Japan is a warm and welcoming country for travelers, but its unique culture can be as impenetrable as it is intriguing to the first visitor. To help create a seamless trip, arm yourself with some of these practical tips before your trip.
Bowing politely when meeting someone, thanking them or saying goodbye is very important in Japan. The degree, duration and number of times we bow are traditions that foreigners are not supposed to master so the Japanese are not likely to be offended if we do not do it perfectly. If a Japanese greets you, a nod of the head back will usually suffice. The Japanese sometimes shake hands as well, but it's best to wait until the other side reaches out to you before offering it to you.
Returning from a trip, changing the season, and moving into a new home are all good excuses for which gifts can be redeemed in Japan. For visitors, it is a good idea to bring small gifts from their home country, especially if they are staying with locals, or if they need to say "thank you" to someone during their trip. The simple gesture of sharing something from home will be greatly appreciated. Think about souvenir key chains, chocolate bars and other treats only available in your country. Avoid expensive or flamboyant offers.
The exchange of business cards is still an important part of more formal introductions to Japan. You have to use both hands to give and receive cards. This also applies to giving and receiving gifts.
If a building has a lower entrance (called genkan), and there are rows or shelves of shoes near the door, this is is a clear sign that you should take off your shoes. You will still need to remove your shoes when entering a private house, traditional accommodation ( minshuku or ryokan) and temple halls. Some restaurants with tatami (woven straw mat) areas will also require visitors to take off their shoes, as will some inns and historic sites. Wherever you need to take your shoes off, this is non-negotiable.
When you take off your shoes, you are usually given the option of a pair of slippers to walk around indoors. These slippers are great on wood floors and the like, but you should never wear slippers in a tatami room: take them off before stepping on the tatami and place them at the entrance of the room.
There are a number of dos and don'ts regarding using wands. The main things to keep in mind are not to leave chopsticks upright in a bowl of rice, or use them to pass food directly to another person's chopsticks. These actions are reminiscent of the rituals associated with funerals and deaths. Also avoid anything that could be considered a "game" with your chopsticks (this includes using them as a spear, drumming them on the table, waving them to get the waiter's attention, and using them for any itchiness) .
When you eat noodles in Japan, it is common to suck them up. Eat at any noodle restaurant and you'll be surrounded by other diners who suck loudly and unrestrained.
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When pouring glasses from a common bottle (e.g. sake), it is customary to pour drinks for other members of your party, and allow someone else to pour yours, that is, you do not pour your own drink. Say kam-pai for "Health!" before drinking.
There is no custom tipping in Japan. If you leave a little extra cash on a restaurant table, a waiter will often chase you down the street to get it back to you.
Say i-ta-da-ki-mas before eating (literally "I will receive", but that's like saying " bon appétit"), and say go-chi-sō-sa-ma de-shi-ta to express your appreciation after you finish. Remember to add a few statements of oi-shii (“delicious!”) Throughout the meal, as needed.
There are many, many Buddhist temples ( o-tera) and Shintō shrines ( jinja) across Japan and most are open and welcoming to visitors, whether you are a believer or not. But they're still religious sites: speak quietly in the main rooms, don't snoop around cordoned off areas, and avoid dressing like you're at the beach for a day.
Ritual of the Sanctuaries: There will be a source of water in front of each sanctuary. Before entering the sanctuary, use the ladles provided to pour water on your hands to rinse them, and pour water into your hand to rinse your mouth (spit on the ground, not in the spring of water. 'water).
It is considered rude to talk on your cell phone on trains and buses, and the announcements encourage travelers to put their phone in silent mode. People also tend not to speak loudly when traveling on public transport, so as not to disturb other passengers.
At peak times to board a train, the Japanese form an orderly queue. The platforms of stations have markings indicating where the car doors stop, and may have lines drawn on the platform to guide the direction of the queues.
It is considered rude to blow the nose in public. You may also see people walking around wearing surgical-like masks. Some choose to use them when they have a cold or the flu to avoid spreading their disease to others. Others simply wear these masks so as not to be affected by pollution.
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It is not uncommon to meet Japanese keen to practice their English, but English is not as well understood as some visitors hope and many people will uncomfortable or too shy to use it. It's best not to approach people on the assumption that they will be able to speak it.
A few basic Japanese words and phrases will help you a lot, and the locals will be disproportionately impressed by your attempt to speak their language, even the most tortured one. Su-mi-ma-sen ("excuse me", which can also be used for "sorry"), a-ri-ga-tō ("thank you"), ei-go ga ha-na-se-mas ka ("do you speak english?"), and wa-ka-ri-ma-sen ("I don't understand ") are all very handy to start with.
To help you if you are looking for other polite expressions, this Wikibook can help you!
The Japanese like to be on time. This is the main reason why their transport system works like clockwork (in 2017 a train operator profusely apologized for a train that left 20 seconds earlier), and in any other situation the same principle holds. . But you should also know that in Japan, being on time when it comes to work or official situations means being 15 minutes early. Reset your clock if you need to be tricked to do so; your coworkers or clients will appreciate it and you will add a few stars to the table of good strangers, raising the image of a very malicious gang.