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Japanese Customs and Manners

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Japanese Customs and Manners

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Japanese Customs and Manners


In Japan, people greet by bowing to one another. A bow can range from a small nod of the head to a deep bend at the waist. A deeper, longer bow indicates sincere respect while a small nod is more casual and informal. Additionally, bowing with your palms together at chest level is not customary in Japan.

If the greeting takes place on tatami floor (a type of mat), people get on their knees to bow. Bowing is not only used to greet, but also to thank, apologize, make a request, or ask someone a favor. Most Japanese do not expect foreigners to know the proper bowing etiquette. A combination of a bow and shaking hands is usually expected from foreigners.


Gift giving is a conventional part of Japanese culture. Different types of gifts are given on depending on the occasion. How the present is wrapped is essential. If not nicely packed, the present should at least given in a bag, preferably in a bag by the shop the gift was purchased at.

Gifts in sets of four are usually avoided because it is considered an unlucky number in Japanese superstition. To clarify, the Japanese word for "four" is pronounced the same as the word "death". When handing over a present, both the gift giver and recipient use both hands.

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Table Manners

The most important table etiquette in Japan is saying customary phrases before and after a meal. It is traditional for Japanese people to say "itadaki-masu" (meaning “I humbly receive” or “let’s eat”) before a meal and "gochisou-sama" after a meal.

These phrases not only mean thanks for the food, but also indicate the beginning and the ending of a meal. If you are eating with Japanese people, try to say these phrases as it is impolite if you don't.

One of the fundamental chopsticks etiquettes is not to directly pass food from your chopsticks to somebody else's chopsticks or vice versa. It's also important not to vertically stick chopstick into food, especially into a bowl of rice. Additionally, it is not polite to wave your chopsticks above food dishes or to use your chopsticks to point at somebody.

Two people should never pick up the same food with their chopsticks (i.e. if someone is struggling to pick something up you can't help them). This reminds the Japanese of a funeral ritual in Japan, it's utterly morbid.

It is mannerly to lift small bowls of rice or soup when you eat to prevent dropping food. If you do not receive a soup spoon, it is acceptable to sip soup out of the bowl and eat the solid food with chopsticks.

It is usual in Japan to make some slurping noises while eating noodles, such as ramen and soba. It is believed to taste better when making slurping noises.


Shoes are never worn in someone's home or on Japanese tatami flooring (mats). It is expected to take off your shoes in a restaurant, hotel, hot spring resort etc. There will always be a place to put your shoes. In addition, you will be given slippers to wear.

There are often different slippers for the bathroom. You should never wear the normal slippers into the bathroom (if bathroom slippers are provided) and vice versa.

Miscellaneous Tips

The Japanese don't have loud public conversations on their mobile phones. People never speak on the phone in the train or in a shop. Most people refrain from speaking on the phone in the train or in a shop, and keep their phone on vibrate.

When going out for drinks, it's considered rude to drink before cheers (kampai!).

Since Japan isn't an English speaking country, speak slowly and be patient when speaking English. It is recommended to learning a few basic words of Japanese.

It is strictly stand left pass right on Tokyo escalators. Due to the Japanese tradition of having two opposite standards for everything, Osaka is stand right pass left.


How do you use "-san," "-kun" and "-chan" for Japanese people's names?

The suffix "-san " is a title of respect added to a name. It can be used with both male and female names, as well as with either surnames or given names. It can also be attached to the name of titles and occupations.

"-kun" is used to address men who are younger or the same age as the speaker. Usually in schools or companies, a male might address female inferiors by "-kun". It can also be attached to both surnames and given names. It is less polite than "-san" and isn't used between women or when addressing one's superiors.

"-chan" is often attached to children's names when calling them by their given names. It can also be used regarding kinship terms in a childish language.