Japanese Etiquette: How to Save Yourself from Embarrassment in Japan

Did you know that it is extremely rude to rub your chopsticks together? If you’ve ever considered a trip to the land of the rising sun you’ve probably done some research on proper Japanese etiquette. Many daily customs are significantly different from those of the western world. Hopefully this compiled list of proper manners will be all you’ll ever need to survive your stay in Japan. Check out these etiquette resources and never again bring shame and dishonor to your family.

Table Manners

Because eating is hard.

Did you know that pouring soy sauce on your white rice is considered bad manners? One of the best things about Japan is the food (assuming you like rice and the ocean) and some of the first things a gaijin should learn are how to use chopsticks and how to eat sushi. Once you get these and other basics down, you’re relatively good to go! So go forth and eat and drink everything in sight like the gluttonous westerner you are.

In the House

Because not wearing shoes is hard.

Did you know that shoes are not worn inside Japanese homes, and that there is even a separate set of slippers worn exclusively in the bathroom? Being invited into someone’s house is considered an honor in Japan, and being a guest in a Japanese home can certainly be a terrifying experience if you are not prepared. Check out these handy posts and brush up on your manners before that home-stay!

Public Bath Etiquette

Because being naked is hard.

Did you know that you wash your body before you actually get into the bath? Well it’s true, and the last thing you want to do is embarrass yourself further in an already (potentially) embarrassing situation. Many foreigners are not accustomed to Japanese public baths (sento) where everyone runs around naked. However, sento are a staple of Japanese culture and should be experienced if given the chance. Another thing that many foreigners are unaware of is that Japanese sento cure every disease ever forever. Check out these basic tips to get the most out of your next sento visit.

Bathroom Etiquette

Because pooping is hard.

Did you know that many toilets have a button that when pressed replicates the sound of a toilet flushing? Well they do, and it’s pretty handy if you find yourself in the need of multiple courtesy flushes. That way, no water is wasted! Well done, Japan. Well done. Like everything else in the country, Japanese toilets are from the future.

Public Transport Etiquette

Because throwing up in private is hard.

Did you know that it is considered bad manners to projectile vomit in the middle of a crowded train? Okay, so riding trains in Japan isn’t all that hard once you know what you’re doing, but these posters are hilarious. I’ve also included some basic tips on surviving the entire process of using the highly efficient public transport system of Japan. Those trains can get pretty crowded from time to time however…

Sitting

Because sitting is hard.

Did you know that it’s rude to have the soles of your feet pointing out towards other people? With the proper amount of samurai pizza cat training you too can learn how to sit in the seiza position for more than two minutes. Most westerners are not used to sitting on the floor like this, but in Japan, you’ll likely be doing a lot of it.

Gift Giving

Because shopping is hard.

Did you know that giving anything related to the number 4 or 9 is considered unlucky? Gift giving can be difficult for the Japanese initiate. Even gift receiving can be an ordeal all in itself. Check out these handy tips and learn how to be the best Santa-san of all time. (Just don’t be like this poor fool and forget to take your shoes off.)

Letter Writing

Because writing is hard.

Did you know that letter-writing in Japan is not so much dependent on the content but more so on following the proper format? Despite the advent of e-mail, handwritten letters are still very important in Japan. I mean, how else are you going to properly thank the Japanese people for making Nicholas Cage do this?

Everything Else

Because baseball is hard (in space).

Did you know that in French, dandelions are called pissenlit, which means “urinate in bed?” Of course you didn’t. In this section you will find summaries of all the other sections plus etiquette rules you would have never even thought of. Enjoy.


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  • John

    I’ve heard of places not having paper towels or anything to dry your hands with but I never heard about any not having toilet paper. Lol that would be an awful surprise.

  • Sarah

    Hm, I’m definately beyond of “not too obvious” and this article http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Onsen#Tattoos states somthing different. Guess I have to got to Japan and figure it out myself :)

  • Anonymous

    *raises right hand* I was left-handed when born, but was ‘corrected’ by my mother… USA =P

  • Anonymous

    *raises right hand* I was left-handed when born, but was ‘corrected’ by my mother… USA =P

  • http://hiraganamama.wordpress.com/ Hiragana Mama

    This was an interesting and helpful post :) But, sometimes I find that it’s better to be naive… getting caught up in doing everything the right way can be stressful.

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  • Dolphinwing

    I have that haruhi wallpaper. and yes I did know that dandelions are called urinate in bed in French. Thank you Mameshiba!

  • John

    Guess it just depends on the bath house and the tattoo(s) in question!

  • johngifu

    Great article and very informative :)

  • deimos

    Did I just see this article published on AltJapan or JapanProbe?!?

  • deimos

    Did I just see this article published on AltJapan or JapanProbe?!?

  • http://www.tofugu.com koichi

    Not that I know of!

  • Anonymous

    A tiny tidbit: Ninomiya Kazunari had to “change” his primary hand when he was little from left to right.

  • Anonymous

    (fangirl on.) Haha! The Tofugu guys know about KAT-TUN lol. I love it when and where my interests collide. Very cool!  (fangirl off.)

    Thanks for that link. Nakamaru is so funny lol.

  • guest

    I visited Japan last year to stay with friends. My friend’s mom cooked a wonderful meal and insisted I try the caviar sushi, I couldn’t bring myself to eat it, I must have really offended her!
    After that we all got drunk in a bar and I forgot everything I knewJapanese and asked a waiter “excuse me what is a toilet” instead of “excuse me where is the toilet?” Oh the shame!

  • guest

    I visited Japan last year to stay with friends. My friend’s mom cooked a wonderful meal and insisted I try the caviar sushi, I couldn’t bring myself to eat it, I must have really offended her!
    After that we all got drunk in a bar and I forgot everything I knewJapanese and asked a waiter “excuse me what is a toilet” instead of “excuse me where is the toilet?” Oh the shame!

  • Piratus

    Believe it or not but the ”seiza” postion is pretty natural for me and doesnt hurt me at all! most of the time i even sit like that without even noticing it!  I think for me it was a combination of that i’m quite supple,sitting like that from early age and the gen of my ancestors would also helped a bit.

  • http://mistersanity.blogspot.com Jonadab

    Courtesy flushes to mask sounds, eh?  I take it that means the act of turning on the bathroom light in Japan doesn’t automatically activate a “ventilation” fan in the ceiling (which in most cases doesn’t actually move air because it leads to an otherwise sealed crawlspace, but so what)?

  • http://mistersanity.blogspot.com Jonadab

    If you go by warning signs and labels, everything in the US must be pretty hard too.  Nobody pays much attention to them, but they’re everywhere.  Even when you go through the drive-through and buy a cup of coffee, the cup has warnings printed on it about how the coffee is hot and spilling it on your private parts could burn you and stuff.  It only takes a small handful of incredibly stupid people, and all of society has to suffer this indignity.

  • Siseon

    Can anybody make out just where this はし-use poster/scan is from? Its on some other blog as well but without any mention of a source. There seems to be some kind of information in the lower right-hand corner of the picture itself, but I can’t make it out…oh well, I guess my kanji skills wouldn’t suffice anyway.

  • Akenokoru

    I’ve heard that the sushi chefs will love you if you don’t use condiments to overwhelm the flavor of their sushi, even adding too much soy sauce is insulting. So they will probably love you for not using wasabi. ;)

  • Akenokoru

    I’ve heard that the sushi chefs will love you if you don’t use condiments to overwhelm the flavor of their sushi, even adding too much soy sauce is insulting. So they will probably love you for not using wasabi. ;)

  • Akenokoru

    woops, ignore pic, playing with buttons~ >__<;

  • Akenokoru

    woops, ignore pic, playing with buttons~ >__<;

  • Jon E.

    When I was in Japan, some stations I went to had nothing to dry your hands with in the bathrooms after washing them. People bring around hankerchiefs in their backpockets, purses and bags, to use for that reason, I was told.

  • Sanitywolf

    :D haruhi suzumiya

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  • Nothanks

    Not completely true.  If a child is evaluated to be equally right or left handed, they are directed to do things right handed.  This occurred with me.  I’m left-footed in most sports (soccer, skate boarding, etc.), but right-handed in sports.  I think I’d probably have been better off not directed to do things either way, but left to figure out what worked best for me.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Nat-Wel/1477579975 Nat Wel

    That title picture was from Transparent Language DVD, my first ever Japanese learning media ;).

  • http://www.facebook.com/catherine.cole.716 Catherine Cole

    Oh man the sitting part may be hard for me. I have really bad knee problems and had surgery on them so parts of my legs are still numb > <; It really hurts to sit on them because of the numbness D:

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100002327748257 Nora Seamonk

    what a pain in the arse. it must be exhausting.

  • Sam

    I wanted to go to Japan but it actually just sounds like a nightmare. I’m a polite person but could easily insult someone accidentally if I forgot some of the ‘rules’. Might just stay in the UK, people round here do rude for breakfast.

  • Silver

    Because california is the entire west coast of the USA. Washington, oregon, idaho, and nevada dont exist. XD