my trip.. indeed a lot of useful things:)
Yes, the main rule to remember when you are drinking with japanese-never pour your own glass. The rule is-in turn one person pours for everyone in the group, so be sure to hold up your glass when someone is pouring. But if noone notices your empty glass..best thing in this situation is to pour everyone else a drink so that someone will after pour yours. Also tricky situation-somebody wants to pour in your glass, but it's full..the right thing to do is to take few gulps so that the person can fill your glass..but because everyone is continuining filling everyone else's glass, you never know how much you drank, which is..very good or very bad;))
In Japan, you don't have to rate or express your gratitude by giving tips in the hotel and restaurant, if you still think of giving them some tips, tell them that you are doing this, otherwise, they will think that you have forgot to collect the money and will put it into the box of donation, then the money will go to Afghanistan or to the WHO.
Japan is an extremely polite country, where shouts of "Irasshaimase" ring out when you enter any shop, and salespeople thank you profusely for making a purchase.
When paying for your purchase, you will usually see a little tray where you're supposed to lay your o-kane (money) or credit card. So don't hand over your cash; instead lay it on the tray and the staff will pick it up.
Ordering food is not as difficult as you would imagine, because the shops usually lay out models of their dishes in the front, so you can see what you order. In some shops, you should be able to get a menu in English, if you ask.
Business travellers should take note always to bring an ample supply of namecards, particularly when you are being introduced to new people. Name cards should be handed over with both hands, with the card facing your recipient.
When addressing people, regardless of gender, you should call them by their last name, and add an honorific -san behind. E.g. Honda-san, Oda-san....
And as you would for any business occasion, remember to be punctual. Always make allowance for travel times, particularly if you're braving the morning crush on the trains.
One very useful word I've picked up is "sumimasen", which could mean anything from "excuse me" to "thank you" to "can I have your attention please". It's especially useful in restaurants or shops if you want to attract the staff's attention.
You would think that movies in Japan would be the same as those in the US of A. But no, it is very different.
The most obvious difference is reserved and assigned seating. Unlike in America where you can just go wild and pick any seat you want, your seat in Japan will typically come with a seat number. It is reserved and a guy with an odd hat will show you how to get there. Don't be alarmed, it is normal.
The best seats in the theater are often in the special reserved area. You pay a little more, but you will be in the center of the theatre, and towards the back. In America, I love the back row and in the very middle. In Tokyo, that is an extra 3 bucks I am not willing to spend.
Odd theatre snacks. They have the typical candy and popcorn in Japan too, but bowls of noodles and beer can be found in some of the theatres, especially the nice ones in the Ginza. Slurping of the noodles is done before the movie, and the theater is dead silent durring. Talking in a movie is strictly frowned upon, as is excessive entering and leaving for restroom trips. Once you are in your seat, sit down and shut up.
Finally comercials play before and between movies, you will sit through hundreds of them.
There are a lot of things a Westerner needs to know about riding the subway in Tokyo. Where to begin? First of all, if you are non-Asian looking, people on the subway will automatically be nervous about you. You are disturbing their chi (a mystical energy, sense of calmness, etc.) Just try to fit in, don't talk to the people on the train (unless you are with someone, preferably a local).
Seating. If you are western and sitting on a seat while Japanese are standing, you will probably get a lot of strange looks (unless you are female, then it is somewhat ok.) Western men are just expected to stand. And if you give up your seat to an old lady who is standing, don't be surprised if a Japanese man jumps into it before the lady can. It is just the culture.
Porn, don't be surprised to see people reading what appears to you to be pornography on a subway. Many of the magazines feature full nudity or sex in them, even comics. It is considered rude to look over someones shoulder at them, and the fact that you are western and looking will make people uncomfortable too.
The most important rule, never touch a Japanese person, especially women or schoolgirls. You are cruising for a beating that way. There are many Japanese perverts on the subway who already touch the women inappropriately, don't be that person. Plus, as a westerner, the locals already think you are going to rape or kill them in the back of their minds. It is just their overall impression of Americans, and they are afraid of them for the most part.
Play by the rules and everything will be ok on the subway.
While most of Tokyo is clean and organized, at Yoyogi Park, there is a small revolution.
You can see artwork of graffitti on the wall. On weekends, there are bands of rockers that do not look like typical Japanese.
With forested areas, ponds and open grassland, it is a great place for family outdoor picnics and activities.
Yoyogi Park was the site of the Olympic village in 1964. Easy walk from Harajuku station.
If you are in Tokyo, you MUST dine in a sushi bar. Not only is raw fish a staple of the Japanese diet and not only is it delicious, but there is an entertainment to the sushi bar that is unlike any other restaurant I've ever been in. Whenever a new customer comes into the restaurant, a celebratory cry rings out from the chefs behind the counter. Whenever you leave, all the chefs yell at the top of their lungs "Arigato gozaimasu!" as you head towards the door. In a medium sized place, this opera of saluting creates an audio rhythym that goes with the artistically prepared dishes and the delicate texture of the fish to delight most of the senses. So, even if you hate the taste, go for a beer and just listen to the sounds.
By the way, if you're eating alone like I often do in Tokyo, sitting at the sushi bar increaseds the chances you'll have someone to talk to over dinner (even if they don't understand you!).
When I worked in Japan, a frequent question around the office was what my blood type was. At first it worried me, especially when the young ladies were the one who asked. But, hey, I didn't know the culture then. I just figured there were sharp objects and they wanted to know in case I needed a transfusion or something... yeah, I am a dork!
The blood type question is usually asked by someone who has romantic interests in a person, as a way of measuring compatability. It is so common that many of the J-pop stars, models, actresses and other celebrities list their blood types on their promotional materials. I seriously saw a campaign poster for Junichiro Koizumi (The prime minister as of 2004) which had his blood type on it.
Every Japanese family has a seal, called a hanko. Japanese sign their documents with this kanji seal, which comes in a cute little case with its own ink pad. You must register the hanko with the government, and thereafter, no document is considered executed until the seal has been placed upon it. However, the government does not expect westerners to use hankos; thus, having married a gaijin, my daughter-in-law can now sign her documents and they will be official. It's much easier just to stamp things with that little seal, though!
The list of unwritten rules runs seemingly forever. The fortunate part is that, as a tourist, you get a free ride on most of them. That should not mean you shouldn't learn, but don't be all that worried about doing something wrong. Pay attention to the locals and you will pick it up.
Here are a few things I learned in the week I was there. I know it was not alot of time, but trust me, I got plenty of important research done durning that time...
If there is a pitcher of beer, don't fill your own glass. Someone at your table will fill it for you. Do the same for them.
Many of the smaller bars require memberships. These can be pretty pricey and often you have to have your own sauce there behind the bar.
Japanese beer often comes in tiny glasses, so look into this before getting excited about that cheap Guinness.
Don't tip. It is sometimes considered rude. Rather, express your gratefulness to the server.
Head, (the foam at the top of your glass), is not pulled from the top of your glass. I think might actually be added to make it look more full. This is common, and was done even by the nicest of bartenders in the city. Don't be offended.
If doing some marathon drinking, make sure to plan ahead. The subways close at midnight. (Don't cancel your trip yet....here's the good part) Many places serve all night. You might be able to party until the first train comes.
Beer in Japan is not all that fancy. If you aren't partial to rice beer, expect to be dissapointed or pay some high prices for imports. One great alternative was the mixture of oolong tea and sake over ice that my new hero Tomoko introduced me to.
There's a proper way to drink alcohol in Asian society. I'll outline the salient points. For the purposes of this example, let's assume you're having an after-work drink with your boss.
You never pour your own drink. Your boss pours a shot for you, and you pour a shot for him. Each of you hold your cup while the other pours. But there's a proper way to do it...
Since he's higher in status than you are, when you pour, you pour with two hands on the bottle (or you can touch your free hand to your pouring arm). However, your boss holds his cup with only one hand.
Then, when he pours for you, you hold your cup with two hands, and he pours with one hand.
When both of you have filled cups, you toast (you can say "Kampai" if you're in a Japanese restaurant) and touch the cups together. Again, since he's higher in status, make sure the rim of your cup is below his rim when the two meet.
Then drink. Again, since he's higher in status, don't face him directly when you drink, but turn slightly away from him. (If you were drinking with someone very high in status, it would not be inappropriate to completely turn away from them before downing your drink).
Of course, some fun results when you have two people trying to out-humble each other. Remember, you don't lose face by being overly respectful to others.
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!
Don't be daunted by the huge crowds using the trains in Tokyo. We have all seen how packed the trains are either in photos, in media, etc. No worries, they have a cool system!
While there we have not felt inconvenienced at all as the Japanese are very efficient and courteous people. After getting off carriages, they automatically get on/stay on the left side of the escalators/walkways. This allows for those who are rushing to go so they can use the rightside of the laneway/escalators, etc. They folllow this strictly!
In Japan, it is NEVER okay to wear your shoes inside someone's home. Shoes are also often taken off inside schools, bath houses, and other public places where it makes sense to maintain cleanliness. Usually a house "slipper" will be provided so where those if they are. When going to the toilet, there is usually a separate slipper you should change into.