Chopsticks and bowing – learn more about Japanese customs

There are many Japanese customs imprinted in the Japanese society, that can be a bit confusing for foreigners. Why sitting on the floor? What can and can’t I do with my chopsticks? It might sound like a lot, thinking about what you should and when to do it, but don’t worry, we are here to guide you through some Japanese customs.

Use your chopsticks right

This section probably needs its own blog post but we’ll go through the basics with you quickly. The main thing to remember is that many of the things you shouldn’t be doing with your chopsticks are because of associations with the funeral customs in Japan. Don’t point with them, don’t exchange food between two sets, don’t lick the end and don’t stick them upright in a bowl of rice. It’s also worth being aware that many restaurants outside of tourist areas won’t have any alternative items of cutlery available, so it might be worth practicing a bit before you go, to make sure you don’t starve.

Sitting on the floor

While sitting on the floor is not very common in western countries, many Japanese restaurants and izakayas (Japanese bar) actually have floor seating. But it’s not as uncomfortable as it might sound. They most often have a special kind of floor, tatami floor, which is extra soft to sit on. Many Japanese houses have one room with tatami mats where the family can spend time together.

Konbinis for a convenient everyday life

Konbini is the Japanese shortening for convenience stores. They have almost everything. Obviously food and drink are available but there’s often a small electronics and toiletries section too. If you bought food that needs heating up or you’re sampling some of the many ramen options then there’s likely to be a small area with a hot water dispenser, microwave and chopsticks and napkins. Many also have another small area where you can sit and eat. A lot will also have a toilet available to customers as well. In konbinis, you can pay your bills, send letters, buy tickets to events, print and photocopy, the list goes on.

The Japanese politeness

The Japanese are known around the world for their exceptional politeness and consideration of others. That’s why it’s only right that you should return the favour when you’re there. Did you know that there are even subsets of the language that are used for different levels of politeness? Before visiting any country, it’s always worth learning please and thank you and other useful phrases so do the same for Japan. Always say thank you when leaving a shop or restaurant and try to get into the habit of bowing. You don’t need to become an expert but it will be greatly appreciated by anyone you meet if you give a slight bow with your thanks.

While you’re there you may also find that people will try to be as helpful as possible even if you can’t fully communicate yet. If you look a little lost or confused you can be sure that someone will stop to help. Even if you find it a little confusing accept it gracefully with a smile.

Don’t eat while walking

There are many customs and unwritten rules when it comes to public transport and side walks in Japan. Let’s dig in:

  • While many restaurants will have smoking areas inside, you aren’t allowed to smoke in the street as you walk. There are designated areas outside of some shops (often konbini) and in the street in some busier locations. They are easy to spot so make sure you use them if you smoke.
  • Don’t eat or drink and walk – This isn’t illegal but you will get a lot of glaring looks. Similarly to smoking you will often find a spot outside a konbini where people are snacking or in many places they will have an area inside with seating, microwaves and hot water available which will make your experience much nicer anyway.
  • Don’t eat or drink on public transport – Trains are often so busy you won’t have space to do this anyway. The only time this is acceptable is on the Shinkansen where you’ll have a lovely ekiben (train bento box) with you anyway.
  • Don’t litter – This seems like an obvious one but you’ll soon realise that street bins aren’t very common at all. You will be expected to either dispose of your litter at the place you bought the item or take your rubbish home with yo

Take a trip to the onsen

We highly recommend a trip to an onsen when you are there but your visit will be surrounded by its own etiquette. Don’t worry there will be a full list of dos and don’ts on the wall but there are a few worth knowing beforehand. Most onsen are split by gender and you must be fully naked. You must wash your body before you get into the hot spring as you are sharing the waters with others. You must also keep your hair out of the water. It can get very hot so drink plenty of water before getting in so that you don’t feel faint. It’s also worth noting that there are often restrictions on people with tattoos. There are cover-ups that you can buy so that you don’t miss out on the onsen experience.

So now when you know a bit more about Japanese customs, you’re one step closer to a trip to Japan. Make sure to stay tuned to our blog for more tips and tricks when planning your trip to Japan.

Study plus homestay in Japan

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