Many foreigners who come to Japan for the first time try to be extra careful because they hear that the Japanese are very polite and manner-conscious. In truth, Japanese are pretty forgiving of foreigners and do not get offended by little things. However, no matter what, please make sure to avoid the following ten things!
1. Walking into somebody’s house with your shoes on
Pretty much everybody knows this one so it should be easy to avoid. For extra points, make sure to neatly place your shoes so that they point towards the door (Otherwise your host will have to end up doing it for you).
2. Sticking your chopsticks vertically into your bowl of rice
In Japan, this is only done at funerals. While you’re at it, don’t point at people with your chopsticks either. There are a couple other chopsticks manners that we mention later on, but in general just follow what other people are doing!
3. Talking loudly
Japanese are easily annoyed by loud and rambunctious behavior, but this mainly goes for public places. It is forgiven to be loud and boisterous when drinking in an izakaya or karaoke bar, but in trains, buses, and on the street, try to keep the voice level down! (especially if you are traveling in big groups).
4. Being Late
Japanese take appointment times quite literally. If they say, “let’s meet at 4:45,” they literally expect you to be there on the dot (which assumes you will have gotten there five minutes early to be cautious). Being late will cause major irritation and in Japanese eyes infer that you don’t care very much about other people.
5.Not giving up your seat to an elderly person in public transportation
If you see a giant sticker with a pregnant woman, old man, and handicapped person in your train or bus—that means you are in front of the priority seats. For obvious reasons, you will be stared at with contempt if you don’t give up your seat to anybody over 60, especially if they look like they are struggling to stand.
6.Passing food from one set of chopsticks to another
Here we go with the other chopstick-related faux pas. Japanese try not to be too direct about things, so this action would require you to deposit the food onto a plate so that another person can pick it up from there. If you use this as an analogy for Japanese society, you would understand why it takes so long for things to get done.
7. Sitting before being offered a seat
When visiting a person in their home, office, or even in a restaurant it is generally good form to sit only after being offered a seat. Be aware that Japanese are very conscious about the “politics” of who sits where, so it is a good idea to wait until being told where to sit. If you are a guest you will be given the “best” seat anyway.
8. Referring to a person without adding “-san” to the end of their name
Keigo is the honorific language of Japan. It’s not the easiest thing to learn (even most young Japanese can’t use it properly), but one thing you can do easily is add “-san” as an honorific at the end of people’s names. If you can, learn keigo before learning the direct mode of speech.
9. Making a big mess
Japanese people like cleanliness. If you throw trash on the street then they will be quite offended. Yes, we know there are plenty of Japanese who behave this way themselves, but they will pay extra attention to you because you are a foreigner. In addition, when eating a meal make sure not to leave any little rice bits or other food. You will get extra points for keeping your plate clean.
10. Pointing at people
Although this is generally rude wherever you go, it is good to keep in mind that hand gestures are quite different in Japan. For example, when indicating yourself, you point at your nose instead of your chest (as you do in the West). If you want to indicate somebody who is standing beside you, put your palm up, keep your fingers closed, and direct your whole hand toward them.
Pinku no Hebi! on November 16, 2016:
Arigato! I've planned going to Japan for a while now but am still learning many things before I go there so that I am not disrespectful in any way.
Japantics from Nagasaki, Japan on March 04, 2016:
Everyone should read this before coming to Japan! On the point of giving up your seat for the elderly, I was actually surprised to see a lot of young kids not standing up to let some elderly people sit down! But everything here is spot on!
michael on July 14, 2015:
this list is hilarious. half of the things listed could easily be added to a "rude things Japanese people do" list
Victoria-in-Tokyo on April 07, 2015:
The seat on train thing? BS. Pretty much nobody on a Tokyo train gets up for an older person. Even the hunched over folks don't get a seat. The teenager is wearing his iPhone and glued to it, he don't care about the older people. I've never stopped doing it myself. But I'm rare ( and not Japanese).
FlourishAnyway from USA on April 21, 2013:
I'm not Japanese but endorse about half of these myself. Interesting set of facts.
Cynthia B Turner from Georgia on March 12, 2013:
This was interesting. I knew a lot of these, in fact most should be practiced everywhere anyway. The article I did on chopsticks pointed out a lot about the etiquette of using chopsticks without offending anyone. As Americans, we would be in hot water on quite a few of the areas you mention here. Thanks for the info.
NathaNater on November 04, 2012:
Very interesting to learn about the customs of another culture. Respect in high priority in all cultures and it is interesting how it is interpreted from country to country.
yinoway on November 01, 2012:
Well, things have been changed a lot. We are not so polite anymore. Is this because of dwindling economy? It might. . . , but right, I had to add increasing number of older people and I am one of them. Nobody dare to tell youngsters to act politely in public. He may get beaten up. Sad, but it is the reality.
ocoonocoon (author) on July 01, 2011:
TheMonk, thanks for your comment!
TheMonk from Brazil on June 30, 2011:
I love japanese culture. Thanks for letting me know all this.
Jun on April 23, 2011:
"Japanese people like cleanliness. If you throw trash on the street then they will be quite offended"
What utter rubbish (pun intended) garbage is strewn all about the streets and farms here in Hiratsuka, and every other place I've visited.
Ross Harrison from Tokyo, Japan on April 13, 2011:
Nice article, pretty much on the nose. I wish I had seen this before I came to Japan, could have saved some embarrassment!
The passing of the food from chop stick to chop stick is a faux pas because after the body has been cremated at a funeral, the family pick up the bones with two pairs of chopsticks before placing them into a burial urn. I went to a Japanese Funeral a few years back for my wife's aunt and witnessed this first hand. They asked me if I wanted to participate in this part of the ritual, but I was so afraid of dropping the bones on the floor...
As for the giving up of seats on the train, I am afraid this is a very rare occurrence...
tmbridgeland from Small Town, Illinois on February 03, 2011:
A pretty good list. I was in japan 15 years, and can attest to all of these, except, as Hezekiah said, giving up a seat. People always seemed a bit surprised when I did it. Another thing to add to the list, don't yell in anger. Unless you are a boss or teacher it simply isn't done. People will think you are a little bit nuts.
Foreigners can get away with an awful lot in Japan. I think they think we are entertaining!
austinkeane on February 03, 2011:
Definitely true there are Japanese who don't follow number 5!
Hezekiah from Japan on February 03, 2011:
I think they are all very true apart from No. 5 - A lot of Japanese seems very reluctant to give up their seats. They usualy pretend not to notice people who would need that seat more than themselves, while playing their games (PSP), using their keitai's or pretending to fall asleep.
Jennie79 from Central Illinois on January 23, 2011:
I learned about the chopstick faux-pas from my daughter's father years ago. I was politely yet firmly corrected when my friend and myself were passing food from one set of chopsticks to the next without putting the food on a plate. I have never made that same mistake again.
ocoonocoon (author) on August 06, 2010:
Have fun in Japan!
Alya rose from From beyond the reeds on August 05, 2010:
Wow,I never knew this,this is very interesting!glad I figured this out before I go to Japan!^_^
Tommy on June 30, 2010:
More international visitors need to be aware of these. You so so many people doing these in the ski resorts.
ocoonocoon (author) on January 13, 2010:
Thanks A.M. Gwynn,
I am glad that the president of the US tries his best to respect other cultures. Though his greeting with the emperor of Japan was a bit awkward, at least he tried. It does garner respect for the rest of the people from your country!
A.M. Gwynn on January 12, 2010:
Very informative article.
You know the term "The Ugly American" really does have some significance. I think sometimes we have gotten a bad rap due to ignorance of other cultures.
We go to other countries and well... we are loud, sometimes disrespectful (or ignorant) of that country's culture, and we want to behave as we do here, when at times it may not be appropriate in some settings "there".
Now that is serotypical, but has a ring of truth to it.
I wish people would truly discover the treasures of other cultures. Especially before they travel. And it is also helpful in meeting those of other cultures who live in the US. People always carry their traditions within them.
I think one of things that is precious and priceless, is the culture of respect rituals in Japanese culture... for example they are always aware of their bodies and gestures in relation to others and specifically their elders and so forth. There is so much to admire in Asian cultures in general.
Thank you for this article.
KellyEngaldo on January 06, 2010:
Excellent! Very nicely done - I need simplicity. I have heard some of these before but needed the reminders.
Japan is at the top of my wish list for the travel radar. Fascinating! Thank you for sharing.
ocoonocoon (author) on November 17, 2009:
Yes, in China they may have a slightly different version of the chopsticks thing--but in any case it actually does look pretty horrible having something sticking into a bowl of rice, doesn't it?
glassvisage from Northern California on November 17, 2009:
I think I'm truly Japanese after reading this! I hate it when people don't offer their seats to the elderly :( I had heard from Chinese people that it's just bad luck to stick your chopsticks straight into your rice bowl...
ocoonocoon (author) on November 14, 2009:
Hey thanks! Have you been to Japan yourself?
madhurisharma on November 14, 2009:
hey very nice hub