Japanese Etiquette

by joe on May 6, 2011

Knowing how to behave and what to expect as a guest in a Japanese household will impress Japanese hosts. Right before entering a house, do not forget to take off your shoes. The host will provide slippers for you to wear around the house. When entering the toilet, you must swap slippers with a pair to be exclusively used in the bathroom. When entering a room with tatami floors (floors made of wood-like straws), slippers should be taken off because tatami floors are supposed to be stepped on with bare feet or feet with socks. During mealtime, do not simply help yourself to the food unless instructed to do so.

Typically, the hostess would serve portions of food to your plate. In situations where you have been instructed to help yourself from shared dishes, always pick up food with the opposite end (thicker end) of your chopsticks if serving chopsticks are not provided. If the host asks you whether or not you would like to take a bath, always say “yes” unless you do not plan to take a bath that day. The reason is because the host is planning to take a bath, but would not take a bath unless the guest goes first. Knowing the basic Japanese etiquette will go a long way in showing your respect to the host.

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

SergeDavid May 6, 2011 at 4:55 pm

I never knew about the bathroom slippers, that is quite interesting. Using the end of the chop sticks that you don’t eat with reminds me of the no double dipping etiquette rule.

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Emm May 8, 2011 at 10:20 am

Wooo, I didn’t know any of these! Would Japanese hosts be open to explaing customs to new guests or are you expected to know?

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L Janice (author of the article) May 9, 2011 at 2:17 am

Hi Emm,

It would really depend on the hosts. If you are a newcomer/tourist who doesn’t speak Japanese, chances are your host(s) wouldn’t explain their customs due to communication barriers. Most Japanese are more than happy to explain their customs if you speak Japanese. Nevertheless, most Japanese are aware that some of their customs are unique, so they wouldn’t expect foreigners to behave perfectly. The definite thing they would tell you is to take off your shoes at the door.

I was a guest at several friends’ houses in Japan.
-I was told about the slipper etiquette.
-Dining etiquette: Wasn’t told much (I didn’t bother to ask). I paid close attention to how the adults ate and simply imitated them. When not picking up sushi with chopsticks, I observed that the Japanese pick up sushi between their thumb and middle finger before biting the sushi in half for consumption.

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Pantsu May 9, 2011 at 5:20 pm

Very important rules and etiquette to follow — Thank you for the insightful information. I’m planning on taking a trip down to Japan one of these days, and this blog seems great to get the kind of information necessary for a tourist to take heed of before arriving.

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