As we may all know, it is best to always try and adhere to the customs and the mannerisms of the countries that you are visiting. For this particular reason, we are going to discuss a few dos and don’ts that everyone should know before setting foot in Japan. So, without further ado, let us hop right into it!
Well, this might be an unexpected way to kick off the list but tipping in Japan is considered a severe insult. Make sure you carry sufficient cash on you to be able to pay the exact amount that your meal costs – no pluses. Even though rewarding the waiters for their unbiased and marvellous services (which are completely unrelated to tipping and great at all times and in all possible situations) may appear polite to you, it can instantly turn the energetic tides of a restaurant-interaction (in the negative sense, of course).
Most people who have travelled to Japan are going to tell you that the word “sumimasen” is probably the most useful one. “Why?” you might ask. Well, because it means two things at the same time: “excuse me” and “sorry”. This is an interesting one, because “sumimasen” is also used in some situations when one would normally say “thank you”. This is nothing but a cultural thing and if someone is polite to you, you might want to use this newly-learned word. Why? Because, in spite of what the media and the internet tell you, the word “arigatou” (the conventional way of saying “thank you”) is quite uncommon. Also, if you are in a restaurant or addressing a cab driver, start with “sumimasen”.
3. Shoes and slippers:
This is quite a common one but we could not leave it out: Japanese people do not wear their shoes in their homes and their slipper-culture is as widespread as it can get. To top this all off, they will have separate slippers for their bathrooms as well. Forgetting to take your shoes off when entering a home is considered a giant offense so make sure that you do so as soon as you step through the threshold. If you happen to be moving to Japan, do not forget to buy guest slippers as soon as you can because the moment the people visiting you take of their shoes, you are expected to hand each of them a pair. And no, you cannot get out of these endless slipper exchanges because if you walk around barefoot, you offend everyone (wink)!
Are you ready for the hefty part of heavily-populated areas? Well then, know that the Tokyo subway trains and other public transport vehicles are as crowded as they can get during rush hours. What this means is that most people living there have already gotten used to the fact that they must cram themselves in by slightly pushing their peers. This is not considered impolite as long as you hold your bag in your arms in front of you (to squeeze yourself into a space as small as possible) and as long as you don’t push people with your hands. These pushes have to be made with your body and they must always be slow and gentle. Oh, and while you’re at it, be sure to keep repeating “sumimasen” (wink)!
As you might have guessed, the Japanese also have rules for the exteriorisation of momentary happiness. Laughing to westerners often means total release or even hooting but to the Japanese, it is an emotional state that can and should be controlled. Covering your mouth with your hand is considered polite and small chuckles should be the chosen way to proceed instead of the renowned “horse laughter” (wink). This is directly connected to the fact that most Japanese people consider loud noises produced by individuals impolite. Which leads us to our next point…
6. Phone calls:
If you are wondering why most people in Japan avoid talking on their phones in public spaces, then you are onto a clue. Why? Because disturbing the peace of others is not the way to introduce yourself when visiting agglomerated areas. If people do get important calls, they make sure to remove themselves to an unpopulated zone (or the least populated one in the vicinity) and keep their volume down. Oh, and while you’re at it, keep your cell phones on vibration for loud ringtones are also frowned upon.
Before we end this article, we must tell you that in spite of these unwritten rules, Japanese people are not stern or humourless – on the contrary, they are funny and, above all, hospitable. If you respect their customs and they see you making an effort, they will nod at you in their traditional fashion and you will feel honoured. There is no bow more emotionally powerful than that of a Japanese person. Safe travels!