Travel Etiquette in Japan

by Emma Hackwood
Group makes peace signs in Onsen Robes in Japan

Of all the countries we have explored, Japan would have one of the most ritualized and respectful sets of etiquette guidelines. This is not too say you will be overwhelmed by the strictness, but rather find the harmony in which everyone interacts a pleasant experience. As a general rule consider everyone else before yourself and you will be fine.

Byodo In Temple, Japan

Japanese people will often shake hands as they know this is what Westerners are used to, however adopt their custom and bow. When bowing to someone of higher status you should bow lower than them. Remember age equates to high status in Japan. When entering a shop, a simple nod of the head is adequate.

When talking with new people for the first times, do not use first names until invited to do so. If you make a request and get a reply of “I’ll consider” or “It’s inconvenient”, it is quite possible they are trying to say “no”. The Japanese struggle when put on the spot with a difficult question and will do this to save face.

sushIf you like to make a bit of noise then maybe Japan is the place for you to eat. Slurping your noodles loudly is seen as a compliment to the chef. Like China, chopsticks, or ohashi, are commonly used in Japan. If you forget where you are, Japanese chopsticks are tapered, and Chinese chopsticks aren’t. Some find it tricky getting the food from bowl to mouth with chopsticks. Feel free to lift bowls to your mouth. This is accepted in all circles. Rice is an important food in Japan and you should always eat a little bit before starting on any other dishes. If you have a full bowl of rice you should never stick the chopsticks in it and leave them standing upright. This is how rice is offered to the dead at funerals and to do so at the dinner table invokes bad luck.

When raising your glass and toasting your hosts in Japan, never make the mistake of shouting ‘Chin chin!’ Chin-chin is a Japanese colloquial word meaning ‘penis’.

businesscard_editedIn business circles, always present your business card with two hands. When you are presented with someone else’s, take some time to inspect it before carefully putting it in your card case or wallet. Gifting is extremely important in Japanese business.  Gifts should also be presented and received with both hands generally at the end of a meeting or interaction. When giving a gift, play it down and if you receive one, open it in private. When choosing a gift avoid flowers or potted plants as many of them symolise death or sickness. Bonsais are an exception and are fine. Give items in odd numbers, except the number nine and ensure your gift is wrapped.

For more information on travelling to Japan, contact a Flight Centre Travel Consultant at 1-877-967-5302 or connect with us online.