Japanese Culture: Etiquette

Some of them funny, some of them just plain odd, the country of Japan has a superfluity of social customs and etiquette. It is beyond the scope of this writing to expound on all of them, we will briefly touch on a select few.

Take it off!

Upon entering a Japanese household you’d best remove your shoes! Going along with the Japanese concept of cleanliness the inside of a home is considered a ‘clean’ space, in contrast to the outside & street which is a ‘dirty’ space. Therefore one must remove their shoes so as not to bring in the filth from the outside.

At the door there are usually little slippers which you can slip into once taking of your shoes, or you can alternatively go bare foot.

Also most Japanese homes have a second sight of slippers just outside or just inside the bathroom, as the bathroom is considered a ‘dirty’ room and one must wear bathroom slippers if going into the bathroom.

DO NOT wear your home slippers into the bathroom and then into the rest of the house for this is a faux pas, and needlessly to say don’t wear the bathroom slippers around the house.

Should a foreigner commit said faux pas it will most likely be greeted with a hearty laugh, so worry not. But do do your best to not wear shoes in the house.

Tell a Lie

As touched on in a previous writing about Japanese Women, a very firm foundation of Japanese society is built upon Hone and Tatemae (truth and facade), which is basically the telling of social lies in order to escape confrontation.

You’ll see this most often when you meet a Japanese and they tell you:

“nihongo jyouzu desu ne!” (your japanese is good!)

Even if you just said one word like “arigatou”, you will get this compliment. Its completely uncalled for and completely tatemae.

You will also whether you’re a girl or guy get the compliment that you are handsome or beautiful. Again this is just another social lie used to grease the gears of social intercourse. In times like these, one should just laugh it off or say ‘thank you’.

Does this mean you should reciprocate when you hear a Japanese say “naisu tsu michuu” (nice to meet you) in a heaving Japanese accent? That is entirely up to you.

Don’t be American

Unfortunately our countrymen from the US have created for themselves a rather poor reputation in Japan for Americans. But it was not only their doing! Rude foreigners in general are guilty of this, for example Europeans and Australians. Regardless of what nation is the rudest the point is that the Japanese consider that all foreigners are rude, loud, and arrogant.

Therefore prepare to be judged. How do you escape this? By sincerely and earnestly trying to be:

  1. Courteous
  2. Modest
  3. Gentle
  4. Interested

These are the characteristics of the Japanese. They are courteous, never missing an opportunity to bow or show respect or kindness. They are modest, and don’t speak obsessively of their past accomplishments and or resources. They are gentle, not loud. And lastly they are very interested in whoever they are interacting with.

Bring Some Goodies

Representative of the Japanese concept of courtesy is the tradition of bringing a gift to someone when you visit their home. The gift need not be anything expensive. It is the thought that counts.

While the gift can be anything really, it is almost always a sweet of sorts: cake or pastry. Others include flowers, or fruit or even wine. If you really want to show someone that you care you will bring a whole melon, or a fruit basket. As fruit is a luxury in Japan (due to its high cost from importing)

While the participation of this tradition varies you will see it in general use: 1) when someone is traveling a good distance to visit someone else, 2) when someone has returned from over seas 3) when someone is visiting the home of someone who is superior to them 4) when visiting the home on a special occasion 5) when being invited for dinner

The Escalator

Whilst ascending the escalator the citizenry will invariable stand on one side, while living the other half free, for those who don’t want to stand (people who are running or walking). This is another example of the Japanese concept of courtesy of showing itself in their day to day.

As an amusing note, in Eastern Japan people stand on the right side, and in Western Japan people stand on the left side.

This is practiced also on stairways however it is a little more loose, as there is more space to negotiate with.


It is considered very poor taste indeed and extremely rude to kiss our touch in public. A peck on the cheek is acceptable albeit embarrassing, to the point that most couples will not even do that. However you will always find that pair of spiteful youths locking lips most famously, right on the street, however this certainly is the minority.

So shy are the Japanese about anything sexual, that they have condom vending machines on the street (In order to remove any human element from the embarrassing task that is buy condoms at 7/11).

However, generally speaking, said condom machines are closed during the day and only turn on at night time.

The taboo of sex also shows itself in the industry of ‘love hotels’, where Japanese lovers can retreat and have their time together in private, as many live with roommates. Never missing an opportunity to inject our amusement of Japanese Love hotels in any of our writings, we just couldn’t resist commenting on that.

Don’t Swear

While swearing in English may not be received too badly, one should ensure that he never ever utters any Japanese swear words in public (especially sex related words) or in front of people he does not know well. Even if uttered to a friend that person is likely to think of you differently afterwards. Certainly never say it to a member of the opposite sex, even if your lover, they will be shocked with what you said.

Words to avoid are ones describing sexual acts and sex organs. Girls have been known to cry when hearing these words. We will refrain from providing a list of said words in order to prevent your virgin eyes from going blind.

The Japanese almost never use such words, and consider it very poor taste. The only people who do use said words are teenagers, prostitutes, criminals, bums and others.

Purikura [How to make a pretty girl look like Gollum]

It will make girls look like monsters and men look like girls....Read me!

Vending Machines for Anything

It is almost as if the Japanese make a past-time of thinking of different things they can sell in vending machines....Read me!

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