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 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).
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?