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Mind your manners in Japan

30 Apr 2015 | by Charlotte Bradley
Travelling in Japan can strike some travellers as being a bit daunting. Here is an entirely different culture - really quite different from anything else in the world - that you must get to grips with over just a few days during your cruise. It's not as scary as you might think, though. Japanese people are by and large a gracious society who will understand if you make a few slip-ups etiquette-wise during your stay. Even so, it pays to be aware of the basics. Take a look below at our basic guide to manners in Japan.


Perhaps the most famous etiquette in Japan is the bow, which is something you'll see plenty of during your time here. Everyone bows - it is the equivalent of a greeting or an acknowledgement that you are there - and you will be expected to return the gesture. The important thing to remember is that the extent of the bow will vary depending on who you are speaking to. If it's someone of a significantly higher status than you, a low bow will be required. However, you will notice people in shops barely bow at all - a barely noticeable inclination of the head to indicate respect. If bowing seems a bit much, a handshake is also considered acceptable.


Eating etiquette could well warrant an entire feature by itself in Japan. There is much to get to grips with - from sitting on the floor to handling the chopsticks, this has the potential to be a bit of a minefield. Where chopsticks are concerned, it's best to practice a little before you travel. After all, no one wants to be that tourist who flings half a maki roll across the room on the first attempt. Remember that soup is generally consumed at the end of the meal rather than the beginning and can be drunk directly from the bowl. If consuming ramen, feel free to slurp. This is very good manners. When consuming alcohol, you must wait for someone else to decant your drink from the bottle to the glass before doing the same for them. It is considered impolite to pour your own. Finally, don't drink until everyone in the group is ready. And don't toast with the words 'chin chin' - in Japanese, this refers to the male genitalia!

Out and about

Out and about on the streets of Kobe or Tokyo, you will notice that most people are incredibly courteous and considerate of people around them. Even as hundreds of commuters cram themselves onto the bullet trains that ride into Shinjuku Station like clockwork, there is a certain order to proceedings. On the metro, subway and shinkansen, it is highly frowned upon to chat on mobile phones or talk loudly in the carriages with your companions. In fact, shouting in public in general is considered very bad behaviour. Handkerchiefs will also get your some very strange looks as these are viewed as unhygienic.

Visiting shrines and temples

Undoubtedly one of the attractions of visiting Japan is the nation's plethora of shrines and temples, which align each and every street. However, never forget that these are very sacred places and it is important to observe etiquette. Lines generally form before idols where you can burn incense and offer a prayer. If there is a gong, ring it before praying as this will get the attention of the deity that resides here. Be aware that in some temples, you may be asked to remove your shoes.

Shinto shrines differ slightly to the Buddhist temples. At the entrance, you will be asked to cleanse yourself at a fountain. These generally have large ladles for you to do so - wash your left hand first, then the right, then finally cup some water between your hands and dab it onto your face. Don't swallow the water.


Fights over who will pay the bill are very popular in Japan and it's common for someone to insist they are paying several times before deferring to someone else or splitting the bill. If someone offers to pay for you, it is considered good manners to refuse at first, before eventually allowing them to do so after they have asked for the third time. When paying, place your change or notes into the tray rather than handing them directly to the person. If, by some miracle, you have found somewhere that allows payment with a foreign credit or debit card, hand it over with both hands.

You might think that this looks like a lot to remember, but don't worry too much if you forget one or two things. Japan is a very hospitable nation and, provided you're enjoying yourself without overtly treading on anyone's toes, you should be fine.

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