Minding your manners in Japan
The Japanese are known for their polite manners and respect of others. There’s an intricate blend of customs and etiquette that weave together to maintain the courteous and mannerly culture instilled in this society. Often tourists will unintentionally do something considered bad form, but the Japanese are usually too polite to point it out.
If you’re travelling to Japan (and we have a fantastic cruise available in June 2020), here are 10 tips to ensure you mind your p’s and q’s whilst visiting:
• The bow – the Japanese tradition of bowing when you meet them is a display of respect. Respect is a cornerstone in the Japanese culture and children are taught at a very young age the art of the bow. The length and angle of the bow depends on the relationship and circumstance. For example, a good friend may get a quick, shallow bow, whereas a work superior will get a slower and deeper bow. For tourists who don’t understand the nuances, the Japanese are usually happy with an attempt or at least an inclination of the head. Unless you know the person extremely well, it’s best not to hug or kiss them.
• San – Attaching “san” to the end of a last name is also a sign of respect. It’s the equivalent of calling someone Mr Jones as opposed to just Jones.
• Table Manners – Table manners are very important and there are a few guidelines that you should follow to make sure you don’t offend. Firstly, you’ll often receive a wet cloth at Japanese restaurants. This is to clean your hands before you eat – it’s not to be used as a napkin or to touch any part of your face. Next, it is polite to wait when being served drinks until everyone has been served and then raise your drink for cheers (“kampai!”) and it is customary to say “itadakimasu” before eating, whether a formal meal or a casual snack. Contrary to Australian table manners, slurping noodles and raising a bowl to your mouth is ok. In fact the slurping shows you are enjoying your meal – so slurp away!
• Learn to use chopsticks – Although the Japanese are super polite, if you are adept at eating with chopsticks they will certainly appreciate it!
• Leaving food on the plate – Unlike some Asian cultures who believe you’re still hungry if you don’t leave food on your plate, the Japanese consider it rude if you haven’t finished your meal.
• Tipping – Tipping is not required or expected, in fact it’s often considered insulting. The Japanese will charge you the price to cover the service and there is no need to pay more.
• Shoes and Slippers – Be sure to take your shoes off at the door of homes, businesses and hotels. A pair of guest slippers will usually be provided and another pair for the bathroom. However, you should remove these before stepping onto tatami (the traditional woven flooring) and you must not wear these slippers outside as it’s not good form to wear them across linoleum and then back into the main room.
• Escalators – when using the escalator, stand to one side and let those in a hurry pass you by. The side to which you should stand varies from area to area so take notice of those already on the escalator and follow their lead.
• Drawing attention to yourself – Drawing attention to yourself is a no-no. This includes loud conversations on trains and blowing your nose in public is definitely not looked well upon.
• Onsen and Sento – It is customary to shower and cleanse before stepping into communal onsen (hot springs) or sento (public baths). Jumping in before having had a good soapy clean is considered disgusting and rude.
Now, getting back to that cruise I mentioned earlier, this is a great little voyage with Ponant – it’s packed full of beautiful sights such as castles, temples and perfectly manicured gardens, as well as a dose of history with a visit to the Hiroshima memorial garden. Our new package to Japan will be up on our site soon so watch this space, or have a chat to our Ultimate Cruising experts about this and other options by requesting a call here.