Going to a new country can lead to a lot of misunderstandings. Different things can get different reactions when done in Japan. There are quite a few things that can lead to unpleasant situations. It is good to look at what is socially acceptable in the new country you will be going to. It takes a little bit of time, but it will impress the locals when you show you have knowledge of their culture. You don’t have to be perfect, you just must try.
1. No Shoes in the House
In Japan, there is a very strict rule of no shoes from the outside are allowed past the genkan. You take your shoes off at the front door and usually store them away in a closet or on a shoe tree. This is to keep the inside of the house clean and cut down on the wear and tear of the floor. There will be indoor shoes called wabaki that you can use in places like schools. This a rule that you should not break and will be instantly reminded of if you don’t follow it.
2. Don’t Eat From the Main Plate
When you eat out with others the food will usually be served on a main dish and everyone will pull from it. The thing to do is to grab some food with your chopsticks and put on your plate before eating. Don’t go from the main dish to your mouth. It is bad manners and will get you a lot of sour looks and could make a bad first impression. Just do as the other people are doing at the table and you should be fine.
3. Bow Down
It is tradition to bow when meeting new people or being introduced by other people. Bowing is a cultural norm in Japan and is used to show respect to the people you are meeting with. The longer the bow the more respect you are showing. This doesn’t mean to have minute long bowing sessions, it means to do a slightly deeper bow. If the person wants to shake hands, then try to only do that. Bowing and shaking at the same time is awkward and can have a weird impact on the introduction.
4. Bathroom Slippers
In a typical Japanese home, the toilet and the bath area are separated from each other. The reason being that the toilet area is seen as dirty as they are always hard to keep clean. In most businesses, there are bathroom slippers at the toilets. If you wear them as you should, make sure to take them off before leaving. It is a big problem if you walk out with them still on.
5. Sort Your Trash
Sorting and putting away your trash properly is a big thing. It is extremely important to learn how to sort and put away your trash in the right way. First is sorting, and make sure to sort them by burnable, non-burnable, and plastics. Next is to make sure that you put the trash in the proper pick-up areas. Sometimes it will be attached to the apartment complex, or in an area on the street that is usually indicated by a green net. Put the correct trash out on the correct days. If you don’t follow the right steps, you can anger your neighbors or others who use it correctly.
6. Don’t Walk and Eat
Even though this isn’t a harshly enforced rule it is seen as bad manners. Most of the older generations will give funny looks, and some may even say something to you. The younger Japanese tend to be less concerned with it, and you will see them walking and eating frequently. It is usually best to stop and eat somewhere, like the front of a convenience store.
Pointing with your finger at people is generally frowned upon. You will not be corrected or receive any kind of overt stare, but it off-putting for some Japanese people when meeting them for the first time. You will see many Japanese people do this, but it will be with close friends and acquaintances. Just try to be mindful of your situation.
8. Taking a Bath
In many western countries, the bath is seen as the main way to clean your body. The thing in Japan is that the bath is seen as a way to relax and relieve stress. You need to shower before getting into the bathtub. Don’t forget this rule as it is strictly followed, and you will be corrected if you don’t follow it correctly.
9. Respect the Business Card
In Japanese business, a business card is seen as an extension of the person that is giving it to you, If you take the card and quickly put it away, it is seen as being disrespectful. You should treat the card with care and try to be as gentle as possible. If you give each other your business cards make sure to give and receive cards with both hands and bow after both actions. This is very important and shows you have an understanding of the situation. As for the card, you can put it away when the other person isn’t looking. Make sure to put it in a jacket pocket or somewhere you can easily access it. Don’t instantly put it in your wallet where the other party can see you.
10. Keep Quiet on Trains
It is seen as bad manners to have a loud conversation on trains and buses. Almost everyone has to use public transportation and they want to make the trip as smooth and free of annoyance as possible. You will get lots of mean looks from other passengers, and some people may even say something if you are being too loud. Try to keep conversations at a low volume. As for cell phones, you need to stay off of your phones. You can play games, surf the web, and watch movies if you have earphones to listen to them. Having a conversation on the phone is strongly discouraged. There are signs on every train that says not to have conversations on your phone while riding. If you must take a call, go to the coupling spot in between cars, or have a quick quiet chat.
If you can’t follow every cultural rule, you will still be ok. They know that you are not from the country and may not know what you should or shouldn’t do. Try to learn as much as you can before going to Japan and you can impress the locals. Just try to be sensitive to the new area.