Japan is a one of the most advanced and culturally unique countries in the world. I want to place a special emphasis on the latter part of the previous sentence because their culture is truly unique in the world. They have customs, rules and social norms that can seem quite daunting to someone if they try to adopt them all in one go. But still, if you’re a traveller in Japan, you aren’t expected to know everything and be a perfect Japanese citizen straight out of the plane. However, there are a few things you can know that will help you avoid the most common and egregious faux pas you can commit there. Here are a few things a traveller should avoid doing in Japan.
1. Don’t break chopstick etiquette.
First off, as a traveller, you’re not expected to know how to use chopsticks. It’s a plus if you do. However, don’t stick your chopsticks vertically in a rice bowl. That resembles a funeral ritual. When sharing food, pick and place the food on your own plate before eating it. And never rub a pair of chopsticks together. It’s considered an insult to the chef or eating establishment.
2. Don’t wear shoes indoors.
In Japan, shoes for outdoor use are considered unclean and for this reason, they are removed as soon as one is indoors. This applies to all houses and most establishments like hospitals and schools. Slippers are usually provided as a replacement.
3. Don’t jump queues.
Guys, this is considered rude everywhere. But the Japanese tend to wait in queue even for elevators, so you know how serious they are about this stuff. Avoid.
4. Try not to eat on the go.
Yep. Even fast food sold at traditional Japanese “Yatai” or stalls is eaten standing up. Beverages are also usually consumed on the spot. Eating on public transports is also looked down upon except on really long distance trains.
5. Don’t blow your nose in public.
Blowing one’s nose in public is considered extremely uncouth in Japan. Best to find a public washroom and get sorted there. If you see a Japanese person wearing a mask, they have a cold and want to avoid spreading it to others. If only we were as considerate...
6. Do. Not. Tip.
This is really important. Service charges are usually included in your bill. If you leave a tip to a waiter or a bus-boy, it might even be taken as an insult.
7. Avoid talking loudly on public transport.
The Japanese are a quiet, polite people and hence usually refrain from using their phones on public transport like buses or the Shinkansen. If urgent communication must be done, it is usually managed through texts or a very hushed conversation.
8. Don’t point.
The Japanese don’t like to point. I know. It’s a quirk but they usually just wave in the direction of the thing they’d like someone to notice. When referring to themselves, they point at their own noses.
9. Don’t pour soy sauce on your rice.
Use the provided saucer for the express purpose. Dip your sushi or sashimi in that instead.
10. Don’t serve yourself a drink.
Never refill your own glass while drinking with friends or colleagues. Hold the bottle with two hands and refill their glasses first. They will do the same for you.