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Updated by Joanna James on Jun 23, 2019
Headline for 6 Must Know Do's and Don'ts of the Japanese Culture – Avoid Social Embarrassment
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6 Must Know Do's and Don'ts of the Japanese Culture – Avoid Social Embarrassment

Japanese culture is renowned the world over for its politeness and social etiquette and as a visitor to the nation there are instances when you could make a social faux pas; read on to avoid mistakes.


When and How to Bow

Bowing is pretty much the first aspect of Japanese culture you will experience; at first the gesture will seem awkward, especially when you are used to a hearty handshake, but practise enough, and the act will come naturally before you know it. The first rule is to bow when other people bow to you; do not raise your head until they do, unless of course, you are the superior, then raise your head first. Always bend from the waist keeping the back straight. Men and boys must bow with the hands by the side while women and girls may do so, with the hands clasped in the lap. If the person you are bowing to is older or superior in status to you, bend lower. If the person bows more than once, do reciprocate with a bow; often it takes about 3 to 4 bows for courtesies to end. Do not bow to children or after a purchase at a store.


The Japanese Etiquette of Eating

Japanese love the art of dining, whether its sushi at Grand Park Otaru or ramen at the best noodle shop in town; there are simple rules that need to be followed when dining with a group. Before the start of your meal, place your hands together and say itadakimasu; it is a polite phrase that gives thanks to the meal you are about to enjoy. Burping, unlike in certain Asian countries, is considered rude in Japan. If eating with chopsticks, you may raise up bowls of rice or vegetables etc. to make it easier to eat, but do not lift-up large plates off the table in this manner. Be open to trying new dishes, and should you need to blow your nose, do so in the restroom. Using a toothpick means you must cover your mouth with the hand. When done with your meal, place hands together and say Gochiso sama deshita; meaning, thank you for efforts in preparing this delicious meal.


The Correct Way to Eat Noodles

Close to your Otaru accommodation in beautiful Hokkaido, for example, there will be plenty of fresh seafood noodle shops. As such, when eating noodles in broth, it is okay to slurp up noodles, but not with every mouth. Do not slurp noodles that are not served with a soup.


Using Chopsticks

Do feel encouraged to use chopsticks whenever possible, but make sure you do not make a noise when rubbing the disposable ones to get out the splinters. It is okay to ask for help on how to use chopsticks. Do not point at things with your chopsticks and if you simply cannot master them, it is alright to ask for a fork.


Toilette Use in Japan

There are Japanese style squat toilets, which you should try and use, they are after all much more hygienic than the sanitary bowl you sit on; make sure to not fall in though. When visiting a house and you need to use the loo, wear the 'toilet slippers' which will be just outside the door; make sure you change back into the 'house slippers' when leaving the toilet. Do explore the various buttons on the futuristic style toilets you will encounter in most Japanese cities, but make sure you are not sitting on the toilet when doing so.


Language Use in Japan

Try and learn a few phrases and do use them whenever possible. Always add the phrase san after a person's name, it is respectful. But do not use 'san' after a child's name. Always use a person's title after their names, such as, sensei for a doctor or teacher and kaicho, if you are meeting the president of a company.

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