Every country has its own unique social conventions, and half the fun of traveling is exploring what they are. For example, did you know that Mexicans normally celebrate New Year’s Eve by eating 12 grapes at midnight?
Japan has a few interesting social norms too. Some of the conventions will have you nodding your head in appreciation, while others will leave you scratching your head in shock.
Let’s look at a few, shall we?
Taking Off Footwear
It is a norm to take off shoes when entering a home, traditional guesthouse (ryokan), temple, or the occasional restaurant in Japan.
It is one of the traditional conventions of Japanese people to take off their shoes when entering homes. This acts as a sign of respect toward the home and host, as well as an act of cleanliness. Traditionally, the Japanese would eat, sleep, and sit on the tatami-mat floors. This means that if the footwear worn outside were worn inside, dirt would be spread across their living area. This leads to the reason why the Japanese also have separate indoor and outdoor footwear.
In addition, being thoughtful, polite, and respectful as a guest in someone else’s home is seen as a necessity in Japan. By taking off one’s shoes before entering a home, one can show that you are considerate and thoughtful to the condition and cleanliness of the home that your host has invited you into. Not only this, but the same philosophy is applied to one’s home as well. It is believed by many Japanese people that by making the regular effort to keep one’s space clean, one’s innerself becomes clean as well.
One of the most apparent social conventions is to bow. In Japan, everyone bows when they say hello, thank you, goodbye, or sorry. For Japanese people, a bow is a term of respect, gratitude, remorse, and greeting. In fact, children bow to the car drivers after crossing the road on their way to school.
Entering a shop or restaurant, for instance, you will be greeted by shouts of irrashaimase (welcome) and a bow from the team as a sign of respect to you as a customer. As a return to their show of respect and recognition of your presence, it is then common to give a very slight bow or nod of the head.
Slurp Slurp Slurp
Many countries don’t prefer eating food with a slurping sound. But in Japan, it is the opposite! Slurping is perfectly acceptable in Japanese culture. In fact, slurping is the only appropriate way to eat ramen noodles. Eating your food with a slurping sound counts as a gesture that the food is delicious and you really enjoyed eating it.
Do Not Give Tips
In Japan, tipping is seen as offensive. At some restaurants, it can even be seen as degrading. Tipping often confuses Japanese people, and many waiters will chase after you to give you back your money.
If someone has been helpful to you and you feel absolutely compelled to leave a tip, please instead show your gratitude in your gestures and behaviour. To the Japanese, returning a favor with a bright smile, respectful bow, and saying “arigatou gozaimasu” is the best and most well received way of showing genuine gratitude.
Avoid Number 4
Japanese people avoid the number 4 religiously because it sounds very similar to the word for death in the Japanese language. Therefore, to them, no.4 is extremely unlucky and is used as little as possible.
In fact, elevator labels will often be missing a fourth floor in Japan.
There are many hot springs (called “onsen”, being volcanic or man-made) in Japan, visited by many people year-round to relax and socialize. Bathing etiquette is of great importance in Japan. The water must remain as uncontaminated and clean as possible, so showering is essential before entering the onsen.
Nothing is permissible in the water but the bather themselves, swimsuits are not worn, and the bathers are given a small white towel, either positioned by the side of the bath or worn on the bather’s head.
In A Nutshell
To know more about Japan’s heritage and its norms, you may connect with Oku Sensei’s Japanese and enroll in their Japanese language program for insights!