Tag Archives: japanese customs

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).

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?

toshikoshi-soba

31 Dec

It’s now New Year’s Eve. New Year’s is Japan’s biggest holiday.
There are many customs and decorations in Japan at this time of year.

I’ll introduce one to you:
年越しそば (Toshikoshi-soba).

toshikoshisoba

Toshi-koshi-soba are noodles that are eaten on New Year’s Eve.

It is said to bring good luck for the coming year if the last thing you ate on New Year’s Eve was this dish.

よいお年を! (Have a happy new year!)

Winter solstice

22 Dec

今日は「冬至 (touji)」 (Today is “winter solstice”).

to-ji-h1

Click here and read the post I wrote five years ago about the Japanese traditions on this day (there are also some videos I took in a traditional area of Tokyo).

Spring customs

13 Mar

I don’t remember most of the lesser known American holidays, so correct me if I’m wrong.
But, as I remember, in America there are some spring customs but no legal holidays.

First, February 2 is “Groundhog Day” in America.
A groundhog is a type of マーモット…

A groundhog.

Not to be confused with 「モルモット」, which means “guinea pig” in Japanese.

A guinea pig.

In America, on Groundhog Day people watch a groundhog to see if he leaves his burrow or not.
If he does, that’s supposed to mean that spring will start soon…if he returns to his burrow after sticking his head out, that means the cold winter weather will continue longer.

At least that’s how I remember it. It’s an odd custom.

April 1st is called “April Fool’s Day“.

On this day in America, people play practical jokes on each other…if someone falls for one of these practical jokes, then he’s labeled a “fool” for the day–the “April Fool“.

Also Easter, I believe, is on the first Sunday of April.
This is a religious Christian holiday.
Many people in America, Canada (and maybe some European countries too) paint Easter eggs and “the Easter Bunny” gives baskets of chocolate to children.

School students get a week or so “Spring Break” holiday from school…but it’s not the end of the school year yet (as it is in Japan). Summer Break is the end of the U.S. school year.

In Japan spring is different.
Here, the school year ends in March and begins after spring in April.
Students in Japan who will be starting high school or college must take Entrance Exams. (My second daughter passed her Entrance Exam and will be starting high school next month).

At almost the same time as Groundhog Day in the U.S., Japan has Setsubun on February 2nd every year.

In March, Japan has Doll Festival on March 3rd, and White Day on March 14th (tomorrow). But those aren’t legal holidays (I mean, they’re not days off).
But around March 20th is 「春分の日」 (Spring Equinox) is a legal holiday. This year, Spring Equinox is Sunday, March 21st…so it’ll will be observed the next day—Monday, March 22nd will be a day off.
Many people visit their family grave on this day.

A big holiday season in Japan occurs in spring. It’s called “Golden Week“.
Golden Week is technically May 3rd – May 5th (「憲法記念日」 (Constitution Day), 「緑の日」 (Greenery Day), and 「子供の日」 (Children’s Day) respectively)…but often 「昭和の日」 (Showa Day), which is on April 29th, is included.
So, some people get Golden Week holiday from April 29th – May 5th.

And, of course, a very important springtime custom in Japan is 「花見」 (Cherry-Blossom Viewing).

Expensive Fruit

19 Sep

Japan has a reputation for having extremely expensive fruit. You can see people talking on the internet about $100 watermelons and $40 apples in Japan.

This is true. You can find fruit sold for those prices in Japan…but it’s not the normal case.
Usually fruit is sold at normal prices here.

“So, what’s up with the overpriced fruit?” you may wonder.

Those are premium fruits sold to be given as gifts. The best fruit of the season to give someone on a special occasion.

This gift メロン (melon; cantaloupe) sells for 一万円 (¥10,000 (US $90)).

A premium cantaloupe (melon), like the one in the photo above, or apples, pears, tangerines, grapes, peaches, or almost any other fruit can be found priced at about ¥4,000 – ¥30,000 (US $35 – $280) in Japan.

As I mentioned, these fruit items are given to people on special occasions.

Of course, people normally eat “regular” fruit, which can be purchased from the supermarket or a fruit stand at normal prices.

There are many occasions to give gifts in Japan.

    A few examples:

  • When you move into a new house, you give a small gift to your neighbors and introduce yourself (as opposed to the custom in America that is the other way around: people there give the new neighbor a gift).
  • When you go to a wedding or funeral in Japan, you give a gift of money in a special envelope.
  • New Years money to children.
  • When visiting someone (at their home, in a hospital, etc).
  • At the start of a new season (beginning of Summer, Spring, Winter, Autumn), people often give friends a special gift box of coffee, beer, soap, etc.
  • At birthdays and Christmas, of course.
  • When someone does something special for you.
  • To “repay” someone who gave a gift to you.
  • When you return from a trip.

There are other occasions that Japanese give gifts…these are just some of the common ones.