Japan “Do’s & Don’ts”

2 Apr

In tourist books, and especially online, there are many lists of Japanese manners “do’s and don’ts”.

Honestly, most of the things on those lists aren’t important! Some are only applicable in certain situations and others aren’t really important…even many Japanese don’t follow them.

For example, it’s commonly written on those “Japan do and don’t” list that have been compiled by non-Japanese:
– Do not put soy sauce on your rice
and – make slurping sounds when you’re eating noodles

In actuality, no one in Japan would care if foreign visitors put soy sauce on their rice, or ate their noodles silently.

Other common ones on those types of lists are:
– Don’t pour your own drink.
and – It’s insulting to leave a tip.

It’s true that if you go out with friends or co-workers and order beer in a large bottle or pitcher in Japan, you should pour for others and they will offer to pour yours. But…if your glass gets empty and your pour your own beer, it’s not “rude”.

And then, many of those books and websites often tell visitors to Japan that they must learn and follow some customs that even many Japanese people don’t bother with.
Such as how to clean your hands and mouth before enter a Japanese shrine.
Really, a lot of people (if not most) in Japan don’t even bother with that custom.

I’d say that if you come to Japan as a visitor, no one would expect you to know the myriad of customs and manners that are “common-sense” to people raised here (and become “common-sense” to those who have lived here a long time).

Here are the Japanese manners and customs that I’d say are the most important for visitors to know:

  • Don’t leave chopsticks directly into food, especially rice.

    Don’t do this! It’s shocking to Japanese people.

  • Don’t point with chopsticks (or with a fork, etc).
  • Don’t touch other people’s chopsticks (or fork) with your own.
  • Don’t pass food from one pair of chopsticks to another.
  • If there is a sauce for dipping food into, don’t dip a piece of food into it after you’ve taken a bite of it.
  • Don’t wear shoes indoors in a house…and many restaurants, clinics, schools, temples, etc.
    (It may be difficult for visitors to Japan to be sure where / when to remove their shoes or slippers. In general, if the floor has a step-up or a step-down, shoes must be taken off (or put on, when exiting). Also, no shoes or even slippers are worn on tatami flooring.)
  • When riding a escalator, people who want walk up or down the escalator go on the right-side*. If you just want to stand and ride the escalator, you should keep to the left-side*.
    (*In western Japan, they have this rule reversed. But, I’ve heard that they may change it to be the same as the Tokyo area, to reduce confusion.)
  • Don’t put your feet up on a table.
  • Don’t put anything that could be considered “unclean” or “unsanitary” on a table…such as shoes (even a pair that were just purchased).
  • If you wear a kimono, fold the left side over the right.

I’ve lived in Japan for most of my life now. These “manners” have become common-sense to me. But, how do they seem to you? Confusing? Strange? Or are they similar to manners in your country?

Also…if you’re in Japan, or planning to visit, do you have any questions about Japanese customs or manners?

16 Responses to “Japan “Do’s & Don’ts””

  1. vincent171 April 16, 2015 at 5:00 pm #

    These are pretty much common-sense for most Asian I think. I live in Vietnam and all these things are applied, except for what you wrote about riding a escalator and passing food by chopsticks.
    I’m living in the South so I’m not sure about eating manner in the North and Central Vietnam, but I think it’s ok to touch other people’s chopsticks (or fork) with your own and dip a piece of food into sauce after you’ve taken a bite of it if the people or the families you are having meal with aren’t too strict about eating manner.

    Anyway, all those things about are very normal to me, except for the riding a escalator’s manner.


    • tokyo5 April 16, 2015 at 10:02 pm #

      Is it OK to touch chopsticks together in Vietnam? And re-dip food? And no escalator rules?


      • vincent171 April 16, 2015 at 11:06 pm #

        I haven’t seen anyone touch chopsticks together though, but I haven’t heard my parent tell me not to do it either. As for me, I don’t find it clean to do something like that while eating so I don’t do that.

        I’m sure about re-dip food. My family and I do it at home. When I go to the restaurant, it’s ok to do it too. However, I only have meal with my family, relatives and distance relative so I don’t know if it’s just ok to do when eating with family members. But in the South of Vietnam, we aren’t very strict about eating manner.

        Definitely no escalator rules. Vietnam has a wild traffic, even by foot. People will just stand where ever they want and if you want to walk or run up/down you will have to ask them to give you space. People don’t even want to line up when they buy things or paying money in the supermarket, bookstore,etc.. (not all, but a lot don’t line up)


      • tokyo5 April 17, 2015 at 7:19 am #

        In many other countries in Asia, people don’t line up, I’ve heard. But Japan is very orderly.


  2. lauren f April 9, 2015 at 9:22 am #

    It’s typical in the US to wear shoes in the house, but some people do remove them on entering. I was in a store in Japan and went into a dressing room to try on a shirt, and there was a step up, and I stepped up without removing my shoes, and the salesperson stopped me. I wish I had known before that a step up can indicate a place to remove shoes!
    Also, when I was in Osaka, the escalator etiquette was reversed from Tokyo and other areas, and there were even helpful painted arrows and signs to tell you to walk on the left and stand on the right.

    Do you have any opinion on blowing your nose in public? I’ve read that it’s considered very rude, but I don’t know how bad it actually is. Is it acceptable if you try to be discreet and turn away from people, and do it quietly?


    • tokyo5 April 10, 2015 at 10:01 am #

      >Do you have any opinion on blowing your nose in public?

      Blowing your nose in public is bad manners in Japan…generally.
      In Japan, it’s considered ‘common sense’ (or common manners) to not blow your nose, belch, etc in front of others.

      So, yes, it’s acceptable not to “turn away from people”, but to move somewhere private (rest-room) to do such things.

      Is it considered acceptable manners to do those in front of people in other countries?


      • laurenf April 25, 2015 at 1:02 am #

        I think in the US, belching is usually a “friends & family” only, and if it happens you should say “excuse me.” However, nose-blowing is considered the preferred alternative to “snorting” it back in. You just try to be mannerly and discreet about it. Many people in the US have allergies to pollen or dust, or get snuffly in the cold weather, and it’s perfectly fine to blow your nose in public. In fact, Americans tend to prefer that you blow your nose rather than have to listen to your continual sniffing. I have allergies and my nose often runs when it’s cold, so I guess I’ll just have to go with the “ignorant gaijin” excuse in Japan when there’s no convenient restroom.
        I have heard rumors that in some countries, belching after a meal is a compliment to the host, but since those rumors are always spread by teenagers, I’m not sure I really believe in them. : )


      • tokyo5 April 26, 2015 at 12:00 pm #

        >I’ll just have to go with the “ignorant gaijin” excuse in Japan when there’s no convenient restroom.

        Don’t blow your nose on a train or bus or in a restaurant. In the street, for example, if you really wanted to, it wouldn’t be so bad, I imagine.

        >I have heard rumors that in some countries, belching after a meal is a compliment to the host

        I can’t imagine where…but certainly not in Japan. 😉


  3. mikeladano April 2, 2015 at 8:04 pm #

    The don’ts are all pretty sensible! Nobody wants dirty shoes on a table where food is served. But why is it shocking to see chopsticks sticking out of rice?

    Liked by 1 person

    • tokyo5 April 3, 2015 at 9:32 am #

      >The don’ts are all pretty sensible!

      I think so too.

      >Nobody wants dirty shoes on a table where food is served.

      But when I watch Hollywood movies, people are often shown putting their feet up on tables, wearing shoes while laying on a bed or couch and things like that which are not done in Japan.

      It even surprises me now…I guess I’ve become more used to Japanese culture. 😉

      >But why is it shocking to see chopsticks sticking out of rice?

      That (and some of the other things mentioned up about chopsticks) are done at memorials for those who’ve died.
      To do so at a regular meal is akin to doing a funeral ritual at a dinner table.

      Liked by 1 person

      • mikeladano April 3, 2015 at 11:59 pm #

        Ah I see! Yes that makes sense then.

        Maybe it’s just me but I hate seeing shoes or feet up on a desk. I know what you mean about the Hollywood movies. Usually it’s a police chief or a criminal mastermind with the feet up on a desk!


      • tokyo5 April 4, 2015 at 10:23 pm #

        🙂 Yeah, that. But feet are put up on coffee tables, etc in American movies. And shoes on sofas, chairs, beds.
        I guess it’s OK to do that in America.
        Shoes aren’t even brought into a Japanese house. And even bare feet aren’t put up on tables.

        Liked by 1 person

      • mikeladano April 4, 2015 at 10:27 pm #

        Some families here leave shoes outside the house, but it is becoming more and more rare to see.

        I noticed last night, because of this conversation, that on the TV show Big Bang Theory, all of the characters always wear shoes indoors.


      • tokyo5 April 5, 2015 at 12:33 pm #

        >Some families here leave shoes outside the house

        Shoes aren’t left outdoors in Japan. There’s a special area just inside the house, by the front door, for shoes.

        Do some people in Canada leave their shoes outdoors?

        >on the TV show Big Bang Theory, all of the characters always wear shoes indoors.

        I don’t know that TV show. Is it an American show?


      • Avatar Isaac April 21, 2015 at 9:43 pm #

        Yes, Big Bang Theory is an American Show. It never got too popular, also it relies on a lot of cultural references people outside US/Western EU areas might not get.

        As for the Don’ts, like Mikeladano said, they’re all pretty straight forward except for the chopsticks and shoes. I don’t like my shoes on my bead or tables, but I wear them all the way to my room.


      • tokyo5 April 22, 2015 at 8:25 am #

        >Yes, Big Bang Theory is an American Show.

        Is it a “sit-com”? Are those still popular in America?
        Sit-coms were immensely popular in America in the ’80s (when I lived there). They’re not popular in Japan.

        >a lot of cultural references

        All of the American pop-culture references in “The Simpsons” are why that show wasn’t popular in Japan when it was aired for one season here.

        >I wear them (shoes) all the way to my room.

        Never done in a Japanese house. 😉


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