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Japanese Etiquette: The Most Common (and Offensive) Mistakes? [closed]

I am aware that Japan has a lot of unwritten rules of etiquette. What are the most common (and most obnoxious) visitor etiquette violations?

What behaviors show respect and understanding for Japanese culture?


Take name cards with two hands when received and give them with two hands. Look at the card you received and place it on the table in front of you while you talk to the person (s).

You CAN hit food with one chopstick and hold it with the other if it is difficult to eat (dumplings, potatoes, etc.). Don't put both of them in, however.

Don't dip your sushi rice in soy sauce. Ideally, try to just dip the fish in it. Don't throw too much wasabi into the soy sauce. Ideally, just take a small piece and place it directly on top of the fish before you eat it. These two rules are especially important when you're at a sushi counter, as both mistakes tell the chef that you need to "fix" his or her food. However, you can eat sushi with your right hand if you have problems with chopsticks. Eat the pickled ginger in small portions between the pieces of sushi - do not devour it before the sushi itself arrives.

In general, you should try to imitate the behavior of people who have the same status around you (colleagues, fellow students) when it comes to bowing, where to sit, how loudly to speak, how much to eat and when / drinks in the presence of a supervisor (boss, professor, etc.).

Do not speak to yourself / introduce yourself with -san. While you say "This is Mr. Smith" and you say "This is Mr. Smith" in Japanese, do NOT introduce yourself as "My name is Mr. Smith" but as "My name is Mr. Smith".

Dragons are happy beings. Don't compare something bad / dangerous to a kite. I've seen this a few times and it really shows that you have no idea about Asia in general.

If you are trying to speak Japanese, try someone you trust to give you a good rating first. If you have a heavy English / French accent and people don't understand what you're trying to say in Japanese, they'll feel uncomfortable. On the other hand, you can make a really good impression by being able to use some short expressions that you can use to convey positive feedback ("oishkatta desu" after dinner, etc) in a reasonably understandable accent give.

Do not open gifts received in front of the person who gave them unless directed to do so. You look greedy and there is an enormous risk of losing face if you do not like what you received.

If you have Japanese guests wherever you are, give them a small (toy / ceramic / whatever) frog as a parting gift. The words "frog" and "return" have the same pronunciation in Japanese and indicate that YOU should come back. Don't do this when you're with someone else.

If you go anywhere, buy a small souvenir (like chocolates, cookies, etc) in the place you've been, especially local stuff that is usually not available in a supermarket everywhere. If you are in an office in Tokyo on a business trip to Osaka, buy some of the things that are sold at the train station. These are always individually wrapped so you can give cookies / whatever to anyone in your department. Put these on your desk when you return - you don't have to hand them in in person. It doesn't matter what it is or that it is expensive. When you're out and about privately, buy something small just for your best friends - maybe your boss too.

If you are in a restaurant, check to see if there is a till at the entrance when you enter. You most likely also have a sheet of paper on the clipboard at / under your table that the waiter will use to record your orders. When you pay, take this clipboard and go straight to the exit to pay. Otherwise, ask for the check on the table.

It is perfectly normal to ask which sauce goes with which food. Often times, the Japanese on the table don't know what goes with it either, as many restaurants try to make it special by adding different dipping sauces for a course.

As a foreigner in Japan, you will most likely have three questions (in a row, asked by the same person): Do you speak / learn Japanese? Do you like japanese girls Do you eat natto? I think this comes from some Japanese who are a bit scared that they are not "enough" Japanese. They feel that they speak Japanese poorly, they prefer / admire western women and many do not like natto. If you learn / like Japanese, like Japanese girls AND like natto, you are almost more Japanese than they would like to be. I speak Japanese and I like Japanese girls, but I don't like Natto. The Japanese were ALWAYS relieved when I told them I didn't like natto.

Do not bring up issues related to World War II or island disputes with Korea / China, etc. If the topic already exists, don't comment on it. If you think you want to contribute or be a part of it, bring an example from the history / territorial disputes in your country, but do not express opinions on Japanese issues. Chances are that what you read in your local newspaper outside of Japan is very different from what you read inside of Japan, and all you can do is act as a fool.

Don't expose any tattoos that you may have. Tattoos are traditionally associated with the Japanese mafia.

Respect the food. Finish your plate. Don't walk around while you are eating.

Don't tip people - nowhere and never.

If you need to make or answer a cell phone call, leave the room / restaurant / train compartment.

When you take a picture with your mobile phone or compact digital camera, make sure that the "Shutter Sound" is on. People are afraid of secret photos, especially in public places.

Be very careful about how you behave in general. People will politely ignore you if you act rude. This doesn't mean it's okay. I've seen a lot of people start to get more and more rude just because nobody told them about it. It can create a degree of arrogance as people think whatever they are doing is fine.

Regarding some of the comments below

I would like to make a statement here on the allegation that I am sexist. I take any form of discrimination very seriously and firmly reject it. All the more annoyed when I am accused of being sexist myself. I've thought this over pretty well and have come to the conclusion that there is a need to comment on this. I am not taking note of the comments or my response to be in the right place here, but as long as the allegation is below I believe that an adequate response on my part is absolutely necessary given the weight of these allegations.

On the question of how to put people in the same context as food:

"Women" in this theme are objects like natto!

The allegation seems to be that a person who asks me directly the questions whether I like some type of food and whether I like Japanese women is sexist. I answered the question appropriately, rather than dismissing the question as sexist, and made myself just as sexist. However, this means that if someone said in one sentence to someone of the opposite sex, "I love this country, and I love you too," someone would become sexist since it also compares a person to an object. I firmly oppose this conclusion. Then what introduction must one make before talking about people who do not degrade them and who are accused of sexism?

On the question of whether the short time a tourist is in Japan matters:

Why is your taste as a tourist over "women" of a country important ?! Women are groceries, or are you going to buy them or marry them in a short time? These are certainly not my questions because it is not important to me or the other tourists why they are traveling to another country, but this question is "sexist".

A Japanese woman living in Japan asked me this question, a foreign woman living in Japan. While this site is not intended for expats, but rather for travelers, a lot of people on this site keep returning to the same country and are therefore interested in the culture and mistakes that can be made in lengthy interactions with locals. My example doesn't appeal to a weekend tourist who only sees some of the most famous temples in Kyoto. Regardless of this problem, nothing is sexist in this context, just because the situation described does not apply to short-term tourists.

The context is about comparing the preference of a visual appearance of people in one part of the world with people in another part of the world. Noticing a visual difference between Caucasians and Japanese is not sexist as it in no way compares men to women. It is also not racist as it is merely the observation of a very obvious fact, not the assertion of the inherent superiority of any of them. Visual attraction (that is, seeing but not knowing a person) to the opposite sex is a biological fact - not sexism. Combining visual attraction with a preference for visual appearance, being a matter of a particular body type and possibly hair color, is also not sexism. It does not treat women like objects and does not judge men as superior to women. Otherwise the mere question "

Funnily enough, I read an article on askmen.com about the 10 most common mistakes in Japanese etiquette.

In a nutshell, we have:

  1. Blow your nose in public
  2. Point with the index finger
  3. Do not pour your own beer
  4. Wearing toilet shoes outside of the toilet
  5. Gifts in multiples of four
  6. Do not wash first before entering a public bath
  7. Passing food on to someone else with chopsticks
  8. Sticking chopsticks upright in rice (very bad)
  9. Mistreatment of a business card (don't put it in your back pocket or fold it)
  10. Wear your shoes at someone's home

I studied Japanese in school for three years, and the chopsticks in rice were definitely one we learned, as was how to wear shoes around someone's house.

Mark's answer is excellent and covers all the big ones. From experience I just thought I would add a few other / my own social faux pas:

  • Eating in public while walking
  • Cross your legs in front of the supervisor (usually boss or manager)
  • Wipe your face with "oshibori" (damp cloth before eating to clean your hands)
  • Stabbing food with chopsticks instead of using it as intended
  • I once resented my not turning my chopsticks when I picked them up from a communal plate, but most of my friends laugh when I suggest this.
  • Last but not least, it tastes disgusting to say that Hokkaido jerky is disgusting when brought back to class as a souvenir by a student (I was young and stupid)

While some of these may seem ridiculous, I have been punished for most of them, and many of them still give me whole-body tremors just to think about. Painful memories.

Two additional points.

  1. Never turn away from someone you communicate with, someone who supports you, or someone you visit, especially at a guest house.
  2. You should not make sudden movements or comments that could be considered argumentative, hostile, or sensitive. You should always put an introductory sentence in front of it, e.g. B. あ あ (ano) for occasional situations or す す せ ん (sumimasen) for formal situations or with strangers, and wait for their confirmation. This implies that you may be bringing up a topic that is deemed to be at least abrupt.

Even if you ask a stranger for help in a public place (e.g. a train station or a shop), always use す す み せ ん (sumimasen) to answer your request. To do otherwise would be impolite.

By default, sit in the back and not in the front of the taxi. However, this is less of a Japan-specific thing than an Australian-New Zealand one.

The most contradicting advice I've received is to the staff not to to thank. The Japanese Language and Usage Question Is it appropriate to thank waiters, cashiers, etc. for their service? discusses this, and the general consensus is that it is fine either way. Dave MG's response had a section on why you might choose not to thank the staff:

My cultural bonus watch: The Japanese concept of service is that it's not about the people. The person who works in a shop or restaurant becomes a full representative of that place during the service and they check their individual personality at the door. So for the customer, the staff does not deserve the personal interaction that other people do.

It seems a little tough for a non-Japanese as in other cultures like mine we tend to think of the person doing the job. I tend to sympathize with the guy who does the minimum wage work. In Japanese culture, however, this is not an attempt to be superior to the service staff, but rather an affirmation that the service staff is not necessarily personally invested in the job.

In a way, there is some exemption in the concept because employees can also get away from work so as not to take problems personally.

Don't worry too much about etiquette. If you're usually a polite person and don't think about wearing your shoes or toilet shoes where they shouldn't, then you will likely do well. I spent a total of about 6 weeks in Japan after making three trips and I am not aware of any mistakes, although I had a small near-miss.

I'm not Japanese, but I have a lot of Japanese friends. I think bow is the best way to show respect to people. When you go to a restaurant the manager or waitress bow to you and that should be fine. And what is going to frustrate / upset most Japanese restaurant owners is that they use chopsticks to pick up a sushi or dip the rice in soy sauce. They don't even exclude tips. If you think the service is good just say thank you and smile and that should be fine.

When you eat ramen it is okay to make noise as well as it means it is really good. The cook will be happy to hear that.

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