Japan is one of the first world countries in the world. It has a great economy backed with a population that realizes the importance of working for the common good and the common goal. Its transport system is one of the best in the world. Its education system is top-notch and regularly produces the best scientists and engineers.
The cost of living is high in some areas in the country. There are still some regions which cling to their past and celebrate their culture. The storied cherry blossoms add much to the allure of a visit to the Land of the Rising Sun.
Turning Japanese: Some things to Remember when in Japan
While Japan has been starting to relax its tourist and immigration laws, slowly opening up to the world, it still has huge ways to go. The fact that they are among the most technologically advanced countries in the world does not mean its population is not without its problems. Take note that they have a low to negative population growth rate. People are neglecting their jobs to procreate – and that’s one of the reasons why Japan is slowly becoming integrated with the rest of the world.
When you come to Japan, expect to be overwhelmed by their culture and over-the-top attractions. Remember to go with the flow and save face. Go against the current and you’ll surely fall flat on your face. Try to remember these things:
Japan DOs: When in Japan, try to observe these things so you will not be an outcast.
- Bow to show respect. Bow to greet everyone. This is the formal greeting in Japan. When you meet someone, you are obliged to bow. While it is acceptable to tilt your head, learn to show respect for their culture by reciprocating the effort. They will see you in a better light because you are trying to learn their culture. Handshakes are also okay, but only if they are the ones who initiate it. React accordingly but it is recommended that you bow to show your respect and willingness to them.
- Gift-giving is expected. To increase your social stature in the eyes of Japanese, it is customary to give gifts for no reason at all. It shows that you thought of them and thought of them highly. You would be cultivating a good image by giving small tokens or mementoes from the home country or small trinkets from where you went. The idea is that you thought of them during the time you were away.
- Always bring your business cards. Never leave home without your business cards. And it is customary to exchange it with everyone you met. Use two hands to give and receive business cards. It shows the utmost respect for the person who receives and gives something identical in return.
- Be ready to remove your footwear. Be observant of this in Japan. While there are some places where footwear is allowed, most of the places require you remove your footwear. This is a sign of respect for the homeowner and their culture. Always wear clean socks by the way. And make sure your socks do not have holes in them to avoid embarrassment.
- Slippers on, slippers off. When you do remove your footwear, you will be given slippers. Walk on floors and terraces with the but if you are entering a tatami matted room, it is customary to remove them. The tatami mats are delicate and need not the strain of wooden slippers.
- Mind your table manners. Chopsticks are a tricky utensil to master. They can be learned but the culture behind the chopsticks needs some time to get used to. Just try not to stick your chopsticks standing straight up on your bowl as this is commemorative of a funeral to them. Don’t use the chopsticks to pass food to another person, pass the containers as much as possible. And do not play with the chopsticks, aside from it getting annoying it is considered bad manners.
- Slurp, slurp, slurp! The Japanese slurp their noodles. This is not an offensive thing to them. Slurping it means you are enjoying the meal.
- Let others pour the drinks for you. And pour for them as well. Reciprocating the hospitality is common for Japanese. Do not pour your own sake or drinks. Let the host do it for you. And you should do the same for them.
- Dress conservatively and observe the rituals. Whether you believe them or not, follow the rituals wherever you go in Japan. Not only does it show courtesy, you’ll get to immerse in the culture. And do not forget to wear decent enough clothes. While there is a relaxation of styles, Japanese do prefer to see their citizens fully clothed and not exposing too much skin.
- Do try to speak in Japanese. Even if your Japanese is halting and fit for a beginner, the effort is appreciated by the Japanese. They see it that you are trying to assimilate to their culture and are ready to count you in.
Japan DON’Ts. Try avoiding these things to save face when dealing with the Japanese.
- Don’t come up until the other party does. A show of respect for the Japanese. Let them finish the bow first before you follow their lead. It shows you are a person to reckon with and you respect their status.
- Don’t be late – ever. Japanese are prompt with their time. Their trains and other transport systems run on tight schedules. Do not even be one minute late to a meeting because you’ll lose face and leverage.
- Don’t rush things, though. Never be in a rush. While the Japanese expect promptness, you must go with the different rituals they perform. Go with the flow, observe if you have to. If you can join them and are invited to, do not hesitate to participate.
- Don’t burp! You can slurp your noodles and haltingly use the chopsticks but burping is considered rude in Japan.
- Don’t lift the large plates to eat off them. It is okay to eat out of the small bowls, but the bigger plates are a definite no-no! Even if the viand is temptingly delicious, do not try it. It’s bad manner, and Japanese are high on manners.
- Don’t blow your nose in front of everyone in the table. Just like other cultures, it is considered rude. Excuse yourself and use the washroom if you have to remove the offending nose excreta. You can sniff and perhaps sneeze, but don’t go full on nose-blowing.
- Don’t be afraid to ask for forks and spoons. Even if the effort is appreciated, do not be afraid to ask for forks and spoons if you really can’t get the hang of using chopsticks to eat on the table.
- Don’t insult the card-giver. Never put the received business cards in your back pocket. Have a special place for it. You can even show your gratitude by placing it near or on the breast pocket.
- Don’t give tips. Japanese expect efficiency in everything. They refuse tips because what they do is part of their service.
Japan is a highly industrialized place with deep roots to its culture and religion. It can be unsettling for some to be in a fast-paced world that values traditional values so much. But this is the way of Japan, so you must learn to ride the wave. The Japanese are slowly becoming more assimilated and accepting of other cultures, it would be good if we try to learn from them as well.