These days, one of the many things that people wish to do is travel. There is nothing more exhilarating than being able to go to another country and immerse yourself in another person’s culture and upbringing. The air is somehow different and the food is just not the same at all. However, when it comes to travelling, there are many things to consider such as the weather, the place, the food, and most especially, the culture. This is because what may seem acceptable in your place of residence may not be seen as such in another country. Now there are many places that you can opt to visit on one of your vacations, but if you are thinking of visiting Asia in general, it is important to take note of the fact that countries there are more likely to follow certain traditions. One of them is Japan.
Japan is a country brimming with culture and tradition. A nation located just between the North Pacific Ocean and the Sea of Japan/East Sea, Japan, with Tokyo as its capital, houses an estimated population of 127 million. It is composed of mainly Japanese people although there are also other ethnicities such as Koreans, Chinese, Brazilians, and Filipinos. It is best for sightseeing around February, but not on July and August because of the weather. While it is famous for animé, sushi, manga, and ramen among other things, the Land of the Sun is also well known for upholding its manners. Japan is probably among the most polite country in the world. Hence, it is essential that you know the manners that they practice should you wish to visit or migrate to the country, so as to avoid any offense.
Take a look at the following to learn some of the ways of the Japanese and let it be your guide on manners should you choose Japan as a destination on one of your getaways.
Social Customs with the Japanese: The Good and The Bad
People generally visit Japan for its beautiful sceneries and temples. While there would probably be a lot of walking, the views would be worth it. Not only that, but shopping in Japan is also a must, especially for people who are into animé and manga. There are just so many shops dedicated for collectors of animé figures. However, this would mean that interacting with other people, especially Japanese, is unavoidable.
Therefore, it is vital to be aware of the general manners in Japan. Even a student practices the right manners as taught in his or her school. It is important that you are aware of these when visiting the country. This can include but are not limited to greeting another person, walking across the street, visiting a home, going to a bath, and the like.
- Do bow your head when greeting another person. While not everyone expects a foreigner to know the custom, it would be best to make a slight bow. This is to show respect to other people. The deeper and longer the bow, the more respect is shown while a slight nod of the head is seen as casual and informal.
- Do sit erect. Japanese people usually sit on the floor and sitting upright is the most common way. Such is also the case especially during tea ceremony. There are different sitting techniques depending on the gender.
- Do bring a present for your host if you are visiting a friend or an acquaintance’s home. A small gift such as a souvenir from your homeland would suffice to show your appreciation in them welcoming you into their house.
- Do not tip. While it is customary to leave a tip for a great service in western countries, the opposite is practiced in Japan. Providing you a good service is a must in the country; hence, tipping is not necessary. If you leave a small amount of cash after paying the bill, there is a chance that they would return it to you.
- Do not bring your outside shoes inside the house of another person. There is a border between the outside and the inside of a house and it is not the door itself. There is an entrance area just before the inside of the house called the genkan where people take off their shoes first before entering. So it may be best that your socks are not dirty and do not have holes in them lest you want others to see. It is also best to have your shoes pointed towards the door when you leave them outside.
- Do not go in the bath dirty. Many Japanese people go to public baths to relax and unwind. While they do take showers, taking baths are part of their culture. Because of this, there are various public baths in the country. However, it is important to note that you must cleanse and wash your body prior to going into bathtub. The purpose of taking a bath is to let the hot water relax your muscles and not to spread dirt to other people who will be sharing the tub with you.
Dining in Japanese Culture: Eating and Showing Respect at the Table
If you ever visit Japan, try as much food as you can! There is a wide variety to choose from such as sushi, ramen, udon, katsudon, gyudon, and so much more. A trip to Japan without trying any of these dishes is a trip wasted. While the sceneries are wonderful in Japan, their food is just as good, if not so much better! Yes, other countries also serve sushi, but let me tell you this: sushi in Japan is like no other. The freshness of the seafood and the way that the food is prepared are just different, but in a good way. Try a restaurant that specializes in any of these and you will surely have appreciate the Japanese palate. For those who drink alcohol, do not pass up on saké.
While enjoying these dishes, it is also important to take note of the table manners that are practiced in Japan. Enjoy the food and each other’s company as the same time.
- Do sample each dish on the table. You do not have to eat a lot, but it is nodded upon when you at least try every dish with the rice that your host has prepared for you. This is to show that you appreciate the effort they have put into each dish to accommodate your taste.
- Do start your meal by saying “itadakimasu.” This means, “I humbly receive” in the most literal sense. Every Japanese person states this phrase at the beginning of each meal to show thanks of the blessings that they are about to eat. This is also to express gratitude to everyone who contributed in making that dish possible and edible.
- Do slurp when eating noodles. While it is considered rude to slurp in western countries, people in Japan actually appreciate it when you slurp while eating noodles as this shows enjoyment of the dish. This is very apparent especially in any noodle restaurant in Japan. Not only that, the Japanese also believe that slurping the noodles also add flavor, which makes the dish better. It would also be more enjoyable when eating a ramen with a chopstick instead of a fork.
- Do not sit anywhere you like! There is a proper protocol when it comes to the seating when dining. The position where a person will be seated will depend on his age and status. If you are an honored guest or the eldest person in the gathering, you will be seated in the center of the table and will also be the first to eat. This is also most likely the farthest from the door. Otherwise, there will be seats according to hierarchy.
- Do not point or pierce your food with your chopsticks. This is considered very rude in Japan. Also, do not cross them when you put them on the chopstick rest. It is also important to note that you do not use your own chopsticks to pick food from another plate or bowl aside from your own. Sucking sauce off your chopsticks is also considered rude.
- Do not pour yourself your own drink. It is a rule of thumb to let your companion do it for you and you will be the one to pour for them as well.
Presents for Every Occasion: Teaching the Manners on Gift-Giving
There is a tradition of giving gifts in Japan. There are numerous occasions in the country wherein the Japanese give presents to one another to commemorate that specific event. It is a way of showing respect or appreciation to the receiver of the gift. On the other hand, it is not only the thought that counts in this situation. They way the present looks and how it was prepared and given are also important things to take note of.
- Do take into consideration the wrapping of your gift. Wrap your presents in pastel colors. These colors are pleasing to the eyes and are not “loud.”
- Do use both hands when giving and receiving gifts to show respect. Accompany this with a slight bow and the Japanese people will appreciate it. It is customary for them to refuse once or twice before accepting the gift.
- Do consider the price of the gifts you will be giving. They need not be too expensive, but should not be too cheap either. Between 1000 to 5000 yen should be enough. There are gift-giving occasions on June and December.
- Do not give flowers like lilies, camellias, lotus blossoms, or any other white flowers as gifts. The reason behind this is because these flowers are commonly associated with funerals.
- Do not open a present right when you receive it. It is common that you open your presents when the giver has already left.
- Do not give potted plants as presents. Potted plants are believed to encourage or invite sickness to the receiver. The only exception to this rule is a bonsai tree.
Travelling from Minami Torishima to Okinawa: Proper Behaviour on the Train
If you go to Japan and do not have your own car to drive around the city, may it be from hotels or tourist spots, then you would have no choice but to try your hand at riding the train or the bus. Now the transportation system in Japan is pretty efficient as they very much value the time of their people. Some people even read a book or edit their papers while waiting in the station so as to use their time wisely. However, there are also certain rules that you must abide when traveling by train or bus. Whether you are a foreigner or a local, everyone practices these manners to cultivate harmony and peace.
- Do maintain silence. The Japanese people value silence and dislike too much noise. It is best to communicate with other people through texting than talking loudly on the phone.
- Do give your seat to those in need. It is encouraged to give your seat to those who need it more such as elderly people, disabled people, pregnant women, and people with a child.
- Do be patient. Rush house in the train can be a pain because of overcrowding, but there are oshiya or “pushers” who are designated to literally push people into subway cars to ensure that no one gets caught in the doors.
- Do not blow your nose. This is applicable in all public places, but the Japanese people particularly frown upon this notion when in public transit and people are in enclosed spaces. It is seen as rude and unhygienic.
- Do not bring too much luggage. It is well known in Japan that trains can be pretty cramped during rush hour and people will not appreciate it if there is too much luggage when the space is already confined.
- Do not brush your hair, put makeup on, and so forth. These are to be done in the restroom or somewhere in private. Doing these in public are just plain rude.
Business in Japan: Etiquette When Working with the Locals
The Japanese people are conservative and respectful individuals and the same can be said of their business practices. If you are travelling to Japan for a business meeting or planning to set up a business in Japan and meeting with key clients, it is essential that you know the manners that are expected by the Japanese people. This is key as to how they will see you not just as a prospective partner in business, but also as a person in general.
- Do have your business card on hand. Business cards are to be exchanged at the beginning of the meeting. These cards are also to be given and received with both hands. It can also be accompanied with a bow.
- Do wear proper business attire. The Japanese are very particular with appearance. Hence, it is important that you wear the proper attire and dress conservatively.
- Do plan an agenda for the meeting. Time is important especially for the Japanese. Hence, being efficient and having a plan is a plus.
- Do not write on business cards. If you need to write any notes, write them in a notebook. Also, avoid any side comment during the meeting.
- Do not pat a Japanese on the back or shoulder. They are conservative individuals and patting them on the back or shoulder would be considered casual or informal, which should not be the case in a business meeting.
- Do not be late! This is probably the most important part. Being late means not valuing their effort to be on time and that would just be the worst start for a business meeting.
Of course, there are still more to learn about the manners and customs in Japan, but these are just some worth noting if you wish to visit the country. Truly, Japan is a country worth visiting not just for the sceneries and the food, but also for the people who have high regard for respect and manners and who value peace and harmony. The manners they practice showcase how considerate they are of fellow human beings and how mindful they are of other people’s feelings and principles. To know and practice their manners while in Japan will indeed enhance the Japanese culture and experience.