If you’ve packed your bags, and are all set to take that long-overdue trip to Japan, there are certain things you must keep in mind before landing on Japanese soil. The Japanese are a proud race who live by many longstanding cultural traditions and inherited customs.
Some of these might be unusual or even bizarre to non-Japanese. As such we present to you a few must-know pointers on Japanese customs.
It is customary to bow in Japan when addressing someone respectfully. Here, bowing down is something of an art form, too. Respect is instilled into children’s minds right from their pre-school days. But if you’re a tourist, even a slight inclination of the head will do. Just be sure to make an attempt at a bow, and the locals will delight in your respect for them.
Do be on time. Being late to an appointment isn’t just a mere inconvenience, it is greatly frowned upon in Japanese society. The Japanese follow a very rigid and well planned time schedule that does not tolerate tardiness.
Public transport is a vital lifeline for many Japanese in their densely packed cities, and despite the busy lifestyles of many Japanese, talking on the phone is considered impolite as it would disturb the other occupants. So before you board a train or bus, it is recommended to leave your phone on silent, don’t take or make any calls, and communicate through text messaging for the duration of the trip.
The Japanese have a no-tip policy. This is true of every restaurant, taxi service and personal care centre in Japan. The people who offer you services do not expect you to tip them. In fact, most of them consider the very act of tipping an insult. So, hold on to your change, and you will be alright.
Popular cinema may have acclimatised you with some well-known Japanese dining etiquette, but unless you have all of them at your fingertips, you might find yourself going without food for the rest of your trip. Do slurp your noodles as it is considered a compliment to the chef. Always wash your hands before eating, and raise your bowls to your mouth if you’re drinking soup.
It is important to understand that English – or any other foreign language – isn’t widely used in everyday conversation in Japan, as the locals only converse with each other in Japanese. Furthermore, most signages outside of popular tourist attractions are only written in Japanese.
As a polite and accommodating society, most Japanese would try their best converse with travellers in English. Even if they aren’t able to understand or converse in English they will try and help you find someone who could, or politely excuse themselves from your attempts to converse.
So before heading to Japan, it is highly recommended to learn up a few key Japanese words and phrases to help you find your way around their busy cities or rural towns, or at the very least, bring a translation book.
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