Japanese Etiquette

Japanese Etiquette

Japan is a society of many customs and as such has its own unique etiquette.  The best way to learn proper Japanese manners is to mimic those around you, but be aware that women and men have different standards and taboos in every aspect of life – language too! Although we are all here for internationalization, we must also remember that we are guests in this country and we should be respectful of Japanese customs.  This little guide will help you along with the do’s and don’ts of Japan.



•When giving or receiving, always receive with both hands.

• You can never say “thank you” too often.  Be sure and say it again when you meet

•somebody the next time after someone has been kind to you.

• Pointing is considered very rude.

• It is normal to pay a restaurant bill at the register instead of giving money to the waiter.

•Tipping is not customary.

•Splitting the bill is (usually) acceptable at most restaurants.

• Taxi doors will either open automatically or the driver will open and close the door for you.

• Older Japanese people  frown on open displays of affection.  Apart from holding hands couples typically do not engage in public displays of affection.

• Understand that the Japanese prefer not to use the word “no”.  If you ask a question, you may be answered with a “yes” that actually means “no”.  Understanding this is critical in any negotiation process.

•There are times when you may be asked a question that you consider rude in your home country, such as questions about your age or weight.  Try not to take offense as likely no offense is intended.  If you do not wish to answer or feel uncomfortable then politely decline.

It is considered impolite for women to sit crossed legged unless in the company of good friends.



•In Japan, business cards are called meishi and they should be received with both hands, unless you hand over yours at the same time.  Take special care in handling cards that are given to you.  Do not write on the card or put the card in your pocket or wallet in view of others, as either of these actions will be viewed as defacing or disrespecting the business card.

• Tea and coffee are served in the order of rank.   Wait until either the top person drinks first or you are invited to drink.  At that time say “itadakimasu” (I humbly receive).

• Don’t chew gum at work.

• If you are going to be late, please inform your office or school.

• If you leave work early or before your superiors, say “osaki ni shitsurei shimasu” (lit.  I am going home before you, so please excuse me).

• At the end of the day, say the standard greeting “otsukaresama deshita” (thank you for your hard work).

• After coming back from a holiday or business trip, it is a nice gesture to bring a small gift of cookies or chocolate for your office (omiyage).

• Often things are not told to you directly but are instead relayed through a third person, even if you are standing right in front of the speaker.  This is indirect communication, which is considered more polite here.

Try and add ~san or ~sensei (used for teachers,doctors, etc.) to the ends of names.  Often, Japanese people will be called by their title (e.g., kocho-sensei, or principal).  This is a sign of respect.  Try and mimic your coworkers when in doubt.



•Remove your outdoor shoes at the entrance of someone’s house and wear slippers if provided.

• Don’t wear indoor slippers on tatami mats.

• Remove indoor slippers when going to the toilet.  If toilet slippers are available you may use

•them, but remember to change back into the indoor slippers when you leave the bathroom.

If staying with a family, do not drain the bath water out after you have finished.



•Give and receive gifts with both hands.

• Generally, gifts will not be opened in your presence.  It is best to ask if it is okay to open the gift first.  The host may wish for you to open it later.  If your host insists that you open the gift, do so gingerly.  The Japanese take pride in gift wrapping, so show that you appreciate the effort.

• Do not give gifts in fours (as the pronunciation of four in Japanese is similar to the word shi, meaning death).

Do not openly display money.  It is rare to see money given from person to person in Japan.  It is important to use an envelope or, when at a store, to use the money tray near the cashier.



•At a reception or function, wait until kanpai or cheers has been said by the main guest before you start to drink or eat.  (The exception to this is if you receive a drink on your way into the reception room.)

• When drinking, it is customary to have your drink poured for you rather than pouring your own drink. You should periodically check your friends’ cups accordingly and serve them more when their glasses start to become empty.  Likewise, if someone wants to serve you more alcohol or tea, take a sip and hold your glass towards that individual.

• Try and pour drinks with both hands.

• If alcohol is served, do not drink from the bottle.

• Key phrases to learn are “itadakimasu” (said at the beginning of a meal), and “gochisou sama deshita” (said at the end of a meal).  It is polite to use these phrases as they will show that you appreciated and have enjoyed the meal.

• It is impolite to eat or drink something while walking down the street.

• In restaurants or when visiting, it is customary to get a moist rolled-up towel (cold in summer, hot in winter) called an “oshibori” with which to wipe your hands.  It is impolite to wipe the face and neck with it, though some do this in less formal places.

• Do not point at someone with your chopsticks or move your chopsticks around

•in the air too much.

• Do not spear food or pass food from chopstick to chopstick.

• In public, do not put soy sauce or food on top of white rice.  This is seen as being

•very rude.


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