Hints on Culture

People travel for a variety of reasons but the desire to experience a different way of life is common to most travellers. The Japanese culture is certainly vastly different to that of western countries and foreign visitors to Japan sometimes worry that, in their ignorance of the country's social etiquette, they may appear rude or cause offence during their stay.

The following hints are designed to help you acquaint yourself with some of the dos and don'ts of daily life in Japan. Of course, you won't be expected to know everything. Japanese people are aware that their ways are unfamiliar to foreigners and most will happily overlook any unintended social gaffes, or politely point out your mistakes.

Above all, the most important thing to remember is that part of the charm of visiting Japan is experiencing its unique and interesting culture.

Restaurant Etiquette

  • Most Japanese restaurants will present you with an 'Oshibori', a wet towel that will be hot or cold depending on the season. These should be used to clean your hands before eating.

  • Slurp your noodles! This is quite acceptable in Japan. For noodle soup, use your chopsticks for the noodles, meat and vegetables and bring the bowl to your mouth to drink the liquid. Spoons usually aren't provided.

  • Before starting a meal say, "I-ta-da-ki-ma-su". After finishing say, "Go-chi-so-sa-ma".

  • There are a number of rules associated with the use of chopsticks. Try to avoid:

    • spearing the food with your chopsticks.

    • using your chopsticks to rummage around in a dish trying to find what you want. If chopsticks for serving aren't provided, it is polite to use the other end of your chopsticks (the end that hasn't been in your mouth) to take food from communal plates.

    • passing food to somebody else with your chopsticks.

    • waving your chopsticks above a dish while trying to decide what to take next.

    • standing your chopsticks vertically in your rice. This is how rice is served to the dead.

  • If out drinking with a group of Japanese, don't fill your glass yourself. Allow the person next to you to do it for you, then return the favour. It is polite to lift your glass off the table a little when being served. Wait until everyone's glass if full before saying 'kampai' or 'cheers'.

Out and About

  • It is considered rude to blow your nose in public places. It is best to wait until you can find a restroom.

  • Eating while walking along the street is often frowned upon by older Japanese people but the younger generation can often be seen doing this.

  • Unless you are on a long journey where food is served, avoid eating on public transportation.

  • Carrying a travel pack of tissues is a good idea, as public toilets don't always provide toilet paper. Packets of tissues are often handed out as promotional giveaways as you walk around major cities.

Shoes & Clothing

  • Shoes are considered unclean and should be removed before entering most private indoor areas such as Japanese-style restaurants and accommodation, private homes, shrines and temples. If you are unsure whether your shoes need to be removed, watch to see what the locals are doing. Whenever there is a step up, particularly onto polished wooden floors or 'tatami' (straw mats) you should take off your shoes.

  • In places where you are required to remove your shoes there will usually be special slippers for you to put on when using the toilet facilities. Be sure to remove these slippers before returning to the common area.

  • Unless you are travelling to Japan on business, casual dress is appropriate for most social situations. A night out to an elegant restaurant or special show will require more formal attire.

  • Women should avoid wearing overly revealing clothing, particularly when visiting shrines & temples.

Japanese Baths

  • The most important rule to remember when bathing in Japan is to wash and rinse yourself before entering the bath or hot spring. The baths themselves are for soaking and relaxing in. Soap and shampoo should only be used in the separate shower facilities.

  • There are many communal baths and hot springs in Japan with separate facilities for men and women. Swimsuits are generally not permitted.


  • When you are required to sit on the floor, either tuck your legs underneath you or sit cross-legged. It is inappropriate to stretch your legs out in front of you.

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  Information provided by Japan National Tourist Organization.


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