Once very isolated, Japan has developed a range of unique customs and traditions that still continue to today. In some respects, these customs can seem a bit odd or different to what we are use to in the west, but each custom has a purpose and it is poor etiquette to not to adhere to the simple rituals that have been part of Japanese life for centuries.
Many of the customs are just common sense like removing your shoes before entering someone’s home or pouring your companion’s drink before your own. While others can seem a bit odd to foreigners (gajin), like some of the rules of using chopsticks or the fact it is considered rude to blow your nose or eat on the street, but it is perfectly ok to take a leak in the gutter in broad daylight. Typically this custom is only practised by older Japanese men, and we recommend you find the nearest toilet before whipping it out in public.
Hopefully our guides below will explain a bit about Japanese culture to help you not perform any faux pas while going about your life in Japan.
One of the first things you will notice when meeting a Japanese person is the bow, it is an extremely important custom in Japan. When two people greet one another they bow, and this can range from a small nod of the head or a full bow where the body is bent from the waist. The bow is also used to say thank you, or as an apology, it is also used to request something or when saying goodbye. The custom is used pretty well just about everywhere.
The Japanese love a drink, beer, whiskey and sake are just a few of the favourites. But like most countries, the Japanese have a few customs which are polite to follow.
It pays to be hungry in Japan, you should eat every scrap, it is considered bad manners to leave even a grain of rice. Here are a few more tips which will make your meal much more enjoyable.
Geishas are traditional female Japanese entertainers who perform in the crafts of classical music, dance or other Japanese arts. Geisha’s are sometimes wrongly confused with shogi or prostitutes, but the Geisha does not engage in paid sex as she is an entertainer only.
Japan is a highly formal society with extremely polite people, greeting someone for the first time can often be like a formal ritual with a strict script followed, especially with business dealings.
When entering a Japanese house you should always take off your shoes at the entrance and change into some slippers (or surippa), the host will usually have them ready for you. But don’t go stepping on a tatami floor with them, the tatami mat is only to be walked on with socks or bare feet.
Smoking is still a popular pastime for many Japanese, although in recent years, the habit has fallen considerably. Cigarettes can be purchased extremely easily and cheaply, in fact there is an abundant supply of vending machines selling the product, it is estimated there are almost 600,000 cigarette vending machines on Japanese streets. People under 20 are prohibited from smoking, and the machines do not pose too much temptation for most.
Japanese people are often extremely superstitious, and many of their beliefs date back centuries and are deeply rooted in their culture. Some are similar to those of western or other Asian countries, but there are many unique ones, and many are designed as lessons and warnings of dire consequences.