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Two women eating at a restaurant, practicing proper Japanese etiquette.
Two women eating at a restaurant, practicing proper Japanese etiquette.

Japanese Culture and Traditions: A Social Etiquette Guide!

Karina IkedoKarina Ikedo
Published Time
Posted on May 28, 2024

One of the first things you’ll notice during your Japan travel trip is how incredibly welcoming Japanese are towards foreigners. They are famous for their politeness and deep-rooted traditions. So, they don’t expect travelers to know all the social faux pas immediately. But it’s a good idea to follow along if you want to glimpse Japanese culture and traditions in Tokyo. 

Basic Japanese Culture and Traditions Etiquette

The most important thing to know is that you’ll be absolutely fine if you’re kind and respectful! Prioritizing the group’s interests also means bothering and annoying others is considered very bad manners in Japan. 

A woman wearing a traditional Japanese kimono.
Proper etiquette is important in Japan. Image via Shutterstock

In public places, try not to be too loud. Especially on a train, keep your conversation voice soft and quiet. Talking loudly or on the phone will make surrounding Japanese people uncomfortable. Japanese trains are often used as a place to nap, relax after work, or play games in silent mode.

Japanese Table Etiquette & Manners

Tokyo food experience is truly an attraction within itself. While treating your taste buds, just keep in mind this food etiquette in Japan. Don’t be startled by the sounds of slurping while enjoying noodles; it’s a sign of appreciation. In Japan, slurping enhances the taste and aroma of the broth, adding to the overall experience of savoring the dish.

A man and a woman eating and practicing proper Japanese etiquette.
There are a few rules to follow when eating in Japan! Image via Shutterstock

Whether you are a master chopstick user, be aware of some important rules. Don’t stick your chopsticks vertically into a bowl of rice; this is known as tsukitate-bashi (a ritual performed at funerals). And don’t pass food to someone else’s chopsticks directly.

Good news for everyone! Money shouldn’t be given as a tip. When visiting, this Japanese etiquette may surprise you, but don’t leave a tip on the table. Otherwise, the waiter will run after you to inform you that you forgot your money. So, keep your change in your pocket, even if you’re impressed by Japanese services. 

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Japanese Etiquette for Sightseeing

Queuing is a big deal in Japanese culture, whether waiting for a train, lining up to get tickets for a museum, or anticipating your turn at a restaurant. The Japanese believe in a first-come, first-served approach, and skipping the line is rude. So, always be patient and wait your turn!

A woman sightseeing a taking a picture of cherry blossoms.
Always act respectfully when sightseeing! Image via Shutterstock

Also, don’t take pictures of strangers. Living in such close quarters, Japanese people prize what little privacy they have. There’s even a law that phone cameras in Japan must have a shutter sound. 

Japanese Etiquette for Greeting

In Japan, it’s polite to bow when you meet another person, when saying thank you or goodbye. Bowing can be awkward at first if you’re used to shaking hands, but just imitate how Japanese people bow. When someone bows to you as a greeting, it’s usually enough to do the same in return.

A woman wearing a kimono and properly bowing, an example of Japanese etiquette.
Bowing is an important Japanese greeting! Image via Shutterstock

Japanese people also often shake hands when they greet, such as in a work-related setting. But they don’t hug or kiss as a greeting. Japanese people prefer to keep personal space and traditionally avoid intimate physical body contact in public. So, when you greet Japanese people, just bow or shake hands. Do not hug or kiss.

Japanese Culture and Traditions for Garbage Disposal

Trash cans are ridiculously hard to find in Japan. And yet, the country is sparkling clean, so there has to be some logic to it. Japanese people usually hold on to their garbage until they find a trash can or get home. A tip for finding a public trash can in Japan is in convenience stores, vending machines, or public restrooms. So happy bin hunting! 

A row of recycling bins in a train station. Recycling is very important in Japanese etiquette.
Recycling is very important in Japan! Image via Shutterstock

Japanese Etiquette at Shrines and Temples

Can you tell a shrine from a temple? These tips will help make your visit smooth and respectful. Shrines are open-air, while Japanese temples have buildings you can enter after removing your shoes. 

It’s an easy mistake, but the fountain beside the shrine entrances cannot quench your thirst. Instead, it’s where you cleanse yourself before heading inside. Take a provided ladle to scoop up water and pour it over your hands to rinse them. Then, pour a bit of water into your hand and use it to rinse your mouth. Do not swallow the water. 

A woman praying at a Japanese shrine.
Be sure to clap your hand twice when praying at a shrine. Image via Shutterstock

When arriving at the main building, throw a coin into an offering box before the sacred object. Then, pray with your palms together in front of your chest. Be respectful when visiting a temple or shrine – don’t enter off-limits areas, speak softly, and dress respectfully.

The good news is that many Japanese people are forgiving and quite helpful. Showing respect will show Japanese people you are trying to learn and appreciate Japan and its unique values. Keep these Japanese etiquette tips in mind for a stress-free Japan travel experience! We hope this list helps you in Japan. Were you surprised by anything on the list, or do you have anything to add? Let us know in the comments below!

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