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If you know these key Japanese customs, you’ll get closer to the locals and see beneath the surface of Japan.
1. Addressing Someone, Respect

Bowing is nothing less than an art form in Japan, respect pounded into children’s heads from the moment they enter school. For tourists, a simple inclination of the head or an attempt at a bow at the waist will usually suffice.

The duration and inclination of the bow is proportionate to the elevation of the person you’re addressing.

The duration and inclination of the bow is proportionate to the elevation of the person you’re addressing. For example, a friend might get a lightning-fast 30-degree bow; an office superior might get a slow, extended, 70-degree bow. It’s all about position and circumstance.

In addition to bowing, addressing someone properly is key. Just as a “Dr. Smith” might feel a little insulted if you were to refer to him as “Smith”, so would a Japanese if you do not attach the suffix “san” to their last name, or “sama” if you are trying to be particularly respectful.

Usually children are content with just their first names, but you can add the suffix “chan” for girls and “kun” for boys if you like.

2. Table Manners

Some simple bullet points here:

- If you’re with a dinner party and receive drinks, wait before raising the glass to your lips. Everyone will be served, and someone will take the lead, make a speech, raise his drink, and yell “kampai!” (cheers).

- You will receive a small wet cloth at most Japanese restaurants. Use this to wash your hands before eating, then carefully fold it and set it aside on the table. Do not use it as a napkin, or to touch any part of your face.

- Slurping noodles or making loud noises while eating is OK! In fact, slurping hot food like ramen is polite, to show you are enjoying it.

- You may raise bowls to your mouth to make it easier to eat with chopsticks, especially bowls of rice.

- Just before digging in, whether it be a seven-course dinner or a sample at a supermarket, it’s polite to say “itadakimasu” (I will receive).

3. No Tipping

There is no tipping in any situation in Japan – cabs, restaurants, personal care. To tip someone is actually a little insulting; the services you’ve asked for are covered by the price given, so why pay more?

If you are in a large area like Tokyo and can’t speak any Japanese, a waiter or waitress might take the extra money you happen to leave rather than force themselves to deal with the awkward situation of explaining the concept of no tipping in broken English.

Just remind yourself: a price is a price.

Photo by tavallai

4. Chopsticks

Depending on the restaurant you decide upon for that evening, you may be required to use chopsticks.

If for some reason you aren’t too adept with chopsticks, try to learn before passing through immigration. It’s really not that hard.

One false assumption among many Japanese that’s slowly being dispelled by time is the “uniqueness” of Japan. Japan is an island nation; Japan is the only country that has four seasons; foreigners can’t understand Japan; only Japanese can use chopsticks properly.

I cannot count the number of times I’ve been told I use Japanese chopsticks with skill and grace, despite the fact I’ve seen three-year-olds managing just as well.

If you’re dining with a Japanese, don’t be surprised if you receive a look of amazement at your ability to eat like a Japanese.

5. Thresholds

Take off your shoes at the entrance to all homes, and most businesses and hotels. Usually a rack will be provided to store your shoes, and pair of guest slippers will be sitting nearby; many Japanese bring a pair of indoor slippers just in case, though.

Never wear slippers when you need to step onto a tatami mat (used in most Japanese homes and hotels; the standard unit of measurement for area even today), and be careful to remove the toilet slippers waiting for you in the bathroom.

It is extremely bad form, for example, to reenter the main room of a house wearing slippers that have been running across dirty linoleum.

6. Masks

Photo by toestubber

SARS is long gone, though I did happen to see a “SARS Preparation Kit” during my brief stay in a Japanese hospital.

Nevertheless, sterilized masks, like the ones you’d see in the emergency room, are commonly used by salarymen, office ladies, and municipal workers to protect other people from their germs.

Rather sensible when you think about it, as masks do not protect the wearer so much as the ones around him. The reason could be anything from a slight cold to simply being worried about exposing other people; don’t let it concern you on your Japanese vacation.

7. Conformity

When groups of high school students in Japan were asked to identify the dangers facing children today, the majority agreed on the number one threat: individualism.

Japanese society is focused on the group. Western cultures are focused on the individual.

Does this mean that the Japanese are nothing more that worker bees in a vast hive of steel and concrete? Certainly not, but their presentation of such individual qualities are carefully calculated and given in doses.

Drawing attention to yourself as an individual is a huge no-no: don’t blow your nose in public, try to avoid eating while on the go, and don’t speak on your cell phone in crowded public areas like trains or buses.

The main problem with this is that foreigners simply can’t avoid standing out; we stick out like sore thumbs no matter how long we’ve been here, or how much we know about Japanese culture and society.

As a result, being in Japan gives foreigners the status of D-level celebrities: you’ll get glances, shouts for attention, calls to have pictures taken with people, requests for autographs (happened once to me on a southern island), and overall just more awareness of being a “stake that sticks out”.

8. Bathing

Photo by meganscheminske

Public bathhouses are alive and well in Japan.

Sento, or neighborhood bathhouses, can be found from the largest area in Shinjuku to a small town on the island of Shikoku.

Onsen, or hot springs, are very popular as weekend excursion resorts.

Unlike in western cultures, the Japanese bath is used after you have washed and rinsed, and feel like soaking in extra-hot water for 10, 20, 30 minutes. It’s an acquired taste to be sure, but can be very relaxing.

If you happen to be invited into a Japanese household, you will be given the honor of using the bath first, usually before dinner. Be extra careful so as to not dirty the water in any way; the sanctity of the ofuro (bath) is of utmost importance.

Take the time to visit a sento if you have the opportunity. These are places without barriers, without regard to skin color, age, or language… well, they are separated by sex with the exception of some mixed-bathing areas.

Lying in the hot water and slowly listening to my heart beat slow down is a time when I feel most attuned to Japanese culture.

9. Speaking English
Japanese will generally assume you are a native English speaker until you prove otherwise.

Japanese will generally assume you are a native English speaker until you prove otherwise. Even during a short visit, you’ll see:

-A group of schoolchildren in neatly pressed Prussian uniforms walking across the intersection, shouting “Hello! Hello! Herro!” as they assess your foreign features

-A random person just walking up to you and asking “Where are you from?”

Friendly? Certainly. But I can see how constant celebrity status might get confusing or frustrating for travelers who don’t speak English.

Although you may speak some or fluent Japanese, the default language of choice is English. Many Japanese will insist on using their own English language ability, however limited, to converse with foreigners, in spite of the fact that the person on the opposing end may have more knowledge of the local tongue.

10. Safety

Every Japanese person I have met warns me to be safe in my travels, to take care of my belongings. Every foreigner tells me not to worry, nothing can go wrong, nothing will be stolen. This may be based on individual experience, but there are other issues:

- The fear of crime in Japan is high, especially among Japanese citizens.

- Murders happen. I repeat, murders happen. People are attacked, robbed, assaulted, raped, beaten, and swindled

However, Japan’s low crime rate is evident when you see businessmen who have missed the last train sleeping outside on a park bench, or a group of 5-year-old boys walking by themselves for over a kilometer to make the starting bell at school.

Community Connection

For more on Japanese language, check out Matador’s language learning resources:

10 Essential Tips for Learning Japanese
10 Extraordinarily Useful Japanese Phrases

For more on life, work, teaching and travel in Japan, visit Matador’s Japan Focus Page.

Culture Guides


 

About The Author

Turner Wright

Turner Wright is a marathon runner first, an adventurer second, and a writer through it all. Apparently, he has a thing for island nations, having lived in Japan, and soon to be headed for New Zealand. Check out his adventures at Keeping Pace in Japan.

  • Tracy

    I have never been to Japan but this was a great guide if I ever have the opportunity to go. I believe knowing the local culture when one travels to another country is very important to avoid misunderstandings.

    Best wishes!

  • Julie

    Great article, Turner!
    Based on my experience in China, I'd say that most of your tips are applicable there, as well, though Peter Davison (ourmaninshanghai on Matador) would be a much better source to confirm this information.

  • Vlatka

    I loved the article! The furthest I have been from my country (Croatia) is Turkey, and I loved it! Maybe this summer I will go to Japan, 'cause my boyfriend is absolutely obsessed by the country and people :)
    If that happens, your tips will, I'm sure, be of great help. If so, I shall post another comment :)

  • http://curiousvillager.wordpress.com Tracy

    I have never been to Japan but this was a great guide if I ever have the opportunity to go. I believe knowing the local culture when one travels to another country is very important to avoid misunderstandings.

    Best wishes!

  • Svetoslav

    Great tips! It has been a while since I pressed the "I like it!" Stumble button after reading a good article.

  • Kazu

    I was born in Japan, spent 7 years there and go back as often as I can, which is to say not very often.

    Here's a good tip for folks who may not speak Japanese. While we Japanese people are often times known for our bad English, it is a mandatory class in school. Part of the reason most Japanese people's English is so bad is because we learn it from other Japanese folk with very limited English ability and terrible pronunciation. If you're ever having trouble communicating with someone, try writing your thoughts down on paper. Most Japanese people understand English 100 times better if they can see it in writing. Catching native English accents, whether American or whatever, is the main obstacle for a lot of people there.

  • John Smith

    You might add couple of polite words like arigato, thanks. It also might be offending to point someone with your feet.

  • max

    Wow this site is so helpful. I find japanease culture very interesting. I am 16 years old and would like to know a little more about their schools and education(cant find a good website like this anywhere else). If possible, could you add some more information to this site and rid me of my curiosity.

  • Turner Wright

    John – that point to someone with your feet or showing the underside of your shoes doesn't really apply in Japan, but you're right about the simple phrases: domo, arigatou gozaimasu (more polite), domo arigatou gozaimasu (most polite)

    Max – I wouldn't wish the Japanese school system on anyone; I've never seen students working harder and having more on-hours. There are lots of good sites… a recent one that caught my attention is on the blog Trans-Pacific Radio:
    http://www.transpacificradio.com/category/view-fr… Feel free to email me with any questions you might have about Japan or the school system.

    Vlatka – excellent. Let me know if you're looking for suggestions as to where to visit.

    Kazu – Very true. All Japanese learn English in junior high school, and most go on to study in high school and university. As a result, I believe like 90% have a basic knowledge of grammar and vocabulary, but very little practice in actually speaking. This is one reason why English conversation schools still gross money across the country – AEON, GEOS, NOVA, ECC, and the JET programme.

    If anyone wants a followup or has any other questions, don't hesitate to contact me.

  • http://www.collazoprojects.com Julie

    Great article, Turner!
    Based on my experience in China, I’d say that most of your tips are applicable there, as well, though Peter Davison (ourmaninshanghai on Matador) would be a much better source to confirm this information.

  • Vlatka

    I loved the article! The furthest I have been from my country (Croatia) is Turkey, and I loved it! Maybe this summer I will go to Japan, ’cause my boyfriend is absolutely obsessed by the country and people :)
    If that happens, your tips will, I’m sure, be of great help. If so, I shall post another comment :)

  • super4pi

    You forgot that you should never place your chopsticks in such a way that they point upward from food. I believe it's because that symbolizes stabbing the food since it's bad or something. This holds true for several other Asian cultures as well.

  • http://perkywatch.blogspot.com Svetoslav

    Great tips! It has been a while since I pressed the “I like it!” Stumble button after reading a good article.

  • Kazu

    I was born in Japan, spent 7 years there and go back as often as I can, which is to say not very often.

    Here’s a good tip for folks who may not speak Japanese. While we Japanese people are often times known for our bad English, it is a mandatory class in school. Part of the reason most Japanese people’s English is so bad is because we learn it from other Japanese folk with very limited English ability and terrible pronunciation. If you’re ever having trouble communicating with someone, try writing your thoughts down on paper. Most Japanese people understand English 100 times better if they can see it in writing. Catching native English accents, whether American or whatever, is the main obstacle for a lot of people there.

  • Acronyms

    Domo arigato, Turner-san! ;)

  • Luke

    If I could add something to this list, it would be this:
    11. Volume
    Don't talk so loud! When Japanese people can't hear each other in a conversation, they draw closer; when Americans can't hear each other, they yell louder. Notice how quiet it is on a train? That's because people think a little about those around them before opening their mouths to shout at their friends on the other side of the car.

    Also, a couple notes about safety: as you pointed out, the fear of crime is indeed very high. Unfortunately for foreigners, they're often made the scapegoats of any crimes committed and police tend to give us a hard time. This societal fear of crime really can become a fear of foreigners. After living in Japan for a few years and being routinely hassled by the police for things as innocuous as walking down the street with my friend in front of my own apartment at night, I really have an appreciation for how infuriating ethnic profiling and police discrimination must be for minorities in the US. I guess my point is that the crime you're more likely to experience in Japan as a foreigner is discrimination (ha, though that's not really a crime in Japan).

    Secondly, though a salaryman has nothing to fear from passing out after missing a train at night, any woman walking home at that point – or just riding the train in general – has quite a bit to fear in terms of sexual harassment if not assault. Unfortunately, this doesn't seem to be a crime they take very seriously; the solution they've come up with to stop men groping women on trains is to have special women-only train cars (because it's easier to separate women out then to actually deal with the deeply-rooted societal attitudes towards women).

  • Jonathan

    Great article. I've lived in Japan for 2 years and you've hit a lot of the main follies that tourist make. However, it is perfectly acceptable in Okinawa, especially for men, to use the damp towel given at restaurants to wipe their face.

  • Prayag

    Great Article.

    Was always fascinated about their culture.

    Hope someday I can taste it first hand.

  • Deas

    I am a JET in Japan right now, and I just wanted to point out that the JET programme is not an English conversation school. It's a program that places native English speakers in public schools all over Japan. It also doesn't make money…as thought it's a business or something. It's a government sponsored program…

    Also – your points are generally true, but overemphasized and a bit stereotypical. What I mean is, don't over-exoticize Japan. It's pretty normal once you've been here.

  • Scott

    Nice tips! One more note on the bath/onsen experience (#8):

    If you have a tattoo, you should check to make sure it is allowed in the public bath/onsen/swimming pool or just cover it up beforehand if small enough. I use a large band-aid.

    To check you can just ask "tattoo wa daijobu desuka?" or something like that. It seems a bit strange, but tattoos are commonly not allowed in these places (with exceptions). They're still considered rather taboo with the older generation, then there's the Yakusa, and items #1 and #6 above perhaps.

    Also, as mentioned above, clean VERY thoroughly BEFORE entering the onsen. Shampoo and soap are always provided in these places.

    Having said all this, the onsen experience is amazing. HIGHLY recommended!!

  • http://www.keepingpaceinjapan.com Turner Wright

    John – that point to someone with your feet or showing the underside of your shoes doesn’t really apply in Japan, but you’re right about the simple phrases: domo, arigatou gozaimasu (more polite), domo arigatou gozaimasu (most polite)

    Max – I wouldn’t wish the Japanese school system on anyone; I’ve never seen students working harder and having more on-hours. There are lots of good sites… a recent one that caught my attention is on the blog Trans-Pacific Radio:
    http://www.transpacificradio.com/category/view-from-the-classroom/
    Feel free to email me with any questions you might have about Japan or the school system.

    Vlatka – excellent. Let me know if you’re looking for suggestions as to where to visit.

    Kazu – Very true. All Japanese learn English in junior high school, and most go on to study in high school and university. As a result, I believe like 90% have a basic knowledge of grammar and vocabulary, but very little practice in actually speaking. This is one reason why English conversation schools still gross money across the country – AEON, GEOS, NOVA, ECC, and the JET programme.

    If anyone wants a followup or has any other questions, don’t hesitate to contact me.

  • Sans

    Don't leave out gifts. It's traditional to leave a small gift with your host if you've stayed at their place.

  • Gary W.

    Awesome article Turner! I have enlisted into the USAF and hope to be stationed in Japan next year. I've always loved Japanese culture and appreciated findings like this. Thank you.

  • Deserae

    Some rather basic info and some seems a bit outdated. Some mention of shrine/temple etiquette would be nice. I've seen countless foreigners make fools of themselves as well as act borderline offensive at religious sites.

    A foreigner never needs to bow unless they're on business, although it's polite to do so. Many Japanese will shake your hand as they know it's our custom. If you're studying abroad like I am it's alright to be more casual around people your age.

    Conformity isn't as important until you are working full time. Japanese love to express themselves through fashion and personal style. Although Japan is still very conformist compared to the West.

    As for safety I would disagree. Japan is ridiculously safe. You pretty much have to be asking for trouble for something to happen. Especially as a foreigner, since they are a bit afraid of us at times. Maybe around the bars or areas with nightlife are the only places to worry. People often use their laptops and ipods as ways to hold their seat and girls in miniskirts and highheels walk home alone in the early hours of the morning. My boyfriend dropped his ipod in a class and the next day it was still there.

    One more important thing; don't kiss in public! I have never seen any Japanese do this and I probably never will. I doesn't happen. So please refrain on the PDA while in Japan.

  • Martin

    Great article! I would love to visit Japan some day but, had I traveled today, probably I would have arrived to the airport, used my cellphone in a crowded area, eaten at a restaurant using the wet cloth as a napkin, struggled with the chopsticks and tipped the waitress :(
    You just saved a (potential) tourist from ridicule

  • Guillaume

    Hi Turner,

    Excellent article. I'm actually leaving for Tokyo in just about 3 weeks, and staying there 2 months for an internship at Tokyo Tech. Do you have any tips on what graduate studies are like in Japan ?

    Also, my girlfriend will be joining me at the end for a 10 day vacation. I've seen a lot of 10-day itineraries online, but i'd be curious to know if you had any recommendations or advice. Give me a shout if you have time ! Thanks !

  • donkeymon

    It's true; people in Japan are taught English from a very young age. It's a part of the nationally-mandated curriculum from the 4th year of elementary school now. But the focus of the English education is mostly on cramming more and more grammar into their heads, so that they can pass tests and get into university. Speaking English isn't really the goal. They only have to know the grammar well enough to recognize it in print; they don't have to use it in real life conversations. So it's exactly right what he said: most Japanese people couldn't form a sentence more complicated than "How are you?" but they could write a great essay if you gave them a piece of paper. On the other hand, those who want to speak English don't get nearly enough chances to converse with natives, so they might see a chance meeting with a foreigner as an opportunity for a free English Conversation lesson. At this point in my life in Japan, I just pretend that I only speak French, and then run away.

  • Bill in SD

    You need to add that TATTOOS are frowned upon in most bathhouses and onsen. Many foreigners have conflicts with bath houses and onsen if they have tattoos. Most have signs, but not all.

  • super4pi

    You forgot that you should never place your chopsticks in such a way that they point upward from food. I believe it’s because that symbolizes stabbing the food since it’s bad or something. This holds true for several other Asian cultures as well.

  • Latica

    I'm from Croatia and I'll be spending a month in Nara this September as an exchange student, so your tips are very, very helpful! As I'll be staying with a host family, I'm not sure I got two things right:
    The slippers-are there separate slippers for each room then?
    The bath tub-so they could offer me to use the bath first…and then they will bathe in the same water after me? That's kind of…weird :) So is there a separate shower or something where I have to wash first?

  • Robert

    This is great! Not intended as a plug at all, but if you are interested in learning about Chinese etiquette I wrote a bunch of articles for people to read (with pictures and videos) that is similar to this article on Japan.

    http://www.jazzviolin.com/china/complete-china-gu
    It was cool to see the similarities between the two, especially the little kids saying "Hi" all the time.

  • http://www.all-acronyms.com Acronyms

    Domo arigato, Turner-san! ;)

  • Andrew Smith

    Great article, very interesting and useful information! Been putting some serious thought into teaching over there, this just makes me want to go that much more :)

  • Carl Schmidt

    I have been to Japan twice now on business and one thing I learned on my last visit from our translator was eye contact. Here in the states eye contact is part of our communication. In Japan you only hold eye contact in quarrels, strong relationships, and if you have seniority in the work place. Of course I did not know this until the second trip and tried to make eye contact with everyone, and found it made many uncomfortable.

    Great article!

  • boshiku

    Wiping face and neck with hot towel (oshibori) is fine. you should aviod blowing your nose into it thou

  • uffa

    have you actually been to japan?? you forgot about two very important chopstick/etiquette rules!

    1. never leave your chopsticks standing in your food (represents death!)
    2. never pass food from chopstick to chopstick (also a funeral tradition!)

    and another tip…

    3. when eating from a communal dish, use the reverse end of the chopstick to take from the dish (the side that hasn't been in your mouth!)

  • http://thetrailoftears.blogspot.com/ Luke

    If I could add something to this list, it would be this:
    11. Volume
    Don’t talk so loud! When Japanese people can’t hear each other in a conversation, they draw closer; when Americans can’t hear each other, they yell louder. Notice how quiet it is on a train? That’s because people think a little about those around them before opening their mouths to shout at their friends on the other side of the car.

    Also, a couple notes about safety: as you pointed out, the fear of crime is indeed very high. Unfortunately for foreigners, they’re often made the scapegoats of any crimes committed and police tend to give us a hard time. This societal fear of crime really can become a fear of foreigners. After living in Japan for a few years and being routinely hassled by the police for things as innocuous as walking down the street with my friend in front of my own apartment at night, I really have an appreciation for how infuriating ethnic profiling and police discrimination must be for minorities in the US. I guess my point is that the crime you’re more likely to experience in Japan as a foreigner is discrimination (ha, though that’s not really a crime in Japan).

    Secondly, though a salaryman has nothing to fear from passing out after missing a train at night, any woman walking home at that point – or just riding the train in general – has quite a bit to fear in terms of sexual harassment if not assault. Unfortunately, this doesn’t seem to be a crime they take very seriously; the solution they’ve come up with to stop men groping women on trains is to have special women-only train cars (because it’s easier to separate women out then to actually deal with the deeply-rooted societal attitudes towards women).

  • Jonathan

    Great article. I’ve lived in Japan for 2 years and you’ve hit a lot of the main follies that tourist make. However, it is perfectly acceptable in Okinawa, especially for men, to use the damp towel given at restaurants to wipe their face.

  • Dimi

    Nice list. A whole bunch of us are planning on visiting Japan next year for the Solar Eclipse. It is always important to learn a countries idiosyncrasies and cultural differences, not to offend and to enjoy the time there as much as possible without being a nuisance.

  • Prayag

    Great Article.

    Was always fascinated about their culture.

    Hope someday I can taste it first hand.

  • http://www.rockinginhakata.com Deas

    I am a JET in Japan right now, and I just wanted to point out that the JET programme is not an English conversation school. It’s a program that places native English speakers in public schools all over Japan. It also doesn’t make money…as thought it’s a business or something. It’s a government sponsored program…

    Also – your points are generally true, but overemphasized and a bit stereotypical. What I mean is, don’t over-exoticize Japan. It’s pretty normal once you’ve been here.

  • http://thort.com Scott

    Nice tips! One more note on the bath/onsen experience (#8):

    If you have a tattoo, you should check to make sure it is allowed in the public bath/onsen/swimming pool or just cover it up beforehand if small enough. I use a large band-aid.

    To check you can just ask “tattoo wa daijobu desuka?” or something like that. It seems a bit strange, but tattoos are commonly not allowed in these places (with exceptions). They’re still considered rather taboo with the older generation, then there’s the Yakusa, and items #1 and #6 above perhaps.

    Also, as mentioned above, clean VERY thoroughly BEFORE entering the onsen. Shampoo and soap are always provided in these places.

    Having said all this, the onsen experience is amazing. HIGHLY recommended!!

  • TJL

    Hello, I am a college student that will be studying in Japan for the duration of an academic year starting September 2008. I have a bit of a concern regarding living cost there, so I plan to search for a job while I am studying there, and I believe teaching English is probably the easiest job to land. I can speak Japanese with relative fluency, but definitely not good enough yet. I would like to ask for some more detailed questions regarding this topic, but I do not know how to contact you. If you have time, please email me at the address provided. Thank you.

    T.J.

  • James

    Very interesting read, I learnt something today :)

  • Turner Wright

    Yes, that's true about chopsticks sticking out, using the hand towel (though I think it is proper to only use it on your hands), and tattoos in onsen. Sorry about the discrepancies.

    Sans – gifts were #11. The article needed a nice, round number.

    Deas – didn't mean to group JET in with those money-grubbing English sales operations. I didn't think I was over-exoticizing Japan, but this was an article for first-timers, not long term residents.

    Guillaume – I actually think universities are more laid back than American universities, but I can't really speak to that. With ten days, you could go anywhere in the country. On the shinkansen (high speed train), you can reach the island of Kyushu in five hours. In 2.5,3 hours, you could be in Osaka or Kyoto. Send me an email if you're looking for something specific, but be careful to plan around the weather – rainy season and typhoon season.

  • Pat

    I was in Japan over the new year and had a bit of a different experience with people speaking English…most that I talked to did not speak any…but almost everyone could understand it when it was written.

    We even had one gentleman sitting across from us at a restaurant that had just started learning to speak English and was having his first actual conversation in English…He was very excited that we were willing to talk to him to help him get a better grasp on the language (he actually spoke English fairly well considering he'd only been studying it for a couple of months and was an older person).

    This brings up a question that we have not been able to answer…what is the etiquette about someone offering to purchase you a drink. I believe that it is an insult to refuse the drink, but am not 100% positive. Any help?

    For American travellers, I have heard that American people are not very highly regarded (I'll go out on a limb and think it's related to WWII), but that people from Canada are treated better. I being from Canada have a Canadian flag pin that I wear on my lapel and was treated very well…may just be coincidence, but what's the harm in wearing the red and white so that you are not lumped in with the "Bad Americans"?

    One thing that a lot of westerners will notice is that the Japanese people respect each others personal space. Walking in a crowded NY street, you expect to be bumped, but in a crowded street in Japan, people will go out of their way to avoid invading your space and/or bumping you.

  • Arnold

    I visited japan a few years ago with my family and I never experienced the "celebrity status". That's not to say it doesn't happen. The thing is I'm Mexican so my rational is that because I have similar traits to the Japanese (similar stature, dark hair, etc.) I didn't stand out as much as a blonde white person might. Just a thought.

  • Tombot

    My wife and I moved to, and lived in Japan for 18 months. All you say is true! I never worried about crime there. One time my bike was stolen, BUT IT WAS RETURNED THE NEXT DAY! Ha! (The seat was lower though!). Great country, great people. I have been back home, in Los Angeles, for exactly 4 years now, and I still think about Japan every day.

    Perfect country to visit or travel in for the experienced and inexperienced traveler alike!

  • Sans

    Don’t leave out gifts. It’s traditional to leave a small gift with your host if you’ve stayed at their place.

  • Japan Man

    Japan is home to my favorite culture. One trip there is all it takes to make almost anybody fall in love. See my link for some pictures of Japan.

  • http://www.myspace.com/greatestmealive Gary W.

    Awesome article Turner! I have enlisted into the USAF and hope to be stationed in Japan next year. I’ve always loved Japanese culture and appreciated findings like this. Thank you.

  • Caputmundi

    I rather like to think that the Japanese ought to know how to adjust to my customs when I grace their pitted land with my presence, rather than I to theirs. The weak shall mold to the strong, not the other way around.

    The world should know when its been conquered. This day of realization seems to be approaching – the spread of American culture more and more ensures that, wherever I go in the world, the customs of the land will conform to my expectations and experiences. This is as it should be: the master to the slave.

    Best,

    A truthful post

  • Greg

    Great article! When I visited Japan I had a fantastic time. I was walking around the city at all hours but I stuck to the main streets and I never had a problem but I agree it's always good to be carful. Eating in Japan can be very expensive so while your visiting see if your hotel offers a Business Man lunch and if so that will save you big bucks. Looking for a good place to eat check out some of the noodle houses even if they don't speak a word of English they many times have picture menu's. Last but not least bring a box of business cards with you if your doing any business in Japan you will be sure to use a lot of them!

  • Deserae

    Some rather basic info and some seems a bit outdated. Some mention of shrine/temple etiquette would be nice. I’ve seen countless foreigners make fools of themselves as well as act borderline offensive at religious sites.

    A foreigner never needs to bow unless they’re on business, although it’s polite to do so. Many Japanese will shake your hand as they know it’s our custom. If you’re studying abroad like I am it’s alright to be more casual around people your age.

    Conformity isn’t as important until you are working full time. Japanese love to express themselves through fashion and personal style. Although Japan is still very conformist compared to the West.

    As for safety I would disagree. Japan is ridiculously safe. You pretty much have to be asking for trouble for something to happen. Especially as a foreigner, since they are a bit afraid of us at times. Maybe around the bars or areas with nightlife are the only places to worry. People often use their laptops and ipods as ways to hold their seat and girls in miniskirts and highheels walk home alone in the early hours of the morning. My boyfriend dropped his ipod in a class and the next day it was still there.

    One more important thing; don’t kiss in public! I have never seen any Japanese do this and I probably never will. I doesn’t happen. So please refrain on the PDA while in Japan.

  • jacque

    This is a very educational cultural insight blog prepare us from being in the situation that may offend others not being known.

    tkx Q

  • http://www.7c0h.com.ar/blog Martin

    Great article! I would love to visit Japan some day but, had I traveled today, probably I would have arrived to the airport, used my cellphone in a crowded area, eaten at a restaurant using the wet cloth as a napkin, struggled with the chopsticks and tipped the waitress :(
    You just saved a (potential) tourist from ridicule

  • Guillaume

    Hi Turner,

    Excellent article. I’m actually leaving for Tokyo in just about 3 weeks, and staying there 2 months for an internship at Tokyo Tech. Do you have any tips on what graduate studies are like in Japan ?

    Also, my girlfriend will be joining me at the end for a 10 day vacation. I’ve seen a lot of 10-day itineraries online, but i’d be curious to know if you had any recommendations or advice. Give me a shout if you have time ! Thanks !

  • http://donkeymon.net donkeymon

    It’s true; people in Japan are taught English from a very young age. It’s a part of the nationally-mandated curriculum from the 4th year of elementary school now. But the focus of the English education is mostly on cramming more and more grammar into their heads, so that they can pass tests and get into university. Speaking English isn’t really the goal. They only have to know the grammar well enough to recognize it in print; they don’t have to use it in real life conversations. So it’s exactly right what he said: most Japanese people couldn’t form a sentence more complicated than “How are you?” but they could write a great essay if you gave them a piece of paper. On the other hand, those who want to speak English don’t get nearly enough chances to converse with natives, so they might see a chance meeting with a foreigner as an opportunity for a free English Conversation lesson. At this point in my life in Japan, I just pretend that I only speak French, and then run away.

  • Latica

    I’m from Croatia and I’ll be spending a month in Nara this September as an exchange student, so your tips are very, very helpful! As I’ll be staying with a host family, I’m not sure I got two things right:
    The slippers-are there separate slippers for each room then?
    The bath tub-so they could offer me to use the bath first…and then they will bathe in the same water after me? That’s kind of…weird :) So is there a separate shower or something where I have to wash first?

  • http://jazzviolin.com Robert

    This is great! Not intended as a plug at all, but if you are interested in learning about Chinese etiquette I wrote a bunch of articles for people to read (with pictures and videos) that is similar to this article on Japan.

    http://www.jazzviolin.com/china/complete-china-guide/

    It was cool to see the similarities between the two, especially the little kids saying “Hi” all the time.

  • noodleman

    <em>For American travellers, I have heard that American people are not very highly regarded (I’ll go out on a limb and think it’s related to WWII) …</em>

    It's less about WWII (and the Occupation) than it is about current Japan-based US serviceman. Older Japanese (60 years old) have fond memories of the kindness and aid given to them after the war by the US Occupation forces. You would do well to study that post-war era if you want to see an occupation go well vs. the quagmire the US is in today. General MacArthur, in fact, began sending 150,000 occupation troops home (leaving 120,000 behind) just one month after the surrender because it was felt they were no longer needed.

  • zen

    roflmao @ caputmundi

    the only thing strong about america is their delusions of grandure – the attitude your giving off is typical of why americans are hated.

    ———-
    Great article btw.. enjoyed it thanks!

  • Tom Termini

    Turner, you mentioned the school system as being rigorous. That seems to be applicable at the upper grades (equivalent to late middle or high school), and something we hear about often (cram schools, etc.).

    I put my two young kids in school in Akasaka when we were in Tokyo on an extended visit. It appeared to me that the elementary school curriculum focused on conveying many of the societal traits you point out in your excellent article — community focus, thinking of others, etc.

    One thing that struck me as funny (but highly appropriate). They had a field trip one day. Now here in the States the field trips they go on are marginally educational, mostly 'edutainment'. The field trip my kids went on with their class was to the Russian Embassy in Tokyo, to pick up litter! My kids actually enjoyed it, but it was an interesting contrast.

    Note — my kids DON'T speak Japanese, but they managed ok with a classroom of kind, social like-aged children. Japan is nothing if not child friendly!

    Nice writing, more please!

  • http://introfunction.blogspot.com Andrew Smith

    Great article, very interesting and useful information! Been putting some serious thought into teaching over there, this just makes me want to go that much more :)

  • Carl Schmidt

    I have been to Japan twice now on business and one thing I learned on my last visit from our translator was eye contact. Here in the states eye contact is part of our communication. In Japan you only hold eye contact in quarrels, strong relationships, and if you have seniority in the work place. Of course I did not know this until the second trip and tried to make eye contact with everyone, and found it made many uncomfortable.

    Great article!

  • uffa

    have you actually been to japan?? you forgot about two very important chopstick/etiquette rules!

    1. never leave your chopsticks standing in your food (represents death!)
    2. never pass food from chopstick to chopstick (also a funeral tradition!)

    and another tip…

    3. when eating from a communal dish, use the reverse end of the chopstick to take from the dish (the side that hasn’t been in your mouth!)

  • thailand holiday

    I never seen Japan before but I used to work in the restaurant. I also noticed that Japanese customer never give tips.

  • TJL

    Hello, I am a college student that will be studying in Japan for the duration of an academic year starting September 2008. I have a bit of a concern regarding living cost there, so I plan to search for a job while I am studying there, and I believe teaching English is probably the easiest job to land. I can speak Japanese with relative fluency, but definitely not good enough yet. I would like to ask for some more detailed questions regarding this topic, but I do not know how to contact you. If you have time, please email me at the address provided. Thank you.

    T.J.

  • Stephen

    Never touch your face with the wet cloth? What about the salarymen who wipe not only their faces but necks and heads as well?

  • http://www.keepingpaceinjapan.com Turner Wright

    Yes, that’s true about chopsticks sticking out, using the hand towel (though I think it is proper to only use it on your hands), and tattoos in onsen. Sorry about the discrepancies.

    Sans – gifts were #11. The article needed a nice, round number.

    Deas – didn’t mean to group JET in with those money-grubbing English sales operations. I didn’t think I was over-exoticizing Japan, but this was an article for first-timers, not long term residents.

    Guillaume – I actually think universities are more laid back than American universities, but I can’t really speak to that. With ten days, you could go anywhere in the country. On the shinkansen (high speed train), you can reach the island of Kyushu in five hours. In 2.5,3 hours, you could be in Osaka or Kyoto. Send me an email if you’re looking for something specific, but be careful to plan around the weather – rainy season and typhoon season.

  • Pat

    I was in Japan over the new year and had a bit of a different experience with people speaking English…most that I talked to did not speak any…but almost everyone could understand it when it was written.

    We even had one gentleman sitting across from us at a restaurant that had just started learning to speak English and was having his first actual conversation in English…He was very excited that we were willing to talk to him to help him get a better grasp on the language (he actually spoke English fairly well considering he’d only been studying it for a couple of months and was an older person).

    This brings up a question that we have not been able to answer…what is the etiquette about someone offering to purchase you a drink. I believe that it is an insult to refuse the drink, but am not 100% positive. Any help?

    For American travellers, I have heard that American people are not very highly regarded (I’ll go out on a limb and think it’s related to WWII), but that people from Canada are treated better. I being from Canada have a Canadian flag pin that I wear on my lapel and was treated very well…may just be coincidence, but what’s the harm in wearing the red and white so that you are not lumped in with the “Bad Americans”?

    One thing that a lot of westerners will notice is that the Japanese people respect each others personal space. Walking in a crowded NY street, you expect to be bumped, but in a crowded street in Japan, people will go out of their way to avoid invading your space and/or bumping you.

  • Arnold

    I visited japan a few years ago with my family and I never experienced the “celebrity status”. That’s not to say it doesn’t happen. The thing is I’m Mexican so my rational is that because I have similar traits to the Japanese (similar stature, dark hair, etc.) I didn’t stand out as much as a blonde white person might. Just a thought.

  • rupert

    HIROOOOOOOOOOOOOOO !!!

  • Tombot

    My wife and I moved to, and lived in Japan for 18 months. All you say is true! I never worried about crime there. One time my bike was stolen, BUT IT WAS RETURNED THE NEXT DAY! Ha! (The seat was lower though!). Great country, great people. I have been back home, in Los Angeles, for exactly 4 years now, and I still think about Japan every day.

    Perfect country to visit or travel in for the experienced and inexperienced traveler alike!

  • http://uncoolcentral.com/japan2/index.htm Japan Man

    Japan is home to my favorite culture. One trip there is all it takes to make almost anybody fall in love. See my link for some pictures of Japan.

  • Caputmundi

    I rather like to think that the Japanese ought to know how to adjust to my customs when I grace their pitted land with my presence, rather than I to theirs. The weak shall mold to the strong, not the other way around.

    The world should know when its been conquered. This day of realization seems to be approaching – the spread of American culture more and more ensures that, wherever I go in the world, the customs of the land will conform to my expectations and experiences. This is as it should be: the master to the slave.

    Best,

    A truthful post

  • http://macgecko.blogspot.com/ Greg

    Great article! When I visited Japan I had a fantastic time. I was walking around the city at all hours but I stuck to the main streets and I never had a problem but I agree it’s always good to be carful. Eating in Japan can be very expensive so while your visiting see if your hotel offers a Business Man lunch and if so that will save you big bucks. Looking for a good place to eat check out some of the noodle houses even if they don’t speak a word of English they many times have picture menu’s. Last but not least bring a box of business cards with you if your doing any business in Japan you will be sure to use a lot of them!

  • jacque

    This is a very educational cultural insight blog prepare us from being in the situation that may offend others not being known.

    tkx Q

  • http://www.oldtokyo.com noodleman

    For American travellers, I have heard that American people are not very highly regarded (I’ll go out on a limb and think it’s related to WWII) …

    It’s less about WWII (and the Occupation) than it is about current Japan-based US serviceman. Older Japanese (60+ years old) have fond memories of the kindness and aid given to them after the war by the US Occupation forces. You would do well to study that post-war era if you want to see an occupation go well vs. the quagmire the US is in today. General MacArthur, in fact, began sending 150,000 occupation troops home (leaving 120,000 behind) just one month after the surrender because it was felt they were no longer needed.

  • zen

    roflmao @ caputmundi

    the only thing strong about america is their delusions of grandure – the attitude your giving off is typical of why americans are hated.

    ———-
    Great article btw.. enjoyed it thanks!

  • http://www.bluedog.net Tom Termini

    Turner, you mentioned the school system as being rigorous. That seems to be applicable at the upper grades (equivalent to late middle or high school), and something we hear about often (cram schools, etc.).

    I put my two young kids in school in Akasaka when we were in Tokyo on an extended visit. It appeared to me that the elementary school curriculum focused on conveying many of the societal traits you point out in your excellent article — community focus, thinking of others, etc.

    One thing that struck me as funny (but highly appropriate). They had a field trip one day. Now here in the States the field trips they go on are marginally educational, mostly ‘edutainment’. The field trip my kids went on with their class was to the Russian Embassy in Tokyo, to pick up litter! My kids actually enjoyed it, but it was an interesting contrast.

    Note — my kids DON’T speak Japanese, but they managed ok with a classroom of kind, social like-aged children. Japan is nothing if not child friendly!

    Nice writing, more please!

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  • http://www.mysamuiholiday.com thailand holiday

    I never seen Japan before but I used to work in the restaurant. I also noticed that Japanese customer never give tips.

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  • JK

    Great article. Thanks for the sharing.

  • Jotter Scalems

    Nice article. Although I do not agree with the part where they will assume that you are a native English speaker and address you that way. IN the cities, yes. In villages or less popular places they will assume you know Japanese, since you wouldn't be there if you didn't.

  • David Greiman

    Appreciate the well-thought out tips!

  • desu

    I like your writing

  • Britteny

    I lived in Tokyo when I was younger, around 9 years old (in 1997), and I loved living there. I think your tips are very good, although there are some others that could have been included but you got the main ones. For me it was very easy to assimilate to living there and I think it should not be hard for anybody to live there easily. On the whole standing out thing, it happened a lot we got loads of stares and people coming up to us and talking. I think you did a wonderful job with this and thank you!

  • http://www.fark.my/ JK

    Great article. Thanks for the sharing.

  • abirami

    Hey, thanks for the info, i have never visited Japan, but will do so in coming days.Your article is very useful:)

  • http://www.trifter.com/Practical-Travel/World-Cuisine/Sushi-Survival-Guide.124819 Jotter Scalems

    Nice article. Although I do not agree with the part where they will assume that you are a native English speaker and address you that way. IN the cities, yes. In villages or less popular places they will assume you know Japanese, since you wouldn’t be there if you didn’t.

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  • Jii

    Thanks for the article. The part on chopsticks, number 4, was a little weak. There's a lot more to know about proper chopsticks etiquette than just "Japanese people use chopsticks."

    Don't point with them. This is easy to forget, especially when engaged in a great conversation. This is offensive to Japanese.

    Don't leave them to rest in your food. Instead, put them down on top of a small dish, or on the chopsticks rest if given one, and face them at least slightly toward your left. This mocks funeral rites.

    Don't ever spear food with them. If you have trouble picking something up, you're better off holding the dish to your mouth and using the chopsticks to scoop the food in. This mocks I forget what.

    Don't pass food from your chopsticks into someone else's. If you want your friend to take a bite of your sushi roll, put it on their plate or something. It's considered rude.

    If using them to get food from a serving dish, use them backwards (the fat ends). It's considered more sanitary.

    As far as just practicing eating with them, don't forget that Japanese chopsticks have more slender points than Chinese chopsticks. That makes them harder to use for a lot of people.

  • Yannis

    Great article. Very good advice, it's very important to show respect when travel to other countries and adapt to there customs.

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  • Jii

    Thanks for the article. The part on chopsticks, number 4, was a little weak. There’s a lot more to know about proper chopsticks etiquette than just “Japanese people use chopsticks.”

    Don’t point with them. This is easy to forget, especially when engaged in a great conversation. This is offensive to Japanese.

    Don’t leave them to rest in your food. Instead, put them down on top of a small dish, or on the chopsticks rest if given one, and face them at least slightly toward your left. This mocks funeral rites.

    Don’t ever spear food with them. If you have trouble picking something up, you’re better off holding the dish to your mouth and using the chopsticks to scoop the food in. This mocks I forget what.

    Don’t pass food from your chopsticks into someone else’s. If you want your friend to take a bite of your sushi roll, put it on their plate or something. It’s considered rude.

    If using them to get food from a serving dish, use them backwards (the fat ends). It’s considered more sanitary.

    As far as just practicing eating with them, don’t forget that Japanese chopsticks have more slender points than Chinese chopsticks. That makes them harder to use for a lot of people.

  • http://www.10000listings.com/travel.html Yannis

    Great article. Very good advice, it’s very important to show respect when travel to other countries and adapt to there customs.

  • ersin

    i have been to Japan for once. i was with a foreigner group and got confused that they first asked them whether do their countries have four season.

    also, i want to mention about interests of Japaneses' about blood types. blood types are as popular as horoscopes like in Western countries. and the best type of them is "type A" for Japaneses.

    lastly, they have no practical intelligence

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  • Amber

    I have a friend from Canada that lives in Japan (for umpteen years) and is married to a beautiful Japanese woman. I get to hear the most interesting stories about what he experiences there, and about the village he lives in. I'm wondering about what he'll say about this article. Thank you for posting it! :)

  • ersin

    i have been to Japan for once. i was with a foreigner group and got confused that they first asked them whether do their countries have four season.

    also, i want to mention about interests of Japaneses’ about blood types. blood types are as popular as horoscopes like in Western countries. and the best type of them is “type A” for Japaneses.

    lastly, they have no practical intelligence

  • Jerry

    Good article. I would also like to add that Americans are offered a lot of leeway on knowledge and behavior when it comes to Japanese customs and culture. But if you show an effort to understand and respect the culture it goes a long way.

    The “D-celebrity” comment is great. I got invited to all the parties when I was there.

    Japan is a great place.

  • Amber

    I have a friend from Canada that lives in Japan (for umpteen years) and is married to a beautiful Japanese woman. I get to hear the most interesting stories about what he experiences there, and about the village he lives in. I’m wondering about what he’ll say about this article. Thank you for posting it! :)

  • Jerry

    Good article. I would also like to add that Americans are offered a lot of leeway on knowledge and behavior when it comes to Japanese customs and culture. But if you show an effort to understand and respect the culture it goes a long way.

    The “D-celebrity” comment is great. I got invited to all the parties when I was there.

    Japan is a great place.

  • Melissa Adamaitis

    Thanks for taking the time to sit down and write about this for us!

    It's certainly appreciated. ^_^

  • darcy frederick

    well this is going to help me when i go to japan. that is cool and neat what they have to do.

  • Turner Wright

    ersin – that last part sounded racist, but let me address the blood type issue. Type O indicates a free spirit, a nonconformist, an adventurer (not the type most Japanese women choose to marry). Type A is the hard worker, the strict attention to rules and tradition, the stuck up conformist. Type AB is the genius, as they're so rare. I forget about type B.

  • Melissa Adamaitis

    Thanks for taking the time to sit down and write about this for us!

    It’s certainly appreciated. ^_^

  • http://www.keepingpaceinjapan.com Turner Wright

    ersin – that last part sounded racist, but let me address the blood type issue. Type O indicates a free spirit, a nonconformist, an adventurer (not the type most Japanese women choose to marry). Type A is the hard worker, the strict attention to rules and tradition, the stuck up conformist. Type AB is the genius, as they’re so rare. I forget about type B.

  • Marty

    I'm 6'5 tall with blond hair… and didn't I stand out in Japan.
    It was like a sea of black hair for as far as the eye could see on the streets of Tokyo. I think I stood a good foot above the crowd nearly everywhere I went. The Japanese were very curious and it seemed like everyone one was staring at me the whole time I was there. Every now and again I would stop and talk to someone who would politely ask me questions in broken english and in no time at all a crowd would gather around to see what was going on. I was told before I arrived to be respectful by bowing, which I did until I accidently head butted one of the poor chaps. After that I just nodded.
    Anyway… the nicest, most gracious and genuine race that you will ever meet.
    Respect their culture and you get it back ten fold.

  • Rio

    This is kinda funny lol
    I'm Japanese and I live in Japan now, but I didn't know these funny things!

  • steve

    "Japan is the only country that has four seasons"
    No man, Turkey has the four seasons in a year too.

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  • MacDonald

    What an interesting article! I'm just living in Japan. I agree with you almost, except "many Japanese bring a pair of indoor slippers just in case." I suppose that you found a few Japanese wearing their own pairs of indoor slippers during air flight(s). Additionally, you'd better know that it's very traditional and becoming more and more old-fashioned for Japanese to care of / respect others. Their wearing anti-cough masks that can be expected to avoid others catching cold is a typically public display of it. I regret that their respectfulness seems to be missed among Japanese nowadays. Especially older people's behavior is becoming rough and morally maverick in public, and naturally, the young are following after them.

  • http://www.artsmartdesign.com.au Marty

    I’m 6’5 tall with blond hair… and didn’t I stand out in Japan.
    It was like a sea of black hair for as far as the eye could see on the streets of Tokyo. I think I stood a good foot above the crowd nearly everywhere I went. The Japanese were very curious and it seemed like everyone one was staring at me the whole time I was there. Every now and again I would stop and talk to someone who would politely ask me questions in broken english and in no time at all a crowd would gather around to see what was going on. I was told before I arrived to be respectful by bowing, which I did until I accidently head butted one of the poor chaps. After that I just nodded.
    Anyway… the nicest, most gracious and genuine race that you will ever meet.
    Respect their culture and you get it back ten fold.

  • http://www.myspace.com/rio_is_here Rio

    This is kinda funny lol
    I’m Japanese and I live in Japan now, but I didn’t know these funny things!

  • steve

    “Japan is the only country that has four seasons”
    No man, Turkey has the four seasons in a year too.

  • MacDonald

    What an interesting article! I’m just living in Japan. I agree with you almost, except “many Japanese bring a pair of indoor slippers just in case.” I suppose that you found a few Japanese wearing their own pairs of indoor slippers during air flight(s). Additionally, you’d better know that it’s very traditional and becoming more and more old-fashioned for Japanese to care of / respect others. Their wearing anti-cough masks that can be expected to avoid others catching cold is a typically public display of it. I regret that their respectfulness seems to be missed among Japanese nowadays. Especially older people’s behavior is becoming rough and morally maverick in public, and naturally, the young are following after them.

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  • Rico

    I don't agree with the safety issue. Japan seems very safe besides the theft part. Yes, murders do occur everywhere, however, they are not likely in Japan. In addition, the language aspect of the particle, it is because like you states, they would like to refine their English skills. It's like going back to your home country and finding someone who can speak Japanese, yes you too will be pleased that you have a chance to practice something you once learned.
    -R

  • Rico

    I don’t agree with the safety issue. Japan seems very safe besides the theft part. Yes, murders do occur everywhere, however, they are not likely in Japan. In addition, the language aspect of the particle, it is because like you states, they would like to refine their English skills. It’s like going back to your home country and finding someone who can speak Japanese, yes you too will be pleased that you have a chance to practice something you once learned.
    -R

  • Marc M

    Thanks for your tips. I am going to Osaka, Kyoto, Wakayama, and Shirahama on Monday and even after three previous visits, Japan is very much a foreign land; and all the more fascinating for it.

    Marc.

  • http://onehaikuperday.wordpress.com/ Marc M

    Thanks for your tips. I am going to Osaka, Kyoto, Wakayama, and Shirahama on Monday and even after three previous visits, Japan is very much a foreign land; and all the more fascinating for it.

    Marc.

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  • Adam

    I'm currently a college student living in Japan for an internship, and in the short time I've been here, I can see where this article has some great points. I do have to disagree with the safety issue, however. Obviously there exists some crime, but to be honest, a pretty decent amount of it is committed by gaijans (foreigners). I have been told that many smaller Japanese bars will not allow Americans in because our Military has caused a great deal of crime and trouble in Japan. I believe in the last two years, American soldiers have been responsible for a Taxi driver stabbed to death, multiple rapings, and general disorderly conduct… things that don't reflect well on Americans as a whole, especially in a society where everyone is respectful of everyone else. Of course these may be rumors, but I heard them from a Japanese co-worker.

    There's one girl in my small apartment complex, probably in her early 20's, who is terrified of myself and the other American I'm here with (she won't dare park her car while we're outside, just drives around the block until we leave), which I found pretty strange as I expected to be, as he says, a D-celebrity (which I have, just in different situations). I believe her timidness towards us stems from some of the negative stereotypes around gaijan men, but that's just my speculation.

    I have gotten some very funny stare's, mainly from the young children, who have never or rarely seen a gaijan. The Japanese are very friendly and love to try their 'Engrish' with an English speaking person. I do have to admit though, it can be extremely difficult to try to interperet, just have them write it down, they won't be offended.

    If you're coming to Japan anytime soon, I can't emphasize enough how you should learn some basic phrases and try to fit in their culture. Most of the time, you will get a lot of laughs and make friends trying to speak Japanese (probably similar to Japanese trying to speak English), and they love that you're trying to make an effort to learn their language and culture. A little bit goes a long way!

    In all, Japan is an amazing culture and the people here are the nicest and most helpful I've ever met. Treat them with respect, and you will be given 10 times the amount in return. Also, be sure to get some Kobe steak when you're here, they feed their cows sake and beer and give them massages! A bit expensive, but when else will you be able to brag to your friends that you ate steak from a cow that drank beer?

  • Adam

    I’m currently a college student living in Japan for an internship, and in the short time I’ve been here, I can see where this article has some great points. I do have to disagree with the safety issue, however. Obviously there exists some crime, but to be honest, a pretty decent amount of it is committed by gaijans (foreigners). I have been told that many smaller Japanese bars will not allow Americans in because our Military has caused a great deal of crime and trouble in Japan. I believe in the last two years, American soldiers have been responsible for a Taxi driver stabbed to death, multiple rapings, and general disorderly conduct… things that don’t reflect well on Americans as a whole, especially in a society where everyone is respectful of everyone else. Of course these may be rumors, but I heard them from a Japanese co-worker.

    There’s one girl in my small apartment complex, probably in her early 20′s, who is terrified of myself and the other American I’m here with (she won’t dare park her car while we’re outside, just drives around the block until we leave), which I found pretty strange as I expected to be, as he says, a D-celebrity (which I have, just in different situations). I believe her timidness towards us stems from some of the negative stereotypes around gaijan men, but that’s just my speculation.

    I have gotten some very funny stare’s, mainly from the young children, who have never or rarely seen a gaijan. The Japanese are very friendly and love to try their ‘Engrish’ with an English speaking person. I do have to admit though, it can be extremely difficult to try to interperet, just have them write it down, they won’t be offended.

    If you’re coming to Japan anytime soon, I can’t emphasize enough how you should learn some basic phrases and try to fit in their culture. Most of the time, you will get a lot of laughs and make friends trying to speak Japanese (probably similar to Japanese trying to speak English), and they love that you’re trying to make an effort to learn their language and culture. A little bit goes a long way!

    In all, Japan is an amazing culture and the people here are the nicest and most helpful I’ve ever met. Treat them with respect, and you will be given 10 times the amount in return. Also, be sure to get some Kobe steak when you’re here, they feed their cows sake and beer and give them massages! A bit expensive, but when else will you be able to brag to your friends that you ate steak from a cow that drank beer?

  • Turner Wright

    Adam,

    That's false about crimes committed by non-Japanese; of course there are some, and yes, many by the military, but by and large, the majority of crime in Japan is the responsibility of Japanese citizens. The media just seems to enjoy reporting when a Korean murders his Japanese wife, or a US Marine is responsible for a rape. Crime is actually going down, but the fear of crime is on the rise.

  • http://www.keepingpaceinjapan.com Turner Wright

    Adam,

    That’s false about crimes committed by non-Japanese; of course there are some, and yes, many by the military, but by and large, the majority of crime in Japan is the responsibility of Japanese citizens. The media just seems to enjoy reporting when a Korean murders his Japanese wife, or a US Marine is responsible for a rape. Crime is actually going down, but the fear of crime is on the rise.

  • David

    I thought this was a great article and really appreciated all the information. I have wanted to go to japan for a long time, this information will be very helpful. Also wanted to express thanks to all of you who have left very valuable comments. Thanks again.

  • sir jorge

    you just answered all my questions, in one post, congrats! I love this post, thumbs up all the way.

  • http://gadgetsrule.com David

    I thought this was a great article and really appreciated all the information. I have wanted to go to japan for a long time, this information will be very helpful. Also wanted to express thanks to all of you who have left very valuable comments. Thanks again.

  • Adam

    As I said, that may be a rumor I I had heard from a co-worker. Thank you for pointing that out.

  • http://sirjorgeofculver.blogspot.com sir jorge

    you just answered all my questions, in one post, congrats! I love this post, thumbs up all the way.

  • Jon – The DC Travele

    This is a great list. Thanks!!

  • http://www.thedctraveler.com/ Jon – The DC Traveler

    This is a great list. Thanks!!

  • Law

    @ Caputmundi

    Does that mean you will stop butchering the English language then anytime soon?? :)

    @Turner

    Nice article, thanks for posting it! I forgot how much I love the Japanese culture – I've never been, but often think I've been born into the wrong culture (British… sniff). I have quite a few Japanese friends, and find I share many traits of theirs (no shoes in the house, eye contact, personal space, public vs private behaviour).

    I would say that in the past the majority of traditional British customs were fairly similar to Japan – people were polite to each other, no public displays of emotion, tatoo's were fairly frowned upon, and people hated people talking on phones in public, people knew a few languages (although English is almost a world standard), and we never tipped (because our waiters already get paid by the restaurant!). These days, teens have mobiles blasting horrible pop music out of them anywhere, violent crime and theft is high, education is non-existent, personal space is invaded daily, and half of young girls have "tramp-stamps" lol… people say we have adopted a more American culture the last 20 years – but I've never been to the US really (just Detroit airport on way to Canada) or have many american friends (again, just Canadian) so I couldn't say.

    I've got a plan though – by the time I'm 35, I will be either in Canada working, or Japan working in one of the English schools…. only a few years left!! :)

  • Jane Marks

    Another great phrase to know for going to Japan would be, "Eea, wakaree ma-sen". It means "No, I don't understand". (Sorry if the spelling is off. I tried to get it so that people would know how to best pronounce it.) Also, it would be good for you to know the phrase "Hai, wakaree mas," which means "Yes, I understand". And you should remember to never pass gas in many Japanese bathhouses. That is highly frowned in Japanese society.

  • Carol

    I spent 3 weeks in the spring of 1990 there. My sister was/is married to a Japanese man (They now live in Arlington, Virginia with 3 kids). My sister is fluent in Japanese, which did freak out some people in restaurants, etc. (a 5'7" curly haired blue eyed woman). I had one of the best times of my life! It was also nice that I had inlaws in Tokyo, who embraced and admired me. We traveled to Nikko and other spots. Things have changed since then, am sure, but the basic civility of the Japanese was refreshing. I had a woman chase me out of a noodle shop as I had left my umbrella. I also saw the "ugly American" there. At the tomb of the first Shogun, in Nikko,an American woman shouted to her friends "Nothing up there but another grave!". There was much kindness and fun. As a redhead, I did stick out a bit and would catch people checking me out on the train, etc. but they would quickly avert their eyes. Maybe I was being the rude one for noticing…and yes, the attempt to speak the language is appreciated (Even the French like this!). I learned the nod and even did a deep bow to a temple priest. I felt totally safe. I could go on and on. I wish to return someday.

  • Law

    @ Caputmundi

    Does that mean you will stop butchering the English language then anytime soon?? :)

    @Turner

    Nice article, thanks for posting it! I forgot how much I love the Japanese culture – I’ve never been, but often think I’ve been born into the wrong culture (British… sniff). I have quite a few Japanese friends, and find I share many traits of theirs (no shoes in the house, eye contact, personal space, public vs private behaviour).

    I would say that in the past the majority of traditional British customs were fairly similar to Japan – people were polite to each other, no public displays of emotion, tatoo’s were fairly frowned upon, and people hated people talking on phones in public, people knew a few languages (although English is almost a world standard), and we never tipped (because our waiters already get paid by the restaurant!). These days, teens have mobiles blasting horrible pop music out of them anywhere, violent crime and theft is high, education is non-existent, personal space is invaded daily, and half of young girls have “tramp-stamps” lol… people say we have adopted a more American culture the last 20 years – but I’ve never been to the US really (just Detroit airport on way to Canada) or have many american friends (again, just Canadian) so I couldn’t say.

    I’ve got a plan though – by the time I’m 35, I will be either in Canada working, or Japan working in one of the English schools…. only a few years left!! :)

  • Jane Marks

    Another great phrase to know for going to Japan would be, “Eea, wakaree ma-sen”. It means “No, I don’t understand”. (Sorry if the spelling is off. I tried to get it so that people would know how to best pronounce it.) Also, it would be good for you to know the phrase “Hai, wakaree mas,” which means “Yes, I understand”. And you should remember to never pass gas in many Japanese bathhouses. That is highly frowned in Japanese society.

  • Carol

    I spent 3 weeks in the spring of 1990 there. My sister was/is married to a Japanese man (They now live in Arlington, Virginia with 3 kids). My sister is fluent in Japanese, which did freak out some people in restaurants, etc. (a 5’7″ curly haired blue eyed woman). I had one of the best times of my life! It was also nice that I had inlaws in Tokyo, who embraced and admired me. We traveled to Nikko and other spots. Things have changed since then, am sure, but the basic civility of the Japanese was refreshing. I had a woman chase me out of a noodle shop as I had left my umbrella. I also saw the “ugly American” there. At the tomb of the first Shogun, in Nikko,an American woman shouted to her friends “Nothing up there but another grave!”. There was much kindness and fun. As a redhead, I did stick out a bit and would catch people checking me out on the train, etc. but they would quickly avert their eyes. Maybe I was being the rude one for noticing…and yes, the attempt to speak the language is appreciated (Even the French like this!). I learned the nod and even did a deep bow to a temple priest. I felt totally safe. I could go on and on. I wish to return someday.

  • Personal Trainer

    I was in japan last year and in the middle of the street there were kids like 5 years old just walking around with no parents. No worries in the world.

    I like the habit of businessman sleeping around the streets, McDonald's and Subways.

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  • http://nasm-cpt.com Personal Trainer

    I was in japan last year and in the middle of the street there were kids like 5 years old just walking around with no parents. No worries in the world.

    I like the habit of businessman sleeping around the streets, McDonald’s and Subways.

  • David

    "Japan is the only country that has four seasons"

    Absolutely wrong: Italy and other european countries have 4 seasons too.

  • Carl

    There is a "business card ritual" which should be conformed to: Unlike here in the US where we glance at a card and then toss it in our pocket, in Japan the card should be actually studied respectfully before being placed carefully away. Exchanging business cards is "de rigeur", so bring plenty.

    There is also a degree of demonstrating your place in the hierarchy by what is shown on your business card, but aside from degrees and position I'm not certain about the vagaries of this aspect of business card etiquette.

  • David

    “Japan is the only country that has four seasons”

    Absolutely wrong: Italy and other european countries have 4 seasons too.

  • Maryn

    Great article. This kind of stuff always fascinates me; my mom was Japanese, from Kumamoto, and a lot of these things are so ingrained in my brain by her that I wondered how much of it was her and what was cultural. My family had its own mini-Japan going on in the middle of suburban San Diego.

  • Carl

    There is a “business card ritual” which should be conformed to: Unlike here in the US where we glance at a card and then toss it in our pocket, in Japan the card should be actually studied respectfully before being placed carefully away. Exchanging business cards is “de rigeur”, so bring plenty.

    There is also a degree of demonstrating your place in the hierarchy by what is shown on your business card, but aside from degrees and position I’m not certain about the vagaries of this aspect of business card etiquette.

  • Traveler

    I'm a 20-year resident of Japan, so read with interest. I was glad to see the comment, "One false assumption among many Japanese that’s slowly being dispelled by time is the 'uniqueness' of Japan" – I'm always glad to see honest portrayals instead of exoticism.

    So I was disappointed by some of the other content. "Japanese society is focused on the group. Western cultures are focused on the individual." Come on, you can't get much more one-sided and stereotyping than that. That old chestnut needs a serious reality check, which I'll try to do on my site soon.

    "Bowing is nothing less than an art form" is similar exoticism.

    I have to disagree that talking on a cell phone on a train is not a "huge no-no"; it's not considered good manners anywhere on the globe that I'm aware of, but it's something you'll see the natives of Japan do every day.

    Similarly, the point about being stared at everywhere as a foreigner is oversimplified. In many places, yes; in Tokyo, no. I'm tall and white, and few people look twice at me here. Most expect me to speak Japanese, as well, and show no surprise when I do.

    And so on. The title doesn't quite fit the article. I would certainly suggest that people brush up on chopstick usage before going to the Far East. Same with practical stuff like tipping and shoe etiquette – great stuff. But bowing? Masks for colds? Some vague generalities about "conformity"? I'd call those things you simply don't need to worry about.

    Still, some good info buried in there. Additional comments:

    @Scott: "Also, as mentioned above, clean VERY thoroughly BEFORE entering the onsen. Shampoo and soap are always provided in these places."

    I wish more natives would follow that rule. There's no shortage of Japanese guys who'll walk in to the bathhouse, toss a single, quick dipper-ful of water onto the back, and then hop into the tub, barely even wet let alone clean. Eww.

    @Deserae: "don’t kiss in public! I have never seen any Japanese do this and I probably never will"

    What country village are you in? Come to a big city; the youngsters certainly do go at it here. Why wouldn't they? You can't stop love!

  • http://howtobeanamericanhousewife.wordpress.com/ Maryn

    Great article. This kind of stuff always fascinates me; my mom was Japanese, from Kumamoto, and a lot of these things are so ingrained in my brain by her that I wondered how much of it was her and what was cultural. My family had its own mini-Japan going on in the middle of suburban San Diego.

  • http://www.homejapan.com Traveler

    I’m a 20-year+ resident of Japan, so read with interest. I was glad to see the comment, “One false assumption among many Japanese that’s slowly being dispelled by time is the ‘uniqueness’ of Japan” – I’m always glad to see honest portrayals instead of exoticism.

    So I was disappointed by some of the other content. “Japanese society is focused on the group. Western cultures are focused on the individual.” Come on, you can’t get much more one-sided and stereotyping than that. That old chestnut needs a serious reality check, which I’ll try to do on my site soon.

    “Bowing is nothing less than an art form” is similar exoticism.

    I have to disagree that talking on a cell phone on a train is not a “huge no-no”; it’s not considered good manners anywhere on the globe that I’m aware of, but it’s something you’ll see the natives of Japan do every day.

    Similarly, the point about being stared at everywhere as a foreigner is oversimplified. In many places, yes; in Tokyo, no. I’m tall and white, and few people look twice at me here. Most expect me to speak Japanese, as well, and show no surprise when I do.

    And so on. The title doesn’t quite fit the article. I would certainly suggest that people brush up on chopstick usage before going to the Far East. Same with practical stuff like tipping and shoe etiquette – great stuff. But bowing? Masks for colds? Some vague generalities about “conformity”? I’d call those things you simply don’t need to worry about.

    Still, some good info buried in there. Additional comments:

    @Scott: “Also, as mentioned above, clean VERY thoroughly BEFORE entering the onsen. Shampoo and soap are always provided in these places.”

    I wish more natives would follow that rule. There’s no shortage of Japanese guys who’ll walk in to the bathhouse, toss a single, quick dipper-ful of water onto the back, and then hop into the tub, barely even wet let alone clean. Eww.

    @Deserae: “don’t kiss in public! I have never seen any Japanese do this and I probably never will”

    What country village are you in? Come to a big city; the youngsters certainly do go at it here. Why wouldn’t they? You can’t stop love!

  • 6pack abs

    Forgot to mention no shoes indoors, one of the main differences which every single person will come across, c'mon

  • http://6packQuest.com 6pack abs

    Forgot to mention no shoes indoors, one of the main differences which every single person will come across, c’mon

  • mike weiss

    I was in Kobay (spelling?) in 95, exactly one year after the Hershang earthquake. The purpose of my trip was to set up an example of a "kit" home in a model home park on Roco island. I was very impressed with the Japanese people, they were very kind and helpfull as they could see my inexperience. I noticed how eager the average "train passenger" was to converse in english and enjoyed many conversations. I actually traded addresses with one young lady who was interested in an American contact for a future vacation in the US. Mike

  • mike weiss

    I was in Kobay (spelling?) in 95, exactly one year after the Hershang earthquake. The purpose of my trip was to set up an example of a “kit” home in a model home park on Roco island. I was very impressed with the Japanese people, they were very kind and helpfull as they could see my inexperience. I noticed how eager the average “train passenger” was to converse in english and enjoyed many conversations. I actually traded addresses with one young lady who was interested in an American contact for a future vacation in the US. Mike

  • Traveler

    @Personal Trainer: "I was in japan last year and in the middle of the street there were kids like 5 years old just walking around with no parents."

    I grew up in the US, and at age 5, walked around outside and ran errands etc. with no parents around. This is not a "Japan thing".

    @David: You're correct, vast portions of the planet experience four seasons. I think the article is *making fun of* the dumb notion, embraced by some addled people in Japan, that only Japan has four seasons.

    @Carl: "Unlike here in the US where we glance at a card and then toss it in our pocket, in Japan the card should be actually studied respectfully before being placed carefully away."

    No, "we" in the US do not do that. Some people may. Others don't. Please don't speak for everyone!

    @Mike Weiss: Kobe.

  • ruthelm

    I have been to Japan twice,and i really enjoyed it especially during springtime when cherry blossoms mark the coming of spring.These customs are helpful tips of "Do's and Dont's" before you travel to Japan.When in Japan,do as the Japanese do.

  • http://www.homejapan.com Traveler

    @Personal Trainer: “I was in japan last year and in the middle of the street there were kids like 5 years old just walking around with no parents.”

    I grew up in the US, and at age 5, walked around outside and ran errands etc. with no parents around. This is not a “Japan thing”.

    @David: You’re correct, vast portions of the planet experience four seasons. I think the article is *making fun of* the dumb notion, embraced by some addled people in Japan, that only Japan has four seasons.

    @Carl: “Unlike here in the US where we glance at a card and then toss it in our pocket, in Japan the card should be actually studied respectfully before being placed carefully away.”

    No, “we” in the US do not do that. Some people may. Others don’t. Please don’t speak for everyone!

    @Mike Weiss: Kobe.

  • ruthelm

    I have been to Japan twice,and i really enjoyed it especially during springtime when cherry blossoms mark the coming of spring.These customs are helpful tips of “Do’s and Dont’s” before you travel to Japan.When in Japan,do as the Japanese do.

  • jhrf

    Hi,

    Really enjoyed this! Read it all the way through (something I don't usually do for stumbles).

    Thanks alot!

    jhrf

  • jhrf

    Hi,

    Really enjoyed this! Read it all the way through (something I don’t usually do for stumbles).

    Thanks alot!

    jhrf

  • Shaka

    I especially like Japanese foods.

  • http://www.picksth.com/tutorial/ Shaka

    I especially like Japanese foods.

  • Pepper

    Japanese or ni-hon-go-jin do not use chopsticks they prefer Hashi.

  • zach

    i think that everything that is said in the article is true. except the part about safety. dead wrong. Could not be farther from the truth. One of the safest countries in the world, Tokyo receives about one assault charge a day. Feel safe walk around at 4a.m. When i was there for a year i would have the wildest weekends and there was no problems. Still it is smart to travel safe, but don't be paranoid and ruin you trip by looking over your shoulder every second.

  • zach

    i think that everything that is said in the article is true. except the part about safety. dead wrong. Could not be farther from the truth. One of the safest countries in the world, Tokyo receives about one assault charge a day. Feel safe walk around at 4a.m. When i was there for a year i would have the wildest weekends and there was no problems. Still it is smart to travel safe, but don’t be paranoid and ruin you trip by looking over your shoulder every second.

  • Laptop Reviews

    The Japanese are the most socially repressed people in the world. This is a good thing, because it would take a civil war to make them normal again if they ever were able to come out of their shells. For example check what they did during WWII.

  • http://laptop-computer-comparison.com Laptop Reviews

    The Japanese are the most socially repressed people in the world. This is a good thing, because it would take a civil war to make them normal again if they ever were able to come out of their shells. For example check what they did during WWII.

  • Honor

    Excellent comments for a first time visitor.

    Japan is a great country but it does help if you know what you're doing when you visit.

  • http://www.tokyotopia.com Honor

    Excellent comments for a first time visitor.

    Japan is a great country but it does help if you know what you’re doing when you visit.

  • Gwen from Tempe

    You forgot to mention that the public display of pubic hair is considered offensive. Just a warning.

  • http://www.gwenandbling.com Gwen from Tempe

    You forgot to mention that the public display of pubic hair is considered offensive. Just a warning.

  • Vacation Tip

    These were very good tips in my opinion. When I visit Japan, I will be mindful of these customs. I think that the bath house idea would have stumped me and taking a bath before dinner would have surprised me as well. I probably would not have known what to do had I not read your article! It was helpful to someone like me.

  • http://www.vacation-tip.com Vacation Tip

    These were very good tips in my opinion. When I visit Japan, I will be mindful of these customs. I think that the bath house idea would have stumped me and taking a bath before dinner would have surprised me as well. I probably would not have known what to do had I not read your article! It was helpful to someone like me.

  • leo

    great guide, I was in Japan not long ago for a school exchange and this really helped!

  • Brent

    Great site! Having stayed in Japan as a foreign exchange student, this info would have been so helpful before I left. I found myself learning all of these things throughout my stay. Take these tips to heart if you plan on visiting! Japan is an amazing country with a beautifully rich culture as well! I miss it greatly and wish to return soon!

  • akaguma

    actually most people in japan do not wear face masks because of germs. large numbers of cedar trees were planted to fuel industry after the war and every spring they release huge amounts of pollen to which a great deal of the population are allergic

  • ケイラ

    Placing your chopsticks vertical in your food represents a sign of mourning. It is used symbolically by Buddhists when serving rice to deceased ancestors. They also look like the incense burned during ceremonies.

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  • Scott Lewis

    Turner, I wonder if you might give me some cultural advice. I have a small open source software package that has recently received a lot of attention in Japan. Using Google's translation service I was able to get the gist of the very nice writeup it received on one blog. I would like to show my appreciation by having some of the content on my site translated into Japanese or at least have a page in Japanese welcoming my Japanese visitors. Of course, I do not want to accidentally be offensive. Do you have any suggestions regarding what to say or not to say? Also, do you think it is even necessary given that as you and many others have stated many Japanese are very skilled in written English? Thanks.

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  • 数独

    Great article! Now I know a little bit more about Japan! :-)

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  • Jay

    Great Article! Very interesting

  • Turner

    Scott, I'm sure it would be appreciate and possibly catch on faster if you gave a few mentions in Japanese. As far as the technical write-up, I'm not sure what you want to say, but you could add (irrasshaimase) in the title – it means welcome. Sorry I can't type the characters now – not on my notebook. Hope that helps.

  • Scott

    Turner, Thanks for your response. I think I will go through the site and decide which content items would be most helpful to Japanese visitors and concentrate on getting those translated first. I can definitely add "Welcome" now at any rate. Scott

  • Travel Planner

    Nice Article. But using chopsticks skilfully is a task. Thanks for those tips.

  • oMan

    I have visited Japan several times – enjoyed very much – cuisine as well.

  • Sam Nooser

    Do the Japanese ever respect other cultures when the travel?

  • Stephen

    Nice list – I visited Japan a couple of years ago and love being reminded of its custons, although I'm sure you can use the wet cloth (oshibori) on your face before a meal – to freshen up.

  • BCBSNC

    Awesome article! I'd love to visit there some day. I learned so many new things from reading your blog! Thanks!

  • lenav

    I've traveled a lot and lived in Japan. It is by far the safest place I have ever been. I never felt unsafe even when walking alone at night to my apartment.

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  • Ryuu

    Ive always wanted to go to Japan and Im glad Ive read this beforehand. Excellent guide. Cheers!

  • AJ

    This is a reply to the noise level on the train. People on the trains are quiet because they do not know one another. As an individual you are non-existant. A group of Japanese people who know each other on a train can be very loud and disrespectful. There is a saying in Japan. If there is a red light and an individual on the street corner, then yes, the light is red. If there is a red light and a GROUP of people on a street corner who decide to walk, then the light is not red. In other words, a group can break the rules, set the rules, whatever. I found group behavior in Japan to sometimes be shocking in that the group has a complete lack of concern for the individual(s) around them.

  • Otel Rehberi

    Awesome article! I'd love to visit there some day.

  • Ann Steele

    I was amazed to be sent your blog. Turner is an unusual name. My grandfather was Turner Wright!

  • Cana

    I had lived in Japan about 5 years, I totally agree with you that Japan is a very safe country. A high school or college girl student can go home after part-time jobs even at late night without safety worry.

  • Hotel_Guide

    japanease culture very safely.. one day i wanna visit there.. thanks for article..

  • ANGELINA

    I am 16 years old and would like to know a little more about their schools and education(cant find a good website like this anywhere else). If possible, could you add some more information to this site and rid me of my curiosity.

  • Honor

    A really good post with lots of excellent advice. It's good to see someone putting so much thought into their articles. Off to check out your blog : )

  • s.koyama

    ほとんど正解。 よく知っていますね。 嬉しいです。 しかし日本の中には"大阪city""名古屋city"も有るのです。 そこは東京と比較して、とても異質。 日本へ来る皆さん、ぜひnagoyaにも来訪して欲しい。とても楽しいよ! Almost correct answer. You very know a lot.You understand it and are very glad. However, there is "Osaka city"" Nagoya city" in Japan, too. There is very heterogeneous in comparison with Tokyo. I want nagoya to visit the forthcoming all of you by all means to Japan.It is space to be able to enjoy

  • Turner

    Hey Angelina, sorry, but I hadn't checked the comments on here in quite some time. Send me an email if you have any questions about Japanese schools.

  • MariusSabena

    Good article for what it is, could use some depth, though.

  • susan

    realy

  • Dave

    This is indeed a very enlightening as well as educational post about Japan and its unique culture and traditions. The comments are also interesting as well, mirroring both positive and negative aspects of the Japanese way of life. There are still a lot more about the Japanese customs that can possibly be added on the list and perhaps the author can consider a follow-up post for those that he might have missed. May I also personally suggest that the writer conduct a thorough research prior to posting the article to verify the information presented and provide more concrete examples and actual instances to support the "facts". He should be given credit though for writing about his personal encounters and experiences and sharing with us his own insights on the Japanese customs and readers must understand that any discrepancy or apparent "errors" must not be criticized but must be considered as a personal observation and views by the author. We all have a right to express ourselves and let us all respect that.

  • Sally

    Great Tips! Very Helpful!

  • neil

    Your tips are a useful primer for anyone planning a trip to Japan. When I traveled around the country a few years back I was often stopped by people who wanted to practice English and even treated to coffee for this. The general level of politeness was overwhelming and perhaps the word I most often heard in cities was sumimasen (I am sorry). I was also amazed by an example of the general honesty in the culture. I left my waist pouch on a bus after a late night trip to Okayama and the bus company returned it to me the next day after I phoned them. My passport, camera, money and everything were there! I can't think of another place where this would happen.

  • b

    when was the last time you pointed at *anyone* with your feet?

  • b

    Not just frowned upon, but in some (many?) you are not allowed to enter if you have a tattoo.

  • b

    I lived in Japan for several years – mostly in suburban Saitama – and was not spoken to by the police in any way even once. I find it hard to believe that foreigners are "routinely hassled by the police" unless they go out of their way to appear offensive and "different".

  • mochili

    you forgot the japanese toilets

  • DBR

    SO long ago I'm not sure why I'm responding lol except that this is sooo not my experience living in Nagoya and even less so in Tokyo. IF (and only if) there is not enough room for both of you, the Japanese (or at least Nagoyans) will generally play chicken with you (if in a group they will look you in the eye and do it, if alone they will look at the ground even if they've banged right into you lol, and I'm afraid I tend to lose and step into the gutter rather than do the shoulder bump which can be painful.

  • DBR

    Great post for people on their way. I will also add my experience that people wash their face, neck and whole head (if they are bald) with their wet towels, though. One really useful tip I'd add follows a commenter's addition: "If using chopsticks to get food from a serving dish, use them backwards (the fat ends). It's considered more sanitary." This is advice business people are often given but we were told (in time, thank goodness because so many had done it in the influx of ICTs we were in lol ) it is actually considered very rude. The Japanese mostly eat "family style" with all dishes available to all at the table (and usually served in a sequence which can catch you by surprise if everyone has ordered a different dish just for themselves lol) and everyone expects to share the dishes. To turn your hashi around suggests you think your dinner companions have some kind of germs you don't want to catch …

  • jessssicaaa

    i must admit i find the education of japan a bit much, but i love it.. they are taught at a young age to strive for greatness, doing it 110% effort and with a smile.. maybe if it was toned down a bit they could use it in other countrys..

  • Oceana

    great article! you covered a lot of the basics for first-timers and i am sure that they will help a lot of people. Plus, it was nice for an otaku (also known as an anime and manga freak) like me to get some more vocab. thanks!

  • IFE

    This is great. I may have a chance to japan in 3 months later to study. This is very useful for me. and thanks. Japanese students are under high presuure and strain to succeed and get good grades. see u soon Nihongo. Sinnasan

  • Violet Jameson

    Who will forget about gifts?!?!?!?!?

  • Shea

    Hey this was really helpful. Im 15 and hopefully will be learning Japanese within the next few years.

  • CatchAll

    That's because you were in Nagoya, land of the most obnoxious Japanese. In other places you don't get that.

  • Shawn

    I fins this humerous having been living here for 2 years as well

  • http://www.japanesewords.net/ Japanese Words

    Great list. Some of these are a little outdated and as mentioned slightly stereotypical, but very helpful for those visiting Japan.

  • http://www.keepingpaceinjapan.com Turner

    Stereotypical… perhaps. But not in the least outdated.

  • saharnaz

    thank you for your useful information.
    i,m saharnaz from iran_tehran

  • A Japanese Individual

    As much as Eastern culture does promote the “general good” of the population, individualism is not a threat to eastern society. Look at the fashion, movies, any cultural product from MODERN japan and youll see that they do promote the individual. Perhaps instead you shouldnt overtly lord over the 60s American mentality of being superior, just treat them as how you would want to be treated. Respectfully.

  • Hayylei Chani

    Very stereotypical! It is nooooot proper to fold back your napkin rather than place it under your plate in a staight fashion do noy fold it or it is a symbol that they are not well at folding they take their jobs very seriously!
    WAS BORN IN JAPAN!

  • Mark McClure

    In most towns in Japan the most dangerous part of town will be where ever you are, you are the danger there for the most part.
    If you want to wow your hosts or Japanese friends, buy flowers for them, Japanese culture is very big on flowers and it is the norm for visitors to a home to bring flowers for the host.

    • http://www.homejapan.com Traveler

      “…you are the danger there for the most part.”

      What the heck does that mean?

      “Japanese culture is very big on flowers and it is the norm for visitors to a home to bring flowers for the host.”

      It is not the norm here in Japan for guests to bring flowers for the host. Japanese culture is not particularly “big” on flowers. Flowers are a good, safe, appreciated gift for a host in Japan, as in pretty much anywhere in the world, but that’s all.

  • http://www.keepingpaceinjapan.com Turner

    日本人さん、

    I don’t consider individualism a threat to modern Japan – the point is many Japanese youth still do, as I mentioned quoting a survey.

    I don’t know quite what you mean by “60′s American mentality of being superior”… Americans have always believed they’re superior (which, of course, they’re not). If you got the impression I was promoting that in this article, then I apologize.

    Being treated “respectfully”… yes, I agree.

  • http://sakeandkimono.blogspot.com/ Ichiro Nakano

    Turner san,

    I agree with you, expecially Item 9, “Speaking English.”
    I feel sorry to see Japanese people often speak to people from abroad, even if they speak Japanese. This is like using foreign people as English language teachers. This is not good, and I think the Japanese must understand the feelings of people from abroad.

    Ichiro Nakano

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  • Cyrus

    “Slurping noodles or making loud noises while eating is OK! In fact, slurping hot food like ramen is polite, to show you are enjoying it.”

    slurping _noodles_ is the only loud noise you should make while eating in Japan. Other sounds one might think of are consider as impolite as they are in western countries. Do not mistake Japan with China there…

  • http://matadorabroad.com/author/pele-omori/ Pele

    Enryo too. Enryo doesn’t translate into English but,I think it means to decline an offer at least two times before the other person insists again. Then, you can accept their offering with a thanks. This usually goes for those who are above you in rank.

  • http://www.homejapan.com Traveler

    @Pele: “Enryo” (遠慮) has meanings of (social) restraint or reserve; these are fine English translations. It has no set meaning of “decline an offer two times”.

    In social situations, it can refer to common (universal?) human courtesies: refraining from jumping ahead of others; hesitating to impose on others; not grabbing at offers without first making humble demurrals; etc.

    Important stuff in Japan, yes, but also pretty much anywhere.

    • http://matadorabroad.com/author/pele-omori/ Pele

      Traveler,
      Thanks for the info. My description was too general, and too mathematic–enryo has no numerical formula. :)

      My observations : I did notice more enryo going on in Japan than I do here in the states, where most of us are more likely to grab at offers with a , “thanks”, without as much humbleness as in Japan. What do you think?

  • Kit

    Hi minna-san,

    Just wanted to add a note on the term ‘enryo’. Enryo, or enryo/sasshi, refers to a communication form of Japan. You won’t encounter this 100% of the time, but it’s good to keep an eye out for it. In Japan people do not want to be seen as annoying or as a burden to others. So, be prepared to be expected to interpret more meaning from fewer words. For example, if a person says to you “Do you think it’s hot in here?” you wouldn’t simply say “Yea it is”, you would be expected to interpret it as a request to open the window or turn on the AC. The closest comparison we have in American culture can be seen in the way women will sometimes hint at what they want instead of outright saying it. A Japanese professor at my college had a great example that he used when explaining enryo/sasshi: say a couple are taking a road trip and the woman asks the man “Would you like to pull over at the next exit and get food?” The answer she would expect of him is: “(Yes/No), do you want food?” She doesn’t want to admit out loud that she’s hungry, but she expects him to be sensitive to her needs and not just his own. In Japan, this form of communication is more common, and it’s not just used by women, but also men. In the US the speaker is expected to do all the work of making their needs and expectations of others known, in Japan it’s the opposite. So pay close attention to all possible interpretations of what’s being said to you, or you may unwittingly be seen as not only insensitive to others, but also as kind of an idiot for not getting a hint that the locals would think is obvious. Hope this comes of some use to you.

    • http://www.homejapan.com Traveler

      Enryo is “a communication form of Japan”? That doesn’t even make sense. Again, the word means “restraint” or “reserve” in social interactions, and it’s a universal component of good manners in ALL human societies.

      If you feel it’s more prevalent among “Japanese” or “American women” or whatever, then so you feel. But it’s not remotely a unique feature of ANY special group.

      Sheesh.

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  • http://www.luggageonline.com luggage

    Great tips to know the next time I travel to Japan.

  • kate

    this was very hellpfull thank you i needed the info for my project

  • KK

    What do you mean toilets? I’m leaving for Japan in 3 weeks and I need to be aware of this situation.
    Thx

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  • canuck

    Sounds very Canadian!! Lol!

    A Japanese professor at my college had a great example that he used when explaining enryo/sasshi: say a couple are taking a road trip and the woman asks the man “Would you like to pull over at the next exit and get food?” The answer she would expect of him is: “(Yes/No), do you want food?” She doesn’t want to admit out loud that she’s hungry, but she expects him to be sensitive to her needs and not just his own.

  • Leila

    I was surprised that in the section on chopsticks it was not mentioned that it is considered rude to leave your chopsticks sticking out of the rice in your bowl. When you are not using the chopsticks you should lie them across the top of the bowl or on chopstick rests if they’re provided.

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  • http://www.budgetyourtrip.com Laurie

    Great article! Should have read it before my trip to Japan!

  • UruffuAkuma

    Sweet, thanks a bundle, there’s a bunch of usefull information here.

  • Perry

    Slow down. Watch what others do. Let others demonstrate first. Hesitate. Open eyes, shut mouth. SLOW DOWN! Watch for clenched jaw muscles. (Indicates anger.) Refuse all offers – usually they are just “polite”. If the offer is repeated, the second time you COULD accept, but it is better to wait for a third. Gets complicated if the Japanese has a lot of experience with foreigners – he/she may not offer again, knowing our lack of reticence accepting! SLOW DOWN! Smiles are masks. They can mean anything. Smiles often DO NOT mean happiness. Do NOT bow to children or maids (a nod is OK). “Play chicken”? Unconsciously we bend slightly to avoid shoulder bumping. The distance various according to the culture. And men may expect woman to move further. DO NOT JUMP TO CONCLUSIONS! Check meanings carefully – especially for important things. Repeat back what you think they mean, using different words if possible. Upright chopsticks in bowls of rice is found at funerals. Japanese are forgiving of foreigner’s “rudeness” – they won’t shout or strike you – you just may never see them again. Japanese often plan things far in advance – don’t expect them to be available on short notice. “Hai” means “Uh, huh – I’m listening.” NOT yes. SLOW DOWN! Copy what people of your same age-group, educational level, etc. do. DO NOT ACCEPT GIFTS unless you are prepared to commit yourself to being in the position of owing a favor. A favor is a favor – and a small favor received may bind you to a big favor returned. Chiisana shinsetsu, ooki no oseiwa. Gambatte!

    • majtka

      @Perry: excellent comments Thanks a lot! :)

  • http://www.vegasvacationbids.com Jeff

    Very interesting and informative. Japanese culture is unique.

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  • gary

    you are asian ;)

  • http://www.polycarbonates.org Layla Collins

    Southpark is quite funny but some of the scenes maybe a bit too morbid even for adults.;’.

  • SonicForge

    Well this is what scares me to death about going to Japan. While I understand somewhat the whole group concept. It does concern me that I may do something unintentionally which gets me into trouble. As the author mentioned no matter how hard you try or how much you learn it is going to get you into trouble. The very fact I am a foreigner automatically puts me at a disadvantage. I am sorry but you can only change so much. There is more to the whole individual mentality then just being an individual. Whether the Japanese believe this or not but the fact you are standing there makes you an individual. It isn’t just about what you think or how you react which can be very daunting no doubt. How do you communicate with people if you can’t put forward an individual thought? If you are hungry and want to eat something and someone else does not then do you not eat? If someone asks me something do I say whatever you were thinking is what I am thinking as well. If someone I am with gets drunk do I do as well?

    That in and of itself is a scary one which one should avoid at all costs. You don’t want to get yourself into those type of situations as I have heard. Japanese misbehave and you get blamed for it as though it was your fault. See my point with all of this. As I had stated earlier how can you possibly interact with people if you don’t at some point convey at least a response? How can society function without this even in it’s simplest forms? Are the Japanese so Borg like that any interaction is basically like talking to a mirror? I am sorry to be the one here to be on the negative but am I over reacting or not? Being a yard stick or circus animal scares me to death as how do I react. Why can’t I be a fishing line instead? This is not what I would have had in mind when traveling to Japan. Look honey it can do tricks! I am being sarcastic of coarse but how do you guys do it without losing your minds? I have even heard that many places like hotels, eating establishments, Stores, Clubs etc are banned to foreigners? Is this true and if so where do you go? Listen I am not trying to say that you shouldn’t respect the country you are in and abide by it’s laws and customs. That I would try to do to the best of my ability.

    Although when you can’t even function as a human being Then how can you possibly do anything else without causing mass hysteria. Are foreigners hated that much there? If so why even bother going. I guess I can see why now Japan ranks among the lowest in the world in tourism. To bad as I really really would have enjoyed going there but not if people don’t want me there. One last point i that as many have stated here you can’t expect to get to know any culture without first experiencing it first. Japan in contract can’t expect all foreigners are going to know everything there is to know about Japan either. So if something is taken the wrong way it likely was miss-communication rather then someone outright be rude or disrespectful. Is this just a knee jerk reaction or do the Japanese actually expect foreigners are going to know this. At this post states the 10 things you must know before going to Japan. Is 10 really enough as it doesn’t seem 100 things you must know would even be enough.

    • majtka

      @SonicForge: look, you ARE overreacting, and you are a bit hysterical in doing so. I want to reassure you that the Japanese have seen many foreigners already and some of them also work with foreigners on a daily basis. On the other hand, the Japanese also do travel abroad, they do watch foreign TV sometimes, too. Just try your best not to stand out and not to offend anyone with your behavior, and they will certainly appreciate your efforts. Do not think you will ever master the etiquette and the language so as to be unnoticed in Japan. Best of luck with your travels :)

    • Mick

      Why don’t you stay in your own little bubble! Don’t travel it’s obvious you are not a worldly person.

  • John

    Here is what this post won’t say. Japan doesn’t like foreigners period. People are better off just staying home. If someone really wants to go you better like study for years in advance so to make sure you don’t offend anyone. It just isn’t worth it otherwise. I have had many friends travel there that couldn’t even get a hotel or eat most places as they didn’t allow foreigners. Japan 14th century mentality doesn’t hold water these days. How are you expected to ever get past your differences when you don’t even try. Why Japan is so against that mindset is beyond me but each to their own I guess. Just don’t expect to much when traveling there as you might get along a lot better. Keep you head low and don’t make eye contact with anyone. This way people can’t judge you if you don’t see them. They will still judge you but at least you will feel better about it. Respect only applies to Japanese people as they only respect their own. Don’t expect you are going to being treated the same. As the author said you are a yardstick or below a human being. You don’t have rights and you never will. Be respectful but don’t expect it in return. Just better to keep quit and not cause any trouble. Stick with other foreigners as the Japanese won’t interact with you. That distrust foreigners anyway and you won’t get very far trying to ask questions. If this doesn’t sound like the most friendly vacation spot it isn’t. Japan has a long ways to go before it will ever be a vacation destination. Although if you are up for a major challenge of epic proportions then by all means give it a go. You will need all he luck you can get.

  • Robert

    John is all wrong – I have been to Japan to visit before and I’m going back tomorrow. It’s a great place, the people are extraordinarily friendly, and even go out of their way to be friendly and forgiving.

  • http://www.yahoo.com cherryblossoms

    “You will never ever know what Japan really is if you do not experience and live with there culture and ways. We are now in a modern period of time and even the poorest country are already civilized, how much more in JAPAN? Just remember that whenever you go we are all similar as a human being with heart, feelings, education and pretty much sure there are always good but i think less bad people. What matters most is visit the place and enjoy, and as a reminder always remember the golden rule .”Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” (Matthew 7:12, Matthew 22:39, Luke 6:31)

  • Sjampo

    japan is not the only country in the world that has 4 seasons i live in iceland and we have 4 seasons here to vetur sumar vor og haust

  • KC

    Re: Tips
    When staying at a traditional Japanese inn, you DO tip your room maid.

    Re: Foreigners in Japan
    I have never felt more welcomed and catered to as I did in my trips to Japan. The Japanese are great hosts/hostesses. If you are polite and not demanding, you will have a great experience and be treated well. Isn’t that pretty much universal?

    Re: Safety
    Tokyo is very safe, especially compared to most other large cities. I accidentally left a bag containing a lot of cash and our passports in the hotel parking lot. Came back an hour later and found that it was turned in to the hotel front desk with nothing missing.

  • Kathleen Lees

    Hello! I work at the MU International Center in Missouri, Columbia. I am making a brochure for students going to Japan, and I wanted a little bit of extra information than just the general. I really liked the detailed information provided in your site. It is great! I hope I can get to Japan some day :)

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  • COCO

    I am Japanese and these listings are absolutely correct! :)
    One thing I will comment on is crime in Japan… generally speaking it is safe, but
    still there are places in Japan you shouldn’t be!

  • SonicForge

    I have to say this is a relief. I have so much respect for Japan and it’s people. Although it made me sad believing that Japan has such distrust and hatred of those different then themselves. I personally can understand where this comes from. When you are as isolated a country as Japan is it isn’t hard to see why this is the case. People fear what they don’t understand or can relate to. It’s human nature really but doesn’t mean we can’t coexist together in harmony. We are made of the same DNA and while are appearances are different as is our culture and customs. We are human beings at our core. Japan has so much to offer the world with it’s rich and storied history. Although I guess one can be expect this to happen in any xenophobic society but doesn’t mean you can’t try to change things. I will do my very best to show Japan that I may be a foreigner but one which accepts it’s culture, customs and way of life. I will be extremely respectful even more so then i usually am. I will always put others ahead of myself and contribute to the group. I will always turn down a complement as to show I am no better or worse then anyone else. I will never accept a gift under any condition. I will learn the language to the best of my ability and not expect everyone knows English.

    This might not get me far but at least it is nice to know someone isn’t going to hit me over the head just because I am a foreigner. I have no doubt this will be a very difficult experience and one which will require extreme discipline on my part. Tourists are just not used to this kinda of boot camp training but is necessary when in Japan. Well I guess we will see what happens but I pray I won’t run into the nightmare situations which some here have likely experienced. It’s likely going to take the efforts of many to change Japan’s perception of foreigners. Get rid of all the bad foreigners and replace them with the good ones. In a since when you look at it we are ambassadors and not just tourists. Most people don’t see it that way though but should. If Japan has a certain perception of you change that and prove to them otherwise. It’s hard work no doubt but I hope that maybe in time things will change. Thanks for all the great posts here and convincing me that Japan is worth the trip. ^_^

  • Madison-Chan

    Thank you VERY much! Im studying Japan for fun, and I know a little japanese.. I really want to go there one day and see what its like :)

  • http://www.hotelchatter.com/story/2009/10/14/225921/11/hotels/The_Sanctuary_Hotel_Wants_You_to_Peek_In_On_Their_Dress_Rehearsal_at_159_a_night_ Hank Freid

    I agree with you we must about the tradition, customs of visiting destination in order to avoid any misbehave, especially about different fascinating places etc

  • http://www.fanpop.com Amor Aisu

    I’ve been learning Japanese for awhile now and cant wait to use some of it when I (hopefully) travel there. I am going to be working in Animation and Digital Media Art and hope to study the art and techniques in Japan ^-^

    Domo arigato

  • Ellen

    you made a mistake :D japan isn’t the only country that has four seasons :D
    iran has four seasons ,too.

  • http://www.kidsrollingsuitcases.com Kids Rolling Suitcases

    Traveling abroad to places like Japan are definitely wonderful experiences, but you should absolutely to research on the culture and customs before going. This is a great list to get started if traveling to Japan. Thanks

  • Yuka Honda

    It fascinates me that Western people so often claims to be individualist then generalizes Japan with no hesitation. What a paradox.

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  • me

    lame

  • Peter

    I just returned from my first trip to Japan 4 weeks ago and the first thing I did on my return to Australia was to book another trip to Japan.

    It’s an amazing place with a few unique cultural practices that seem a little strange to Westerners. A 1000 yrs of ritual / order / respect tend to produce a few oddities. But, these are easy to deal with.

    What I’m most suprised with are some of the comments about the Japanese not being friendly. RUBBISH. I found the Japanese people amongst the most friendly, polite and honest people I have ever come across in my extensive travels. Japanese society rotates around the notions of order and respect. Its also got to be about the cleanest and most efficient country I’ve ever been to. Service is second to none.

    The thing that most annoyed me in Japan was fellow Western tourists – what a motley crew we are!

  • Yukari

    Don’t really understand why is it that only the Japanese people can use the chopstick…I thought that it was Chinese?

    • Jennabell

      both can. chopsticks are an Asian thing. i think thats what the author meant

  • David Cockburn

    You forgot one v important rule which is if you ever read Iris Chang’s The Rape of Nanking you should perhaps not visit Japan for at least a year until you have calmed down.

  • Barb

    A friend teaches english to Japanese families in US. Shesometimes has a party for them at her house but the Japanese never leave, even after 3 hours when the party is obviously over. She doesn’t want to be rude but she doesn’t know what to do or say. Any suggestions?

  • Balfsontaft

    Awesome posts

    Thanks for posting!

  • jonholmes

    When groups of high school students in Japan were asked to identify the dangers facing children today, the majority agreed on the number one threat: individualism.

    Sad but true.

    even when they are acting individual, its to fit into a group. Yes I know people do that in the west too, it is called tribalism.

    But in Japan it is waaay more extreme. Its not teamwork or synergy, its inertia. If only one person says no, the group answer is no to all change.

    You re supposed to go along to concerts of bands you dont like just to show “group soidarity”.

    Thats hard for most western teenagers to accept, unless it involves alcohol, etc, and that boy/girl they like maybe!

    But in Japan it’s a lot lamer.

  • cceman

    Thank you for this job ^^

  • stephanie

    I am in Japan right now and your advice/infos have been really useful…thanks!

  • Jennabell

    if Dr. Smith is a medical doctor. it is proper to refer to him as sensei.

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  • Lil

    “I cannot count the number of times I’ve been told I use Japanese chopsticks with skill and grace, despite the fact I’ve seen three-year-olds managing just as well.”

    They are actually making fun of you, because if you are told that you use chopsticks well in Japan, it means that you are obviously not skilled as they are (like if you read me Dr Suess and I exclaimed “Wow, you are a good reader!”, you would feel belittled, as if I thought you couldn’t read. This is the same idea). Don’t feel bad, they probably tell most foreigners that.

    • Lroy77

      I’m actually pretty good with using chopsticks. I contribute this due to my typing skills.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_3HW2CD3LHA62FS2DREKEJBHKAA Jonathan L

    Just reading this guide makes me want to go back to Japan, after having visited there for two weeks last year.  And it’s all true.  The bottom line is that the Japanese want to make foreigners feel welcome.  I was stuck in Tokyo Station one time when a kind older Japanese gentlemen approached me and in English he guided me to where I wanted to go.  You see unlike how it is in America, Japanese schoolchildren take foreign languages very seriously.  You could take a decade’s worth of French, Spanish, or Italian in schools here in the States, and you’ll have forgotten just about everything by the time you reach your 30s.  In Japan, they begin English and an early age and for the most part it stays with them throughout their life.

    • http://twitter.com/PolliNature Kurt Nebel

      Gosh.. I lived there for almost 11 years and very few schoolchildren took English seriously beyond it’s value in getting a good grade. 1 in 30 I would estimate being able to have any sort of conversation with you. However, in America the number of people who speak a second language other than their parents tounge are probably 1 in 20 who speak either French or Spanish or both. In Europe, the numbers are probably 1 in 10 who speak a 2nd, 3rd or 4th language.

      And although there are many kind people in Japan as are anywhere else on Earth, there are also large numbers of Japanese who find most foreigners to be annoying, distasteful and low class if not slightly sub-human, and have no desire to see them stay any longer than absolutely necessary.

  • ishiibrad

    A lot of this story is well done. The part you say about a wet napkin…Do not use it as a napkin, or to touch any part of your face. I`m sorry I see all Japanese using it for all types of use.  I`ve lived in Japan(Tokushima,Shikoku & Yokohama) for 14 years now. I`ve locked my house maybe 10 times,most times I leave my keys in my car also. I`ve never felt scared where I`ve been. Living in the bigger cities are more crime just like the rest of the world.

    • Jannelle

      what did u say cause i didnt hear

  • kietero

    A slight mistranslation with “itadakimasu.”  It’s one of those “untranslatable” phrases that loses its meaning when translated.  The MEANING is a “thanksgiving to God,” as explained by my wife.  It’s like the Japanese way of saying grace.  Quite simply put, “Thank you, God, for the food.”

    Also, those wetnaps can be used as napkins, especially in restaurants that don’t have napkins – just noticed that “ishiibrad” had just said that, and 100% right on that, and on crime.  I’ve seen my wife (native Japanese) countless times leave her umbrella on her bike when she goes into a convenience store.  I’ve done that also, and have even left mine on my bike while spending an  hour or so at the video store.  Unlike the US, where anyone would steal anything just for kicks, unless there’s a vital need for something, the Japanese usually won’t steal anything out of spite.  I’ve left my briefcase on my bike at one time or another, and it contained my important documents; I came back to my bike after realizing what I had done… and it was still there.  Not even an awkward glance at it.

    Not saying it CAN’T happen… but it usually doesn’t.

    • rei

      Happened to me twice. First time I came to Japan, I lost my phone and when I came back, it was right at the train ticket kiosk where I left it. Despite the crowds walking around, nobody bothered touching it. Second time I came this year, I lost my same Iphone and camera! Again, found them at the same place!

      About the whole thing where Japanese will call you out and ask for photographs and all that, well, never happened to me. So weird why the author is experiencing strange things though.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_HQI5ADHUOSJKB4KJT5YRD7MVRE cisono cisono

    Nice article and useful comments. Unfortunately, totally irrelevant now as I will never visit Japan, it is a all a dead zone to me. Sorry but that’s how I feel. I feel sorry for my Japanese friends and for not being able to experience Japan first hand after many years of planning to do so.

  • SamuraiShonan

    I have been here 27 years.  I have learned the language to speak, and maintain my NY accent.  I also read and write quite a bit.
    The oshibori can be used for anything you please (The wet towel)
    The Japanese are the worst English speakers as second language learners in the world.  10 years of studying and still cannot put a sentence together, like, “Would you like French Fries with your Beer?”
    Takes years to get to know them well, and when you are out of site, you are out of mind.
    Fuji is a nightmare.
    Cherry blossoms always get rained out…but this year in Tokyo was the first time in my 27 years that they did not.
    Theft is minimal.  However, there are crooks and thugs, but it is usually not to us outsiders.
    There are plenty of places with the old feel…even in Tokyo.
    Hot springs suck, because you cannot check in until after 2 or 3 pm, and must check out by ten.  They push the sake on you at the wonderful dinners at the resorts, but sound the alarm at 7 to wake you up for breakfast, with a big headache.
    Damn good oysters here.
    Sashimi is fabulous.  Actually all the food is great, and I think it is cheap.
    Do not go to Roppongi.  If you want to see some cool weird stuff, go to Shibuya and Hirajuku.
    If you are surfer like I am, those are the best people to hang out with in Japan.  They will treat you well, and are just a lot of fun!
    Definitely come to Japan.  Do not tour, just get on the trains and explore.
    Look at my blog at blogspot, and you will learn a lot about Japan and laugh too. My name there is samuraishonan

    • DonbeifromKobe

      I tend to agree with you on the hot-spring-inn situation…you need to operate according to a choreographed pattern. My favorite way of enjoying onsen is to first check into a 6000-yen-a-night business hotel, leave your bags, go out right away with underwear and towels, find a sento, take a good soak, find a good local izakaya, enjoy all the Asahi/Kirin/Suntory/Sapporo you can, navigate my way back to my room, and CRASH!

    • Marysal_w

      Hi  I have a personal question to ask…  It does involve a Japanese person I know..  I do not know where to ask.. I do not want to offend this person.  can you email me? 
      marysal_w@yahoo.com 

    • Jannelle

      what did u say huhuhuhuhuhu

  • notoodont

    “I cannot count the number of times I’ve been told I use Japanese
    chopsticks with skill and grace, despite the fact I’ve seen
    three-year-olds managing just as well.”

    Actually, plenty of people have a hard time using chopsticks properly.  even many japanese people use chopsticks in “quirky” but improper ways.  No Japanese person thinks “only Japanese can use chopsticks properly,” especially since China and Korea are right next door… 

    And you do realise that the reason why gaijin stick out like a sore thumb isn’t because they’re non-conformist, right?  It’s probably because you’re white (or black, or whatever, just not your typical asian Japanese person.)
    “- The fear of crime in Japan is high, especially among Japanese citizens.

    - Murders happen. I repeat, murders happen. People are attacked, robbed, assaulted, raped, beaten, and swindled”

    This last point is the most laughable… you do realise crime occurs everywhere.  Murders happen.  I repeat, murders happen.  ANYWHERE IN THE WORLD.  Thanks for the tip though.  I hope you’re living in a crime-free place in the world.

  • Samuel welsh

    fit in but be yourself

  • http://www.facebook.com/AVALAND007 George Ferris

    “AND”  JAPANESE “AND” IRELANDGREEN “AND “STAN”
    FAMILY FIRST! (INSIDE)
    CHANGE CHANGE CHANGE IN ORDER (COUNTRY NOT IN GOOD SHAPE – THANKS (UM CHINA = RED)

  • Bleh

    “HERRO” are you fucking serious? Do you not think this is offensive? 

    • Me

      Its not offensive, they really do say that. They don’t have L’s in the language.

  • Foodyholic

    I once forgot a very expensive decorate metal teapot in a box by the garbage can corner before going to the TSA machine on my way back to the United States.  We were early at the airport waiting when after an hour, we realized we forgot the teapot.  I seeked help from the airline attendant.  Well described including the entrance we took to enter; she said she would check it for us.  What a wonderful feeling 30 minutes later to get it back! 

  • Taylor Faulkner

    Excuse me I have been trying to learn Japanese but have not really gotten there yet but I am going to japan sometime and I want to know will it offend Japanese people if you don’t know how to speak there language cause I do not want to do that and how will I be able to read any thing if all the signs are in japanese and where would I say I am just so worried I mean it sounds so cool to go there I love to read magma and write and I here Tokyo Japan is cool so I plan to go there will you please email me at Taylor.Faulkner@stu.grant.kyschools.us ivwould really be happy if you would thank you (;

  • Last Survivor

     

    This is
    nice. Really love to read that article. Thanks for this ..

    pan card application
    form

  • http://www.englishandculture.com/ Lindsay McMahon

    Thanks, this is an interesting article. If someone is planning on going to Japan for work, it is also important to recognize  the role that work and coworkers play in the lives of Japanese people. In Japan, when you are invited out to dinner with coworkers, you are generally expected to attend because some of the most important aspect of business take place over food and drinks. It is good to keep this in mind if you come from a place like the US where this is not as common.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1121667745 Pieter Shiffler

    This is amazing, thank you!

  • Kiyoko

    As a native speaker of Japanese and English, I can assure you that “Itadakimasu” does not mean “Thanksgiving to God.” It literally means, “I am receiving,” using Japanese honorifics. It implies, with respect, that you are receiving (in this case, your meal) from someone or some place higher than yourself. So the gods are implied sometimes, but not in that blunt a fashion, and not always.

    For instance, say “Itadakimasu” when we take a chocolate candy from our teacher, or a tea sweet while making a visit to a neighbor’s house, showing our respect for them as people, not a god. In general in Japan the rule is to be humble. You always try to place yourself lower than the other person (assuming it’s not a radical situation like a child or an employee). But society mandates you show respect at all times. So it’s important to know that “Itadakimasu” just means “I am receiving (from someone above me)” because it can be used in a wide range of situations.

  • Shoaib Khan

     If you are preparing to check out Asia then there are one or two elements you may want to know before you go about the traditions over there.  After all, you do not want to hurt anyone inadvertantly and if you get something incorrect then individuals do not are generally fast to ignore – even if they do reduce.  So, over at matadorstudy there are a few useful guidelines for you – from how to deal with someone properly to discussing British and concerns of protection.  Well value a journey to the website, whether you are preparing a journey or you are basically fascinated.Dental Instruments

  • digit embroidery

     Super cozy and super soft, right down to the embroidered team logos that stand out from the solid background. This comforter set features a soft, chenille embroidery on both the comforter and the two included shams. The combination of a single raised embroidery against the team color coordinated background adds a bit of sophistication to a great choice in a sports fans’ room adornment.Digit Embroidery

  • Harold562

    mhmmm =) sounds like fun, good tips, although most of the things i knew, got some new things to add. looking to do an externship at japan, but i dont know if its required to know japanese, got any tips on ways to learn it?

  • Jannelle

    :)

  • Jannelle

    i think this site is yhe worst one iv bin to

  • Puto-96

    I HAZ BEENZ TO JAPANZ AND ITS FULL OF ANIME BLACK JESUS AND PORN >.>

  • Puto-96

    I HAZ NEVER SEEN BOOBIES IN THERE BEFORE, JAPAN Y U NO STRIPTEASE CLUBS, NO BEER EITHER, ALL DRINKS TASTE LIKE CAMEL PEE.

  • Susan Croft

    I don’t agree with number 9, it differs from the different regions.

  • Catherine Rockwell

    What about family members? This is great for foreigners making their way through Japan, but I’m trying to do some research on the customs within Japan from native to native. Like, I assume siblings call each other by first names (with maybe “chan” and “kun” used respectively). But I’ve learned never to assume, even if I end up being correct. So does anyone know an article I can read to learn that type of stuff?

  • Hunter Kiotori

    Thank god I read this, and the other articles. I would have been damned if I took off just knowing the language. reminds me that I need to learn more before I take of.

  • Sam Woodel

    I am glad I read this. Very informative.

  • Avi Sharma

    luuuvvvvve japan

  • Takanori Takahashi

    thx for the information :3.

  • Panuwat Pinyoboon

    Agreed with all points but #9. I often was spoken with Japanese. Even when I speak English, they still speak Japanese. LOL

    • Jose Viscasillas

      I think he was referring to those that look like American. To me you appear to be Japanese so they would probably just think you are Japanese.

  • Katrijn Klaassen

    One thing especially tourists should be aware of: Do not put your luggage on a seat, whether it is in a subway, train or station. Seats are meant to sit on and shoould be kept clean. Look around and you will notice that children may only play on the subway benches after removing their shoes.

  • No Big Deal

    Love this blog post, what a great article :)

  • Anonymous

    I want to go so bad!

  • Sarah

    This website is great.I’m going to japan so this website is awsome for me.
    Thanks

  • nigi

    半分以上は嘘。
    悪意を感じる。

  • Sai

    Good list, except 4 seasons … we Japanese never think ‘Japan is the only country that has four seasons’ … many countries have it, we know.

    • Ace

      I agree with you. Maybe it just mean “There are (very distinct) four seasons.”

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