Japan Local Custom Tips by Maline
Japan Local Customs: 461 reviews and 548 photos
Chikako kawaii ne!
Just a few things to think about.
Green Tea (o-cha) is a common beverage with meals. You do not take milk or sugar in it. Hold the cup with one hand and support it undeneath with your other hand.
Rice and soup are most likely served in smaller bowls. When you eat from them they shall be held in one hand and not rest on the table. And of course don't leave your chopsticks standing in your rice. (Why would anyone do that anyway?!)
If you take food from a plate shared with the rest of the company and put it on your own plate, use the back end of the chopsticks for the shared plate if there aren't any chopsticks for that purpose.
It's fun to pass things around between chopsticks isn't it? Not! That's the tradition at funerals to pass the charred bones between chopsticks, so don't go about that in public, ok.
If you have noodles (and you should) just slurp them up from the bowl with the support of your chopsticks and then drink the soup from the bowl/or use a special spoon provided for the purpose.
If you eat out, you will be given a wet towel – usually steaming hot, unless it's summer – before your meal. This is for cleaning your hands and I think it's a great custom!
For extra politeness say
"Itadakimasu" before starting your meal and "Gochisósama deshita" after finishing it.
Kimono is maybe one of the most well-known aspects of Japanese culture in other countries.
The kimono is a type of gown worn with undergarments and a very wide belt around the waist area. There are mens' kimono as well, but the most common sight is the female one. Women in Japan mostly wear kimono at formal occasions, such as coming-of-age-day, weddings or funerals and New Year. Children also wear kimono at the festival of shichi-go-san (7-5-3) where girls of 7 and 3 years and boys of 5 are celebrated.
The history of this garment goes way back in Japan's history, many of you may know about the Heian court ladies and their twelwe-layered kimono. Today's kimono actually developed from the undergarment worn under the Heian robes, and the way kimono looks today wasn't established until some hundred years ago. In the old days there were many different types of kimono, but as western clothes gained influence in the Japanese society, kinomo became more formalized and the occasions for wearing ot became fewer.
Getting dressed in kimono is pretty complicated, at least I thought so. I have worn kimono on a few occasions, and always gotten help putting it on. There are under-kimonos and you are being tied up and padded up so that both kimono and belt - obi - will fit. Also visible in the finished ensemble is the obi-scarf tucked under the top of the obi, and the obi-cord tied upon the obi.
To complete the outfit you also wear tabi, two-toed socks, geta clogs, and maybe a furoshiki, wrapping cloth, instead of a handbag.
A number of features of the kimono dress wary with age and situation. For example, the colours are more lively on kimono designed for younger girls, and more subdued for elderly women, same goes with the patterns. The sleeves are wider the younger the wearer.
The noise is overwhelming!!
Pachinko is the name of a Japanese arcade game reminiscent of pinball machines.
Pachinko pinball is vertical instead of the horisontal slope I am used to. And there isn't just one or a few balls in the game, but hundreds in a constant stream.
The little handle is for catapulting the miniature balls onto the field, and the path they then take on the gameboard is what decides if you win or lose. Then there are also digital tasks etc to be taken on the screen, I never got that far ( I didn't get anywhere!!) in this amazingly popular game.
There are pachinko parlours in every city, in Tokyo for example they are extremely numerous in the small streets in front of Ueno station. So far, I haven't found any machines with English instructions though, which is what you need I imagine, unless you have someone to explain the fun to you!
If you happen to be a pachinko champion or fan, please send me an e-mail and explain to me where the fun lies in this, to my inexperienced eye, extremely pointless and just irritatingly noisy pastime...!
So, the Japanese toilet, right.
Not only is there the squat one (similar to those found in for example France or India - just squat, facing the faucet), but also the ones where some foreigners get stuck, the western style ones.
Why? you ask.
Well, see a toilet isn't just a toilet in Japan. it is a complete hygiene system where your rear end can get pampered in all sorts of ways. But, for those who just want to do their business and get going, there is often the problem - where to flush? You will find a whole panel of buttons, but not the one you are looking for probably. I know people who were stuck in there for very long looking for the righ switch.. : -)
Here is some advice:
The flush is usually NOT in that panel, but separate, often on the side of the toilet itself.
If it isn't then a good thing is to learn the signs (kanjis) for BIG and SMALL, because that is mostly how the flush button is marked. That way you won't have to worry about all the other functions, unless you are in for a true Japanese experience... sure, go right ahead :-)!
In the pic, a Japanese toilet and a little help from me witth the signs for big and small.
If you visit a Japanese family, stay at a Japanese guesthouse (ryokan) or family hotel (minshuku) chances are you will be getting aquainted with the Japanese bath called o-furo.
Also, if you visit a hotspring spa, onsen, you will of course be subjected to the art of bathing.
Actually it's not complicated at all, just important that you follow the basic principle of washing thoroughly before getting into the tub, since many people will share the same water.
Supposedly Japanese bathers have been baffled by the occasional gaijin (foreigner) who hops into the tub soap in one hand towel in the other and starts lathering away. The clue is to do this in the shower area.
And also, since most baths are gender separated you will wear nothing in the tub, except perhaps that little towel on your head :-)
In one place where we went the women could actually enter the men section if they wanted (still forbidden to wear bathing suits though), so that could be a warning for you guys.)
Also, try not to let your hair down the water, rather put it up if you have long hair.
The bathwater will be hot, around 40-42 degrees centigrade.
In my local customs tips I will share not only my insights when it comes to behaviour, actual or required, but I will also introduce some of the cultural phenomenons of Japan, including the Tea Ceremony, which I studied for a year, Flower Arrangement, which I also studied, the Japanese incense ceremony, calligraphy and more.
And of course I will do my best to share the daily cultural codes that I grew accustomed to during my time in Japan. I hope it will be both enjoyable and useful for anyone interested in or going to Japan.
In the picture I am getting help dressing up in a kimono. In 1992 I got the furisode style, but now that I am older (...) I got a more grown up style with shorter sleeves. (I'll tell you more about kimono in the local customs tips too) (When I get there ok...)
Different but not impossible
Oh, and another thing, Japan has a reputation, both within its own borders and abroad of being a culturally very different country and one hard to understand for forigners. Japan did experience an almost total seclusion during the Tokugawa years 1600's- 1800's, and it's culture does differ quite a bit from, say European standards. But it's not impossible, and just as Japan is unique, so are all countries.
If you are not Japanese or look very Japanese a couple of cultural faux-passes are not the end of the world. Here are a few tips for the interested ones though:
Changing into slippers when entering a home, a temple, a school and the likes you know of course.(In someone's home you change into special slippers in the bathroom. Don't forget to change back when you leave the room!)
Japanese girls often cover their mouths with their hand when they laugh. I did too automatically after some time in Japan. Don't be surprised or worried, there's nothing wrong with what you've said, it's normal behaviour.
Japanese people, when talking about themselves point to their nose instead of for example putting a hand on their chest. Looks really funny for an outsider, but it doesn't mean they are talking about their nose or anything.
Do respect that everyone stands in line on the train platforms. Do not push ahead, your time will come, if not this train, then the next one which will be due very soon.
Walking and drinking at the same time is considered rude by some. Supposedly this dates back to the American occupation time when this was only done by the foreign soldiers.
Japanese people do bow a lot. There is a lot more to it that just bending a bit - the deeper you go, the more humble you are, etc. There can also be a number of bows, lengthy bows or quick ones. As a tourist or visitor, sure, you can bow, it is polite.
But many will expect you to want to shake hands. At certain times it will be more polite of you to shake hands than bow,if for example someone offers a handshake, and you bow as a reply, don't do that, take the hand instead!
When bowing, place your palms on your thights and bend from the waist with inclined head. Then stand up straight again. Putting palms together in front of your chest is ususally not done.
Ikebana is the art of arranging flowers. It is a very popular pastime in Japan, and there are millions of students of this art, or arts actually, since there are several traditions and schools within ikebana.
Then there is the question of which type of vase or "plate" is used, and there is also different styles, like flowers upright, slanting or tilting for example.
In the style that I studied there is an emphasis on three components (flowers), that are put at a special height and angle in comparison to each other. The shin is the highest, followed by soe and tai is the shortest flower.
In ikebana placed in more flat containers ("plates"), you use a heavy metal spiked "mat" to spear the flowers on. This enables them to stand upright. This device is called "kenzan" and can definitely come in handy if you want to try your arranging skills even without any ikebana training.
In Japan there is no tipping culture. Actually it can even be offensive. Even though in some establishments recently there has been a move towards tipping, you will be better of just not tipping at all in Japan. In restaurants for example, the check is often given at the table, then you move over to the cashier to pay, and you will get the exact amount of change back.
Making the tea
The Tea Ceremony is a phenomenon most foreign people have heard of. It is a custom alive and well in today´s Japan, even if many Japanese themselves feel very uncertain about how to go about it.
I was a part of the Tea Club at my japanese high school for one year, but that is not nearly enough to learn chado, the way of tea. Rather this is seen as a lifelong learning process, and you will never be fully learned.
The tea ceremony is about preparing a strong powdered green tea in a very strict and predetermined fashion within the environment of a traditional Japanese style room. It is about creating a harmonious atmosphere and stillness, and also about enjoying tea and sweets of course. For unused people it may mostly be about aching legs from having to sit in seiza (knees bent, legs under you) for some 45 minutes.
The person making the tea will have a pot of boiling water, a scoop for the water, a jar of tea, a tea spoon made of bamboo, a whisk for mixing tea powder and water, tea bowls, a container for throwing away water, and more utensils. He or she will prepare the tea for the guest(s) from scratch, starting by cleaning and heating the serving bowl.
There will also be Japanese style sweets - "o-kashi", hard of soft ones that the gueasts eat before taking their tea. Each guest should come equipped with little folded papers on which to put their kashis when eating them.
The tea is different from the green tea you would usually brew at home. It is, as I said before, in powder form and very strong and bitter, hence the eating of a sweet before drinking it.
If you want to buy the tea ceremony style tea, ask for "matcha" at your tea-shop.
More Reviews (40)
- The Gion corner
- See All 40 year old still going strong
- Visit a baseball game
- See All Onjuku- very much off the beaten track!
- See All Planning ahead - helpful places
- See All Bonus: Make your own sushi
Maline's Related Pages
Japan Travel Guide
Member Travel Pages
- "LAND AND NATURE OF JAPAN"
- "Japan has, what you've never experienced"
- "Nihon sugoi desu! (Japan is wonderful!)"
- "High Culture & Modernity"
- "Japan, My Friends, Our Trip...."
- "Paul's Journey Through Japan"
- "Tadaima!! (I came back!!)"
- See All...
- Things to Do in Japan
- Hotels in Japan
- Transportation in Japan
- Nightlife in Japan
- Restaurants in Japan
- Shopping in Japan
- Warnings and Dangers in Japan
- See All...
Explore the World
- Eaton Hotels
- Imun-dong Hotels
- Yang-ming-shan Kung-yuan Hotels
- Provincia de Puerto Plata Hotels
Badges & Stats in Japan
- 63 Reviews
- 57 Photos
- 10 Forum posts
- 2 Cities
- See All Stats
- See All Badges (9)
Have you been to Japan?Share Your Travels
Latest Activity in Japan
Top 10 Pages
- Top 5 Page for this destination Sweden Intro, 49 reviews, 63 photos, 5 travelogues
- Stockholm Intro, 56 reviews, 56 photos, 3 travelogues
- Japan Intro, 51 reviews, 46 photos, 1 travelogue
- Top 5 Page for this destination Uppsala Intro, 42 reviews, 44 photos, 2 travelogues
- Paris Intro, 30 reviews, 30 photos
- India Intro, 23 reviews, 35 photos, 2 travelogues
- Motala Intro, 16 reviews, 42 photos, 5 travelogues
- Top 5 Page for this destination Lesvos Intro, 18 reviews, 39 photos, 3 travelogues
- Iceland Intro, 21 reviews, 30 photos, 2 travelogues
- Delhi Intro, 14 reviews, 32 photos, 2 travelogues
FriendsSee All Friends (33)
Top Japan hotels
- Tokyo Hotels
- 3921 Reviews - 9268 Photos
- Osaka Hotels
- 848 Reviews - 2363 Photos
- Okinawa Hotels
- 46 Reviews - 40 Photos
- Narita Hotels
- 133 Reviews - 237 Photos
- Shinjuku Hotels
- 84 Reviews - 256 Photos
- Takayama Hotels
- 119 Reviews - 396 Photos
- Hiroshima Hotels
- 368 Reviews - 898 Photos
- Nagoya Hotels
- 398 Reviews - 1054 Photos
- Hakone Hotels
- 100 Reviews - 372 Photos
- Nikko Hotels
- 236 Reviews - 612 Photos
- Kobe Hotels
- 183 Reviews - 547 Photos
- Nara Hotels
- 221 Reviews - 909 Photos
- Fukuoka Hotels
- 257 Reviews - 463 Photos
- Sasebo Hotels
- 119 Reviews - 209 Photos
- Otaru Hotels
- 46 Reviews - 152 Photos