In Japan, etiquette is extremely important at all times. Polite and respectful conduct is an essential part of the culture, and is expected of all members of society. The Japanese believe in maintaining harmony in all groups, whether it be a business, family, or team. They believe that the well-being of an entire group is more important than the individuality of the people that comprise it. That being said, each person is valued and expected to make their contributions in a manner that will best suit the whole. For this reason, admired qualities include modesty, respectfulness, loyalty, and humbleness. Uncomfortable situations are avoided at all cost in order to save face and ensure that no one is embarrassed.

In Japanese culture, there is a non-spoken understanding of rank or status. When meeting new people, introductions are necessary in order to establish a hierarchy. This way, each person understands how they are to behave. Also, because of their strong sense of loyalty, the Japanese tend to interact mainly within their own groups (families, companies, etc.). Strangers are often considered outsiders until introduced by a common party. Only after this has occurred, may a relationship begin to be established.


When doing business, or name cards are an essential item. The exchange of these cards, like the introduction, is important because it establishes a hierarchy. Also, they show that you have taken the time to learn about and understand the culture. Cards are usually double-sided, with English on one side, and Japanese on the other. They are to be simple and clean, and should indicate a person's company, department, rank, and last name. They are to be presented with the Japanese side forward, and with both hands. Cards should be received with both hands, and handled with utmost care and respect. The cards should not be put away immediately, but held in the hand for some time before being put away in a case carried for this purpose.

In the Home

When entering a home, it is customary to remove shoes at the entrance, or genkan. Slippers are usually worn inside the home, and most hosts will provide a pair for visitors. When entering a room with tatami floors, these slippers should be removed. Tatami mats are made from straw, so they are easily damaged by footwear. Clean socks without holes are appreciated. Separate toilet slippers are usually kept outside the washroom, and are to be worn only when inside the washroom.


In Japan, some homes and restaurants have traditional low tables with cushions on the floor to sit on. It is important to sit properly. In extremely formal settings, the appropriate way to sit, for both genders, is seiza, or kneeling. In most contexts, however, it is acceptable for men to sit cross-legged, and for women to kneel with both legs shifted to one side.

At the Table

Before any meal, one should say “itadakimasu”, which means “I gratefully receive”. After eating, one should say “gochisosama deshita”, which means, “Thank you for the meal”.

In many homes and resteraunts, several dishes of food are shared, rather than each person having their own dish served to them. Each person helps themselves to the food from the shared plates, moving it onto their own with the chopsticks provided for this purpose. If none are provided, the opposite end of one’s own chopsticks may be used. It is considered good manners to clear one’s plate entirely of food, so it is important to not take too much. When a meal is finished, all dishes should be placed in the same manner as they were at the beginning of the meal. This includes returning chopsticks to their holders or sheaths. Unlike some parts of Asia, it is considered impolite to burp during or at the end of a meal.


The proper use of chopsticks is one of the most important aspects of table manners. There are several rules regarding the correct use of chopsticks. Chopsticks are to be held at the end rather than at the middle or towards the front. When not in use, they may be set down with the tips pointed to the left. It is considered extremely impolite to stick chopsticks into food, as this is usually done with a bowl of rice and placed on the altar at funerals. Finally, one should not use chopsticks to gesture or point.


There are also rules for eating certain types of food. For example, sushi pieces should be eaten in one bite, as attempts to eat sushi in two or more bites almost always end in a mess. It is considered impolite to waste soya sauce, and it should not be poured on white rice. When eating rice, the bowl is to be held with the left hand, and raised close to the mouth when taking bites. Soup is to be drunk by lifting the bowl to the mouth like a cup, and small pieces may be eaten with chopsticks. Finally, larger pieces of food are to be separated with chopsticks by placing them in the center of the piece, and then carefully spreading them apart.


Going out for drinks with friends and colleagues is a favorite activity among the Japanese. While they are usually reserved and quiet, this is the one exception. When driking, one does not serve oneself. Instead, it is customary for people to serve each other. Once everyone is served, the glasses are raised for a toast, which is usually "kampai". It is important to keep and eye on other people's glasses, so they can be refilled before they are emptied.


Gift-giving, or temiyage is a very important tradition in Japan, but extravagant gifts are to be avoided. It is more the gesture and the presentation than the actual gift itself. In order to thank someone for an invitation, a gift of some food, sweets, or sake, is reccommended. Giving cash is appropriate at ceremonies such as weddings and funerals, but should be presented in an envelope with a red tie. When returning from a vacation, it is customary to bring back small gifts for friends and coworkers. In formal contexts, gifts should not be opened when received. In more casual situations, it is normal to ask the giver if the gift may be opened immediately.


Not all public washrooms in Japan provide toilet paper, so make sure you carry some for yourself. In some public places, you will encounter Western style toilets, but it's good to know how to use a Japanese style toilet. Face the hood, pull your pants down all the way, and squat. That's it. It takes some practice. Good luck!


Taking a bath in Japan is much different from taking one in other parts of the world. Bathrooms usually consist of two rooms: one to undress in, and another one equipped with a shower and bathtub. The first step is to rinse yourself, outside the bathtub, with warm water from the bath. Once this is done, you may enter the bathtub and soak for a while. You then step out of the bathtub, clean yourself with soap, and rinse again. After this, you may re-enter the bathtub to soak some more. Remember to never drain the bath water, as it is used by all members of the household.

This all may seem to be a lot to take in at once, but if keep a few things in mind, you'll do just fine. Remember to use your common sense. Remain polite and respectful at all times. Don't ask for too much. Be humble, and help others. Don't offer your help, just do it.

With all that being said, remember that the Japanese are kinda and humorous people, and don't expect foreigners to do everything perfectly. These rules are traditional, and not all of them are hard and fast. Don't forget to have fun and enjoy your stay in Japan.

For a comprehensive guide on all things Japan, be sure to check out the Everything Japanese Encyclopedia.


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