We’ve already shared a guide on 10 travel tips you should know when visiting Japan, and we hope that had you navigating the land of the rising sun with confidence and swagger. If not, no worries. With the basics hopefully mastered, we thought we’d delve a little deeper into the wonderful and complicated world of Japanese etiquette. One thing we’ve learnt on various trips to the country, is that manners matter. So much so, in fact, that the word has been adopted into Japanese vocabulary as ‘mana’ . This is an umbrella term used to describe all manner (sorry) types of appropriate and inappropriate behaviour in the country. So, we’ve teamed up with Next Japan Travel to offer 10 IDEAL etiquette tips to expect on your first trip to Japan.
TO TIP OT NOT TO
Tipping variations are confusing all over the world, but in Japan, they’re super complicated. The rules of saving face apply to tips, with many staff politely turning them down. But sometimes, especially in larger cities, a token of generosity will be warmly received. Confused? Yep, us too. We consulted a Japanese friend on the issue and the answer was simple; play it safe and don’t tip.
DON’T BLOW YOUR NOSE IN PUBLIC
In the west it’s generally considered rude to sniff and snuffle, with fellow commuters, diners, shoppers and the rest quietly imploring you to blow your nose and keep the noise down. But in Japan, the opposite is true; it’s considered rude to blow your nose in public. So, if you are suffering from a runny one, run to a private place to clear it up.
THERE ARE DIFFERENT TYPES OF BOW
Greeting bow, respect bow, highest respect bow; learn them all and when each is appropriate. And deliver them with frequency and enthusiasm. Of course, some leeway will be granted for not knowing when or how to execute the perfect bow, as you’re a foreigner and not in tune with local customs. But, being able to judge a situation and its necessary gesture will earn you some serious brownie points. As a general rule, a curved back is to be avoided; a straight one very much encouraged.
TAKE YOUR SHOES OFF
Speaking of manners, let’s talk about shoes. Leaving your shoes on when entering someone’s house is disrespectful; in fact, you’ll always see a full shoe rack outside the domestic door. The gesture is appropriate on two levels; firstly, it literally keeps the floor clean; secondly, it denotes respect for your host.
JAPANESE LOVE TO QUEUE
Us Brits have a reputation for queuing, and doing it well. However the Japanese take the act of queuing to a whole different level, waiting in perfectly formed lines for everything – some even say it’s an art form. I think we agree. Even at rush hour, you won’t see people pushing, cutting the queues or breaking rank. When you see a long line snaking around the block, don’t even think about saving someone a spot. It’s frowned upon.
SPEAK QUIETLY IN PUBLIC
The Japanese are mindfully aware that they share public spaces with other people and therefore everyone should be comfortable. Keep your voice down in public spaces and whatever you do, don’t use your phone on trains or buses. Any rowdiness or behaviour which disturbs the zen like calm of the public space is to be avoided. While initially difficult to restrain yourself, you’ll come to appreciate the quiet calm.
DON’T WALK AND EAT
Smashing back a sausage roll on the way to the tube stop is as natural to us Londoners as lions to the savannah, but in Japan, people don’t walk and eat. This is all down to having respect for food, with the distraction of moving your legs while eating considered too casual a relationship with the meal. Taking a seat to eat shows proper respect for the cook, and the grower of ingredients, farmer of protein and so on; an attitude we are really on board with.
Noodles in Japan are gooood. And sometimes you’ll be enjoying them with such gusto that you’ll realise you’ve been slurping noisily. Fear not for causing offence though, as slurping your noodles is totally acceptable in Japan. Encouraged even, It’s a sign that you’ve aprreciated your meal, and running with the same theme, it’s also totally acceptable to drink soup straight out of the bowl. Just don’t do it while moving, or things will get messy, both practically and philosophically.
RESPECT RICE & BE SOY SAUCE SAVVY
More of the same here; the Japanese take a lot of time and care preparing and cooking their rice, as well as growing it, cultivating it and living off the cherished grain, so it’s important you respect it. For this reason, never pour soy sauce over your rice; the white, pure grain getting sullied has symbolic properties better avoided.
TWO HANDS ARE BETTER THAN ONE
When receiving a business card or gift, as well as giving an item of importance, always use two hands to indicate respect and care, both for the product and person. To not do this is to show a lackadaisical attitude to the country, its customs and citizens.