The Do’s and Don’ts of Japanese Culture

Japan is quite a unique country, and the culture may differ greatly from where you come from. So, to avoid any mess ups, here is a list of Do’s and Don’ts in Japan!

Do's

We are starting off strong with some culturally accepted things to do in Japan, which may not be acceptabele in your country!

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1. Calling over wait staff at a restaurant

Tired of waiting for the waitstaff to come to you at a restaurant? Well then Japan has the solution to your issue! Often In western countries, you would sit down at a restaurant and a few minutes later, a waiter or waitress will come over to your table and ask if you are ready to order. However in Japan, the wait staff will often leave you be unless you call them over to your table. In most restaurants now a days, you will actually have a button which you can press, and that sends a signal to the wait staff, letting them know you want  something. However, in restaurants which lack this technology, you have to get the wait staff’s attention, by looking at them and saying ‘SUMIMASEN’ in quite a loud voice. You don’t have to yell, but in some restaurants, you may have to raise your voice if the restaurant is busy. 

2. Take your shoes off when Inside

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This is pretty common practice all over Japan. Shoes are considered to be quite dirty in Japanese culture, and to keep the house clean and tidy, Japanese people often take their shoes off at the entrance (Genkan) of their house. Some people will put slippers on afterwards to keep their feet warm, but other prefer to not wear anything. This wouldn’t make a big difference in your own house, but it does help to keep the place clean! But this is definitely a must if you are staying at someones house.

Often, you will have to remove your shoes at the following indoor locations: schools, houses, temples, castles, Tatami mat rooms at restaurants, or even some restaurants will require you do so. 

If you are the kind of person who likes wearing shoes indoors, then you might find it hard to keep remembering to take them off, but it really important that you do so!

3. Slurp your Noodles

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A lot of us are told by our mothers that it’s rude, or impolite to slurp your food. However, In Japan, it’s quite the opposite. Slurping noodles in the cultural norm. If you go to a restaurant which sells noodle like udon, ramen, or soba, then you will definietly hear the locals scoffing their meal down. Depending on who you ask, you will get a number of different reasons why. Some say that it’s to show appreciation of the food, others say that it’s just what they do in Japan.

It’s actually quite hard for some people to slurp their noodles, but there is no harm in giving it a go and experience some food culture differences.

4. Get Naked in Onsens

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It’s time to strip off those clothes and get in a nice hot bath – but don’t worry, it’s all single sex. Getting naked in a public pool might sound a little odd to you, and it certainly is a little uncomfortable the first time – it may lead to some awkward situations. A couple things for you to remember:

  • Shower thoroughly before entering the bath section – You clean yourself with a shower, washing your hair and removing the dead skin off your body etc, and then when you are clean, then you get in the bath.
  • You will get 2 towels, one for drying off, and a second small tower to cover your junk while walking from pool to pool. Don’t bring the large towel with you, and don’t put the small towel in the water – fold it up nearly and put it on your head.
  • Don’t stare at other people. Some people decide they don’t want to cover themselves while walking around, so please, don’t stare and make it awkward for the both of you.

Don't's

Now, on to things which you may do in your country, but aren’t the cultural norms in Japan.

1. Don't be obnoxious on trains or public places

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There is only a small portion of tourists who do this, and they often give other foreigners a bad name. People who are so self centered and think that they are the only one who matters in the world are among the worst people to be stuck with. Or even ust people who talk a lot louder than the social norm, making everyone in the tight space a part of their conversation. Now I say this purely based on facts and not hatred, but this is a common trait of American tourists. A lot of them do it without even being aware, but generally, Americans do tend to have a much louder voice than what is considered to be normal or an acceptable volume on a train. 

2. Don't dress up in cosplay

When people come to Japan, they think it’s an anime heaven, that everyone loves it and everyone is okay with people cosplaying in public. And this is quite the controversial topic among people, because people have different levels of tolerance when it comes to this. Wearing a themed shirt is perfectly fine, but when you dress up in a full costume with bright wigs and costume bits, that’s when the issues start. Because the truth is – Japan is not oriented around Anime and Manga. Sure, there will be specialty shops, advertisements,  and other marketing materials, but that doesn’t mean people are okay with others dressing in costume and hitting the town. If you are heading to an anime convention – that’s different. But please don’t have anime themed clothes as your everyday clothes in Japan – you will make the normal foreigners look bad.

3. Don't expect everyone to speak English

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The first language of Japan is Japanese (duh) so don’t just randomly start talking to someone in English and expect for them to understand. Although many people have learned it in school, their skills are likely to still be very limited. Some of the locals might even be afraid to talk to you – just because they don’t know any English. There are even bars and restaurants which have a ban on foreigners, not because the owners are racist, but they don’t have any English skills or English materials at their establishment, and therefore will not be able to serve you.  

If you want to speak to a local in English, it would be best to ask this in Japanese first.

‘Sumimasen. Eigo Hanasemasu ka?’ which translates to – Excuse me, do you speak English?

To which they can reply with ‘Hai’ or ‘ Hai, Eigo Hanasemasu’ which means Yes, I do. Or they could reply with ‘iie’ or ‘Gomenasai, Eigo hanasemasen’ which means I don’t. 

4.Don't cross the road whenever you feel like it.

Although in big cities, people walk in the middle of the side streets where cars are infrequent, however, On streets where a crosswalk is located, people don’t cross unless the crosswalk has the little green person – even in the dead of night when no cars around. This is a fine example of the order of Japanese society, and the values of the culture. Although there is no real punishment for crossing whenever or where ever you please, it’s still not accepted in Japanese culture.

5. Don't eat/drink and walk

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Probably the hardest thing to find in Japanese cities and rural areas alike are public garbage bins. If your out on the streets, you will usually only find garbage bins at convenience stores or in public toilets – and recycling bins out front vending machines as well. But the reason why it’s so hard to find them outside their set places is because it’s to discourage littering funny enough. People in Japan know that they can eat and drink at the convenience store and dispose of their packaging there. It is also considered to be rude to eat/drink and walk because people will get the suspicion that you will litter. So if you get some food from the convenience store, eat it there, or eat it when you are in the private sector.

Posted by Off The Track Japan

1 comment

Great read! Really helpful, thanks!

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