A nation’s historical and geographical background plays important role in forming its customs and traditions. Due to its geographical isolation Japan has a unique cultural environment. This ‘land of rising sun’ is famous for its determination and strict social code of conduct. Japanese society is a ‘group centric’ society and much importance is given to conformity. The Japanese have specific ways for everything and followed by everyone.
In the beginning as an outsider we may find this way of doing things very complex; like a complicated web of social rules and customs. But knowing few little things will surely help to spread smiles and create bonding.
So let’s understand these top 10 nitty-gritty Japanese Customs.
Take off your shoes please ! -
Shoe etiquettes are very important in Japan. Similar to many other Asian countries Japan also have the tradition of removing shoes before entering homes and other indoor places. You will often see a lineup of shoes in the entrance of homes, traditional inns, temples etc. Remove your shoes and place them outwards facing towards the door. In Japan many people use indoor slippers at home but No shoes or slippers of any type are permitted on tatami (mat) floors. There are separate slippers for toilet use as well. This custom has long history. It goes back to the Heian period ( 794 – 1192 ). In those days it was prevalent among the upper classes and gradually spread thereafter throughout society. This distinctive use of footwear is mainly to maintain the hygiene and keep the house clean.
No Tipping –
Japan offers one of the best hospitality experiences in the world and Japanese hospitality is renowned for consistently outstanding service culture. No matter where you go from the most luxurious hotels to the most humble ramen shops, you can expect to receive thoughtful, considerate service without any expectation of tip. There is no tipping culture in japan. Tipping can be considered rude here and most of the time if you try to leave a tip you’ll be turned down! There are some exceptions to the rule. Though tip is not required in Japan people connected with tourism industry like Guides, Ryokan staff may still be grateful for tips. If you decide to tip in Japan, place the tip inside an envelope and hand over the envelope.
Slurping is good! –
Yes.. Slurping is considered good in Japan. Especially slurping the noodles. The Japanese believe that slurping conveys the “deliciousness” of the food, and the flavors get enhanced by doing so. Slurping noodles is considered an act of appreciating the food and complimenting the chef for his skills. Slurping shows you loved the food and you are enjoying it.
Number 4 is a strict No No-
In japan people have superstitious beliefs regarding number 4.It is considered very unlucky and people try to avoid it as much as possible. This fear for Number 4 is know is called ‘Tetraphobia’ and is common in many East Asian cultures. Traditionally, 4 is unlucky because it is also pronounced as ‘shi’, and in Japanese the word death also has similar pronunciation. There are many hospitals and hotels that don’t have this numbers as the room number or even the floor number. In Japan always avoid gifting something in set of fours because it can be seen as a very ominous gift.
Use your chopsticks carefully-
Japan has its own set of chopstick etiquettes. And there are things which you absolutely must not do. Avoid sticking your chopsticks upright in your rice because it’s the way a bowl of rice is offered to the spirit of a dead person. Also Chopsticks should not be crossed on a table as this symbolizes death. Avoid taking food from a serving plate with your own chopsticks. Use the serving utensil or if it’s not available use the reverse end of chopsticks.
Gifts are must! -
Gifts are ubiquitous in Japanese Culture. The souvenirs brought home from a trip are called ‘Omiyage’ and every place in Japan has its specialties in food, traditional art, crafts, etc. In japan people feel a strong obligation to bring such items as gifts not only for family members, but also relatives, friends, and colleagues. The thank-you gifts you bring when you visit someone are called ‘Temiyage’. Sweets or fruits are usually given as Temiyage. Much attention is given to gift wrapping. Anything in sets of four should be avoided because number 4 is considered an unlucky in Japanese culture.
Greetings are important-
Cheerfully loud greetings are characteristics of Japanese offices, restaurants and other social places in Japan. Cheerful greetings are important for cultivating warmth and friendliness in the atmosphere. Someone who do not greet may be seen as cold and impolite. The bow is an integral part of Japanese culture. It is used to greet when meeting, to get attention, to show gratitude, to express sympathy, or to convey an apology. Japanese people also use many seasonal greetings like “ii tenki desu ne.”(It’s a good whether) or “atsui desu ne”(isn’t it hot?) as ice breakers.
Use of surgical masks –
The custom of wearing masks started in Japan in the early part of the 20th century. It became popular during the great Spanish influenza epidemic of 1918-1919 and continues till date for various reasons. In Japan you will find many people wearing surgical masks when they are sick. It’s not that they have any serious illness but they wear it out of consideration for others; to prevent the spread of contagious colds and illnesses. It is part of common courtesy. Also people often wear masks out in public to avoid any seasonal contagious illness and pollens which can cause allergies.
Pouring Drinks -
Alcohol is a huge part of Japanese culture. Drinking is an important social ritual that helps the Japanese to relax. It also serves as an important opportunity to create and nurture the essential social bonding. Like many other things Japan has some rules when it comes to pouring drinks. It is customary for drinking companions to pour drinks for one another. In Japan it is considered impolite to pour your own cup. It’s seen as greedy, self-centered and generally anti-social. When someone pours a drink for you hold up your cup with both hands at a slight angle to make it easier to pour. This is considered a humble gesture. And when someone pours a round it’s rude not to reciprocate.
In Japan it is crucial to know how to refer to people. In Japan people generally use the last name to address someone who is not so familiar. Suffix ‘san’ is used extensively in everyday life, to show respect. Japanese attach the suffix “san” to people’s first or last name, or “sama” to be particularly respectful while addressing or referring to people. The honorifics suffix ‘san’ and ‘sama’ are gender-neutral. Usually children are called with just their first names, but it is a normal practice to use the suffix “chan” for girls and “kun” for boys. Place these respectful titles after other people’s names, but not use it for your own .
Japanese society is multi layered; multi structured society and have its own sets of social customs which help to maintain and nurture the harmony of it. Knowing these customs is an enriching experience indeed.