Our best travel tips before you and your family head to Japan…
Etiquette Around the World: Japan
So, you and your family have decided to head off to the land of Buddhist Temples, cherry blossoms and sushi. Japan is a beautiful country known for its high regard of manners and exquisite attention to detail. Below are a few rules of etiquette you should know before you step off the plane.
LOST IN TRANSLATION: You may get lucky on your journey and come across a few people who speak English. However, most people, including taxi cab drivers or waiters might not. Google translate can be very helpful, but just incase, you might want to learn these useful phrases for your upcoming trip:
- Hello – Kon’nichiwa
- Thank you – Arigatō
- Please – Kudasai
- Goodbye – Sayōnara
- Excuse me – Sumimasen
- Cheers – Kanpai
TAKE A BOW: Used in place of a handshake, bowing is used when meeting someone, saying goodbye, thanking or apologising to someone. All you have to do is simply lean forward and bow your head. Also, the deeper the bow, the more respectful.
PLAY YOUR CARDS RIGHT: If you find yourself in a situation where you are exchanging business cards with someone, whether it be for business or pleasure. Always receive their card with both hands and vice versa. Their card should never be put in your pocket or purse right away, but should remain out on the table until your meeting is over.
BE OUR GUEST: Gift giving is a huge part of Japanese culture. It is customary when visiting or staying in someone’s home to bring a gift from your home country. These gifts are called “temiyage” and just like business cards, all gifts are also given with both hands.
The Japanese also have two seasons when they exchange gifts – “ochugen” in July or August and “oseibo” in December. These mid or end of the year gifts show expressions of gratitude from bosses to their employees.
GOODY TWO SHOES: Shoes should always be removed before going into someone’s home, Japanese Inns (Ryokan) or Temples. Take notice if you see shoes lined up by the door or woven straw mats (tatami) on the floor, both are signs your shoes should be taken off.
You may be offered indoor slippers to wear provided by your host. However, these should avoid the tatami and only be stepped on with bare feet or socks. Sometimes separate slippers are provided for when inside restrooms, in which case you should leave your shoes and or “indoor slippers” outside the door.
TABLE MANNERS: After being seated at your table, you will be given a warm or cold towel to clean your hands. Although never use this cloth to wipe your face, once finished fold it neatly for the waiter or waitress to collect.
Popular phrases surrounding mealtime include: “I-ta-da-ki-mas,” before your meal, which is similar to bon appétit. Also “Go-chi-so-sa-ma-de-shi-ta,” which is an appreciative term used after your meal.
CHOPSTICKS: It’s traditional to use chopsticks while dinning in Japan. Chopsticks should never be pointed at anyone. Never cross them on your plate, rub them together or use them to spear food. Small children should be reminded not to play with them (use them as drum sticks at the table). Always use the untouched end to transfer food to others and when finished with each course, use the chopstick holder provided. Chopstick adapters can be requested for small children.
SOY HAPPY: Most people flock to Japan for the incredible sushi, but you wouldn’t guess there is a lot of etiquette surrounding it. If you find yourself enjoying omakase (chef’s choice), make sure you eat each piece in one whole bite and in the order it was given to you.
Never mix wasabi into your soy sauce, as most sushi chefs add wasabi and the right amount of soy sauce before serving it to you. However, if you do use soy sauce make sure to dip your sushi fish side down. Ginger is used as a palate cleanser between bites and shouldn’t be used to decorate the top of your sushi.
Your kids will love eating Japanese ramen, as it’s considered polite to slurp and make as much noise as possible, delighting both them and your server. Miso soup is enjoyed sipped straight from the bowl and without a spoon.
SHOP TALK: When it comes time to pay while shopping, never hand your cash or credit card to the sales person. Instead place your form of payment in the small tray provided; your change will be given back to you in the same place. It’s also important to remember that tipping does not exist in Japan, so it’s never necessary.
SHIRLEY TEMPLE: Japan is full of Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines that are a must for any travel itinerary. If you know these are on your list, make sure to pack clothing that is seen as respectful. Upon arriving you’ll notice ceremonial washing areas, use a ladle to rinse your hands.
When visiting such sacred spaces, make sure children are on their best behaviour…. meaning quiet, using their indoor voices and not running around like banshees or venturing off into restricted areas.
PUBLIC RELATIONS: You’ll notice people all over Japan wearing surgical masks. This is considered to be thoughtful to prevent passing on their germs while sick. If you feel symptoms of a cold coming on, you can purchase these at any local convenience store like Lawson or Family Mart.
When hailing or exiting a cab in Japan, taxis have doors that open and close automatically. So no need to reach for the handle, your driver will do all the heavy lifting.
When using public transportation people wait in orderly lines, follow suit and never push or cut. Something else you’ll notice on trains, buses or the metro is how oddly quiet it is. Always switch cell phones to silent mode and talk as quietly as possible not disrupt those around you.
Lastly, when wondering the city you’ll find there are no public trashcans. Which can be extremely hard to cope with, especially with little kids and their abundant need for snacks, wet wipes, etc. You’ll have to get used to holding on to trash until you get back to your hotel room.
Kids Meet Japan Book at Kidsvslife.com; Zoo Sticks Chopsticks at Amazon.com; Wooden Japanese Kimono Kokeshi Doll, $12.00 at Amazon.com; Japanese for Kids Learning DVD Set, $99.99 at Amazon.com; DIY Japanese Kids Slippers Kit at Fromjapan.com; Kids Japanese Flash Card Kit, $16.00 at Amazon.com
Illustrations by: Libby VanderPloeg