Etiquette & Customs in Japan


Meeting Etiquette

. Greetings in Japan are very formal and ritualized.
. It is important to show the correct amount of respect and deference to someone based upon their status relative to your own.
. If at all possible, wait to be introduced.
. It can be seen as impolite to introduce yourself, even in a large gathering.
. While foreigners are expected to shake hands, the traditional form of greeting is the bow. How far you bow depends upon your relationship to the other person as well as the situation. The deeper you bow, the more respect you show.
. A foreign visitor (‘gaijin’) may bow the head slightly, since no one expects foreigners to generally understand the subtle nuances of bowing.

Gift Giving Etiquette

. Gift-giving is highly ritualistic and meaningful.
. The ceremony of presenting the gift and the way it is wrapped is as important–sometimes more important–than the gift itself.
. Gifts are given for many occasions.
. The gift need not be expensive, but take great care to ask someone who understands the culture to help you decide what type of gift to give.
. Good quality chocolates or small cakes are good ideas.
. Do not give lilies, camellias or lotus blossoms as they are associated with funerals.
. Do not give white flowers of any kind as they are associated with funerals.
. Do not give potted plants as they encourage sickness, although a bonsai tree is always acceptable.
. Give items in odd numbers, but not 9.
. If you buy the gift in Japan, have it wrapped.
. Pastel colours are the best choices for wrapping paper.
. Gifts are not opened when received.

Dining Etiquette

On the rare occasion you are invited to a Japanese house:
. Remove your shoes before entering and put on the slippers left at the doorway.
. Leave your shoes pointing away from the doorway you are about to walk through.
. Arrive on time or no more than 5 minutes late if invited for dinner.
. If invited to a large social gathering, arriving a little bit later than the invitation is acceptable, although punctuality is always appreciated.
. Unless you have been told the event is casual, dress as if you were going into the office.
. If you must go to the toilet, put on the toilet slippers and remove them when you are finished.
Watch your Table Manners!

. Wait to be told where to sit. There is a protocol to be followed.
. The honoured guest or the eldest person will be seated in the centre of the table the furthest from the door.
. The honoured guest or the eldest is the first person to begin eating.
. Never point your chopsticks.
. It will yield tremendous dividends if you learn to use chopsticks.
. Do not pierce your food with chopsticks.
. Chopsticks should be returned to the chopstick rest after every few bites and when you drink or stop to speak.
. Do not cross your chopsticks when putting them on the chopstick rest.
. Place bones on the side of your plate.
. Try a little bit of everything. It is acceptable to ask what something is and even to make a face if you do not like the taste.
. Don’t be surprised if your Japanese colleagues slurp their noodles and soup.
. Mixing other food with rice is usually not done. You eat a bit of one and then a bit of the other, but they should never be mixed together as you do in many Western countries.
. If you do not want anything more to drink, do not finish what is in your glass. An empty glass is an invitation for someone to serve you more.
. When you have finished eating, place your chopsticks on the chopstick rest or on the table. Do not place your chopsticks across the top of your bowl.
. If you leave a small amount of rice in your bowl, you will be given more. To signify that you do not want more rice, finish every grain in your bowl.
. It is acceptable to leave a small amount of food on your plate when you have finished eating.
. Conversation at the table is generally subdued. The Japanese like to savour their food.