“Japan, not only a mega-busy city that thrives on electronics and efficiency, actually has an almost sacred appreciation of nature. One must travel outside of Tokyo to truly experience the ‘old Japan’ and more importantly feel these aspects of Japanese culture.” While I read these lines by Apolo Ohno, I couldn’t agree more on how, when visiting a new place we must understand its growth through its culture. Would a person visiting India understand why we celebrate Diwali without knowing about Lord Rama and the mythological story of Ramayana? That’s when I decided to understand more on Japanese people and their culture!
In the same manner that foreigners appreciate our culture, we too, must briefly, if not intricately know the story behind Japan’s culture. Is the country on our travel list? Here are some tidbits about Japan culture you must know before or while visiting the ‘cherry blossom’ country.
I. Use both hands
It is quite possible that you will meet new people and make acquaintance with the local Japanese people. While meeting and greeting, you may end up exchanging business cards. When doing so, ensure that you use both your two hands when giving. The same goes for receiving cards too.
II. Take off your shoes
Most residences and public spaces in Japan have rows or shelves of footwear by the door. Wherever you see such rows or shelves, take it as an indication that you’re expected to remove your footwear before entering the place. Private homes, traditional accommodations, temple halls and even some restaurants, hostels and historic sites require visitors to take off their shoes. Bear in mind that this is non-negotiable.
III. When drinking
Don’t help yourself, instead help others and wait for others help you
When sharing drinks (especially from a common bottle) it’s a Japanese custom to pour drinks for each other, but not for yourself. So, always serve others but wait or allow someone else to fill your glass. And also, say kam-pai (which means ‘cheers’) before drinking.
As per the western norms, almost the whole world has adapted to the custom of tipping the help (especially at hotels and restaurants). However, there is no such custom in Japan. In fact, if you leave behind more than your billed amount on the table, a waiter may likely follow you down the street to return it to you.
Waitress Picking Up Her Tip
5. When visiting shrines
Not unlike most Hindu temples, one needs to cleanse themselves before entering Japanese shrines. A water source is provided in front of all shrine, where visitors have to use the provided ladles to pour water over their hands to clean them. Visitors also need to pour water and use it to rinse their mouths. Please note that this water has to be spit out on the ground and not into the water source.
6. Have cash in hand
Cash is considered king in Japan and till today, most workers are paid in cash. Businesses and services, including restaurants and shops, accept only cash payments. Only few big hotels and departmental stores accept card payments, so carry plenty of Yen in your wallet.
7. Public manners
Speaking loudly in public transportation is considered rude, so avoid talking over your cellphones while traveling on the bus, train or metro in Japan. Also, offer your seat to the elderly and the pregnant women as they have reserved seats. Eating or drinking while traveling is also not allowed. In fact, eating while walking is also frowned upon. So, takeaways are best eaten at home or in the hotel room.
8. Gift instead of tipping
While tipping someone is off, if you want to thank someone for their services, do it with a gift. Even small gifts like a trinket, a keychain or a souvenir from your hometown will be accepted gracefully. Although avoid making a big deal out of it as the receiver might feel ashamed that they have nothing to offer you in return.
With these cultural norms of Japan in mind, we hope you have a memorable trip and stay in Japan. Do share your experiences with us!