Japan: 10 Things to Avoid While You’re There

Image by Moyan Brann, Creative Commons
Image by Moyan Brann, Creative Commons

Culture shocks can be quite the awkward situation since we are are pretty much in another’s space. Fresh on their soil, we need friends not foes! So it is to your best advantage to avoid as many socially undesirable situations as possible. We did some digging for you and should you find yourself on your way to the land of the rising sun, sashimi and sakura, here are some things you should avoid doing!


Talking Loudly While in the Train

If you haven’t heard of this before, be glad you’re reading it now! Because talking in the train (even in really low voices) is generally frowned upon. Even talking on the phone is not excused. Stay quiet!

Yawning or Blowing your Nose

Doing either of these in public (or worse on the train!) is extremely socially unacceptable. Then again, even in our culture doing either really loudly is pretty much shunned as well.

Not Bowing

Generally, we don’t bow when we thank people but respect and bowing is kind of a big thing in Japan. The time and inclination of your bow is directly linked to how much of respect you are showing for the person. E.g. for a friend, a quick bow will do in most cases.

Image By Halfrain, Creative Commons
Image By Halfrain, Creative Commons

Eating Quietly

In more a westernised society, making any sort of noise while eating is considered lowly and well, gross. Not here! Slurping of ramen & soba noodles is actually polite. It shows that you are appreciating the food that they have prepared.  However, not applicable to ‘western’ noodles like pasta!

Not Learning Chopstick Etiquette

If you haven’t noticed already, the Japanese are really orderly and are highly concerned about social manners. So passing food from my chopstick to your chopstick is a taboo as this is something done at funerals. Like the Chinese, sticking them vertically in rice bowls is also something we don’t advise doing.

Nishiki Market, Kyoto. Image By Gavin Anderson, Creative Commons.

Too Much Soy Sauce & Wasabi

Drowning your sashimi or sushi in either one of the above is simply showing the chef of the restaurant that their ingredients aren’t fresh and you need the condiments to cover it up! Or just you not appreciating the effort that has gone into preparing the food for you.


Well this should be easy for us, since we already have the habit of not tipping. Just in case, don’t tip! It can be borderline insulting, as they believe that the service you’ve requested is covered by what you’ve already paid.

Drinking Beer

If the beer’s in a jug at a table, don’t pour it for yourself. Others will do it for you and you vice versa. When toasting, instead of saying ‘cheers’ they say ‘Kanpai’, almost sounds like Chinese ‘Gan bei/干杯’, which has the same meaning.

Colours of Japan, Image by Yiannis Theologos Michellis
Colours of Japan, Image by Yiannis Theologos Michellis.

Not Clearing Up After Meals

You are obligated to clear up trays after meals! This might be hard for some of us Singaporeans, as even now trays are left behind for staff to clear in McDonalds although diners have been advised to clear their on trays. Regardless, we believe clearing up after ourselves is a good habit to cultivate anyway.

Not Cleaning Yourself Before Entering Public Baths

Because to them this bath is not to clean themselves up, but instead to relax them. So, soaking up someone else’s filth isn’t a great idea or a very de-stressing situation!

Stressing out after all this? Don’t worry, they will probably cut you some slack as we will be ‘gaijins’(foreigners, literally meaning ‘outside-person’) when we are there.  They will cut you some slack! As they’ve got loads of social etiquettes and implicit social rules to follow, they believe in the greater good so conformity and lowering a teeny bit of self-comfort to them is entirely okay.

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