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Updated by Joanna James on Jun 23, 2019
Headline for 5 Customs You Must Know Before Visiting Japan – Learn Social Politeness
Joanna James Joanna James
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5 Customs You Must Know Before Visiting Japan – Learn Social Politeness

Japanese customs and courtesies are famous the world over and respect and etiquette are pounded into children from a school going age. Here's how you stay polite and respectful as a visitor.


The Bow and Its Intricacies

Bowing is second nature in Japan; you will notice that a bow is equivalent to a casual nod of hello. A bow will vary depending on the person you are bowing to; if it is a friend a slight 30 degree quick bow from the waist will suffice. If you are meeting a company president, for instance, a good 70 degree bow from the waist shows deep respect; also, when bowing to a superior or an elder you do not raise your head until he or she does so. The degree and duration of the bow depend on superiority and occasion. Sometimes it takes many bows before you are standing straight again, and courtesies are ended; always reciprocate a bow with a bow.


Addressing a Person in Japan

In Japan it is customary to add the suffix san or sama after a person's name; it is a non-gender phrase that's considered respectful and polite. If you are addressing a doctor or teacher, for instance, use the phrase sensei as a show of courtesy. Children do not expect a suffix after their names, although kun for boys and chan for girls can be used.


Table Manners to Observe

Table manners are very well honed in Japan. Whether you are dining at Grand Park Otaru overlooking the marina or lined up at a sushi bar, there are certain courtesies that must be followed. When drinks arrive do not sip it, wait for everyone to be served, one person will take the initiative and raise the glass to which you yell kampai (cheers). Most restaurants will offer a small wash cloth, this is to wash your hands and not clean any part of the face, when done fold it neatly and lay it aside. It is okay, to slurp noodle soup, but not with every mouth. When using chopsticks you can bring up small bowls of rice or veggies to your mouth, but not large plates. Before you start to eat, it's polite to say itadakimasu; translation 'I humbly receive'. Those seeking Otaru accommodation will find the Hokkaido region is home to many fine seafood restaurants, where practising these simple customs can be lots of fun.


Do Not Tip

It is an insult to tip in Japan; whether it's a cab service, personal care or restaurant you have already paid for the service you are receiving, hence, a tip will seem rude. You will notice that when touring big cities like Tokyo, the waiters will silently take the tip you leave behind, instead of getting into the nitty-gritty of explaining the concept to customers, not able to talk Japanese; as such, do keep in mind that tipping is more an offence to the receiver's dignity than a bonus.


Chopsticks and Mastering Them

If you are not adept at using chopsticks, try and get the hang of them before your visit to Japan; they are pretty easy to master. When dining at restaurants, make sure you do not make a big noise rubbing the splinters out of the disposable ones. Also, never point at things with your chopsticks, and if you simply cannot get the hang of the utensils, it is okay to request a fork.

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    A travel writer who has a passion for fashion and a deep interest in admiring new and exotic attractions around the world.

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