Every country has its own social rules of conduct that you would need to follow and what is considered acceptable might be unacceptable to others. In Japan, there are several customs and rules that is best to be aware of and avoid doing them when traveling around in another foreign country such as Japan. The things that you may do and behave while traveling in japan could offend people and it is possible that no one will tell you about these things because Japanese people tend to be shy and do not like confronting people about it.
In public areas, eating or drinking while walking is frown upon in Japan. You can carry your take-away food or drinks in a secure bag to consumers later but just not on public transport such as their trains and buses. There is some exception such as long-distance travel on the Shinkansen -trains which some does allow you to eat and drinks or another occasion is when finishing your drink while standing at the vending machine.
Chopsticks are the essential utensil used in Japan, there are some do’s and don’ts when using them in japan. One point is to never leave your chopsticks standing upright in a bowl of rice or to pass food directly to another person’s chopsticks. These actions are seemed to associate with funerals ritual and the dead. Do not play with your chopsticks (e.g. spearing, hitting them on the table, waving them around, etc.) as this is considered rude table manners.
For most customs slurping is considered rude table manners but for the Japanese, it is considered a sign of appreciation for your meal especially when eating noodles and soupy dishes. Picking up bowl to finish the last few pieces or soup is also perfectly acceptable in Japan. Avoid pouring any soy sauce on white rice but instead, use the small condiment dish to hold your sauce. It is also polite to say ‘Itadakimasu’ once before eating or drinking, and ‘Gochiso sama deshita’ to your host or the restaurant’s staff after finishing your meal as it shows a sign of respect and greetings. There is a no-tipping in the social customs of Japan. Leaving cash after your bill on the table at a restaurant will often result in Japanese people coming after you to return it. You will also notice a tray when making your payments, this is a tray to place your money rather than giving it to them directly.
One of the golden rules when traveling to Japan is to learn when and where to take off your shoes.
Japanese people ALWAYS instruct you or have signed up to let guests and foreigners know when to take their shoes off. If you are traveling and are unsure, take notice of shoes lined up outside the entrance doors.
Private homes, hotels, restaurants, shrines and anywhere that is indoor in Japan, will mostly expect you to remove your shoes before entering and there should be a pair of slippers is provided for you to wear instead. The behind reason is that you are tracking filthy dirt from the outside into the house which is a sign of disrespect and the matter of cleanliness Japanese people are it is best to follow the golden rule.
When entering the loo (Toilets/Bathrooms), you must exchange your slippers for the toilet slippers and when exiting the loo, you just slip back into your original slipper and leave the toilet slipper. Make sure to remember to exchange as it will be concerning and mortify the Japanese if you are seen walking around in the toilet slippers.
Japan is very known for its heritage sites and many religious temples and shrines. When you are visiting these religious sites it is expected that you are to speak quietly in a low tone manner in the main halls, do not enter into places that are blocked of and definitely do not disrespect the statues and gods that are inside the religious sites and be mindful of what you are wearing when visiting these religious sites, nothing that is revealing or clothing like you are heading off to a club or beach.
Another ritual that must be done when entering shrines is the water cleansing source of any shrine. Some shrines would have instructions for you to be aware and follow but others do not. Use the ladles provided to pour water over your hands to rinse them, and pour water into your hand to use to rinse your mouth (please spit the water out on the ground, not back into the water source) this is believed to cleanse your body before entering the sacred place.
When traveling around Japan, it would require you to commute mostly on public transports given its convenience and most efficient way to get you from point A to point B.
Respecting the people and your surroundings is important in Japanese culture. Having to be silent and quiet during your commute is very normal. It is rude to be speaking loudly on trains and buses as it is viewed to be disturbing other fellow passengers.
Lining up and queuing in japan is a big thing in japan that you would see very often from catching public transport to restaurants and even shopping malls. Everyone who does line and queue up happens to wait patiently and in an orderly fashion. Places that require you to line up or are populated with people usually have marked lines indicating where you should be standing and waiting.
Another thing to consider is sniffles and coughs and being sick in general. Blowing your nose in public is viewed as rude and gross as mentioned before Japanese people are all about cleanliness. When you are in Japan it is common to see a lot of people in surgical masks that may have printed pictures to stylish masks or different kinds of patterns are worn by people to help prevent any germs or used as protective gear when contacting or being surrounded by others.
Leaning the common polite words and phrases to help you navigate around Japan would be very useful but also show the Japanese people your interest and love for their culture. Although English is a common language, knowing the basic language of the place you travel is a language etiquette. Do not assume that people will somehow understand you just because they speak a little English. There are some gesture and body language that you can use when trying to communicate with others but there a are few hand gestures and body language which can seem as rude and disrespectful to others.
So, getting to know and learning the few basic things would help you along the way when traveling around Japan.
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