Adam e-mailed me and wanted to share some quick tips about the customs he encountered while living in Japan.
Japan has an amazing and dynamic culture. It has fascinating buildings and architecture that date back thousands of years that simply ooze Japanese culture. This history sits along the much more modern elements of the shifting fashion trends and technological development that is constantly reinventing itself. This mix of old and new creates a country of stark contradictions which is one of the reasons Japan is a must visit destination. Before you go, here is a quick heads up on Japanese customs and how to get along if this is your first visit.
If you are eating out with the locals and you’re presented with a traditional Japanese dish, you may find it hard not to be a noisy eater and to slurp on the food you’re not so used to eating. Its commonplace in Japan and for everyone to do so and it’s seen a sign that you are enjoying your meal! If you find it hard to eat noodles or rice with chopsticks, it’s more than welcome that you are allowed to raise the bowl you’re eating from to chin level. This will reduce any chance of an accidental spillage. Before you even start to eat anything that has been offered to you, it’s polite to say “itadakimasu” which means I will receive. This is expected whether you are in the best five star restaurants or sampling a taste of food at the local market.
In countries such as the US, Tipping is expected and is often automatically added on to your bill. The very opposite is true in Japan. In restaurants for example, they believe that the price they set for a meal is the price they believe it to be worth. Any more is seen as offensive and frowned upon. You will find that some waitresses will begrudgingly accept a tip just to avoid the confrontation but in general, it’s seen as an insult. So remember the price you see is the price you pay.
Visiting someone else’s home.
It’s custom in Japan for you to remove your shoes as soon as you step into someone else’s home and in most cases, if you enter a hotel or business too. There are a few westernised businesses based in Japan that don’t require you to remove your shoes so it’s not always necessary. As soon as you pass through the door, you will probably notice other people’s shoes lined up and a pair of complimentary guest slippers will be sitting nearby; many Japanese bring a pair of indoor slippers just in case. And be careful to remove the toilet slippers waiting for you in the bathroom once you leave the bathroom. If in doubt, take your shoes off! If the host doesn’t expect it, they will let you know.
During your trip you will notice public bathhouses (Sento) dotted all around Japan whether you are in a major city or a small village. You might also notice the hot springs (Onsen) too. Unlike their use in the western culture, a Japanese bath is a place for you to relax after you have washed. It’s not a place for actual scrubbing! If you are in the home of a local, you may be offered the choice of using their bath. This is seen as an honour and you should be careful not to dirty the water you bathe in. The sanctity of the Japanese bath (Ofuro) is incredibly important.
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