Photo Credit: Oyvid Solstad
American travelers are sometimes at a loss when they visit other cultures. Our informal society means that it is not easy to offend people you don’t know; but in other parts of the world, there is protocol for almost every activity. Failure to comport yourself in the right manner can show disrespect–something you want to avoid regardless of whether you are traveling for business or pleasure.
If you’re planning a trip to Japan, there are many customs you will want to observe in order to show appreciation and respect for Japanese hospitality:
1. Great attention is paid to shoes and keeping floors clean. When entering a Japanese house, your shoes are removed outside and a pair of indoor slippers are used. Once inside the house, if you are going to step on a Tatami mat, you must also remove the slippers. Also, if you use the restroom, there are another pair of slippers you must change into before you enter. You should never step on both the bathroom floor and the rest of the house with the same slippers.
2. When eating a meal, it is customary to say “itadakimasu” at the beginning, and “gochisosama” when the meal is completed.
3. If eating a meal with shared dishes, use the opposite end of your chopsticks than the ones you feed yourself with to scoop a small amount of the food onto your own plate. Hold your rice bowl with one hand and use the chopsticks to move rice in to your mouth. Eat every bit of food you have taken, down to the last grain of rice.
4. Belching, toilet humor, blowing your nose, or talking obnoxiously loud during a meal is absolutely unacceptable.
5. Whether at a meal or a business meeting, seating is arranged in a strict heirarchal manner. Do not pick your own seat, but wait until the host has showed you where you should be seated.
6. Gifts are highly appreciated in Japanese culture. Any small token given to a business partner or host shows a great deal of thoughtfulness.
7. The Japanese are superstitious about the number “four” since it is pronounced the same way as the word “death” in that language. Avoid the number four whenever possible, including giving gifts that come in four pieces.
These are just a few of the things your want to consider when visiting this amazing country. For more information on Japanese cultural etiquette, visit:
Customs and Etiquette of Japan – Wikipedia
New to Japan – Japan Zone
Japan Reference – JREF
Japanese Etiquette – Asia Rooms