Well done thus far!
So you’ve gone through your first few days of Japan, phew! You’re trying your best to follow Japanese customs and culture! First of all, well done for getting this far. You should be proud of the fact you can respect the culture, even just the basic elements. Don’t worry if you make mistakes from time to time too, at least your making an effort. From here we’ll go into a bit more detail about some more regular customs and culture.
I can remember that I was lost in Japan in the early stages of my first trip, especially in deep metropolises like Tokyo and Osaka. In these times it’s sometimes best to consult with the locals themselves for some help or directions. So, if you’ve received any kind of help from a Japanese person, it’s good to try and be respectful with a simple ‘arigato’. Of course, Japanese is a language of various formalities and so you could also try ‘arigato gozaimasu’ or the more formal ‘domo arigato gozaimasu’. Simple things like this go a long way to creating a positive first impression.
Slurping your life away…
One thing that really surprised me in a noodle shop, was the constant slurping sound I heard from the other patrons. The Japanese don’t discriminate either, so it doesn’t matter whether they are eating Ramen, soba, udon or any other kind of noodles. Basically, slurping is in, and it has been the tradition for years in Japan. However, should you decide to try any other kind of pasta dish, we would strongly recommend against making any sounds.
Some restaurants you enter can also be quite traditional, especially ones that feature tatami flooring. From my experience, you will commonly encounter this in the more traditional style restaurants and izakayas. Usually, in these instances, you will be required to take off your shoes before walking on the tatami mats. They may provide you with slippers to walk around the restaurant or just request you to leave your shoes to the side of the flooring. I would add that the Japanese consider it bad luck if you touch the side of the tatami flooring with your shoes. In all cases, you should make sure to keep your shoes clear of the tatami mats at all times.
Another thing people generally do is wait till everyone has a drink, before it’s time for ‘cheers’ or ‘kanpai’ with your other pals. If your friend happens to be Japanese, you may even want to through in the more habitual ‘Otsukaresama desu’. This is typically confirmation the work day is over. So, finally they can finally let their stress and worries subside.
The fateful chopsticks
Chopsticks are definitely a common utensil used in most, if not all Japanese restaurants. Yet, if you feel your skill set doesn’t extend to managing these competently, don’t be afraid to request a fork and spoon. You may be surprised most restaurants stock these, and more than willing to accommodate. I have been to many restaurants too, where they simply asked me if I prefer a fork and spoon. In the event you can hold your own with chopsticks, there are a few things you should know.
First of all, don’t stick your chopsticks directly into a bowl of rice and leave it there. The locals see this as quite impolite. Instead, all chopsticks should be placed across the top of your plate. In some restaurants, they provide a specific chopstick rest, so you can also use this. Secondly, pointing at someone Japan is deemed to be an aggressive gesture too, and even more so if done with chopsticks. You should refrain from making any kind of direct gestures. Finally, never cross your chopsticks with someone else, this is perceived as both ill-mannered and bad luck for both people.
Other things to be mindful of
Using an elevator can also seem a little perplexing at first look. Rules are similar to that of boarding and getting off the train. The only exception is if someone is still inside the lift. In this case, they should be holding the open button until everyone has got off, or for anyone wanting to get on. Once everyone is safely inside the confines of the elevator, then it’s OK to press the close button.
If you haven’t already noticed you may know by now that the Japanese are a patient bunch. They will line up for just about anything. It could be the next ride at Disneyland, an exciting new Cafe or restaurant, or discounts at any kind of store. As is usually the case, nobody likes a person who cuts in line, so it is easier to be patient and wait till your turn comes around.
Taking photos is perhaps another simple thing people should generally be considerate of. These days not only will you come across other Japanese visitors, but also other tourists when sightseeing, particularly in popular spots. I would recommend you don’t walk into someone else’s photo (photo bomb!) and to be observant of your surroundings. If you would like your picture taken, asking anyone politely should grant you your wish. The same person may even ask you too, giving you the chance to return the favour. Otherwise, it may just be you helping another, in all scenarios being polite goes a long way.
So hopefully, that helps cover a lot of the customs and cultural practices you may come across in Japan. If you haven’t already, you may also be interested in part one of this article. Additionally, if you have any more you would like to share or even ask us about, feel free to share in the comments below.