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6 Things You Should Never Do in Japan
Although arguably "westernised" in many ways, Japan has held onto its ancient traditions and with it, many cultural rules that maybe unfamiliar to those from other countries. Here are some things you should never do in Japan, and an explanation as to why.
1. Don't Wear Your Shoes Indoors
For the sake of hygiene and respect, it has always been a long-standing tradition that you take your shoes off at the door. Although tables and chairs are, of course, present in Japanese households, for a long time it was normal to sit on the floor, or on tatami mats, while eating. Therefore, shoes are left at the door to avoid getting the floor dirty.
Public places such as shops and restaurants don't usually abide by this rule (although some traditional-style tables at restaurants require you to take your shoes off in certain areas). If you visit someone's house, you must absolutely take off your shoes at the door. Most places have a small area for your footwear, called a genkan in Japanese. So make sure your socks are clean, too!
2. Don't Talk on the Phone on the Train
As JapanInfo describes, talking on your phone while you are riding the train is considered rude. Try and finish calls at the station before you board or text instead. If you absolutely must take a phone call, be discreet.
It is argued that this is because your conversation is shared with everyone. Others say it is because Japanese people are generally expected to be quiet in public, and people tend to talk loudly on the phone. Either way, don't do it.
Have you been to Japan?
3. Don't Show Affection in Public
Holding hands and a quick hug between friends is okay, but that's about it. Kissing, snuggling and canoodling in public can be seen as offensive and unsightly.
A large part of Japanese culture is keeping personal emotions under wraps. For example, it's considered rude to "vent" about your personal problems at work. Public affection is a display that nobody wants to see.
It's worth mentioning that public disaplys of affection aren't illegal or anything. You aren't going to be arrested or thrown in jail for hugging your partner. But it's worth keeping in mind that it makes many people feel uncomfortable.
4. Avoid These Table Manner Mishaps
When eating in public, it's important to remember NOT to do any of these things:
- Don't stick your chopsticks into your rice. This symbolises death.
- Don't pass food between chopsticks. It's considered unhygenic.
- Don't stab your food with chopsticks. That's what a fork is for.
- Don't leave any rice in your bowl. If you're struggling to pick the last of it up, ask for a spoon.
- Don't pour your own drink. Pour someone else's, and someone will pour yours.
5. Never Grab Things with One Hand
This depends on the situation; for example, if you are a customer and a shop assistant passes you your bag of groceries, it's okay to receive it with one hand. However, if someone is passing you something important such as a business card with their two hands, show respect and attention by receiving the item with both of your hands.
This shows respect and that you understand that what you're receiving is important.
6. If You're Ill, Don't Forget Your Mask
If you're fighting something infectious such as a cold, adhere to local custom and wear a mask. They can be bought in any convenience store or pharmacy.
When you're in a public place, germs spread - it's unavoidable. There is some dispute as to whether masks actually work, but it's considered polite and considerate to cover your mouth and nose in case of sneezing and coughing. Also, avoid blowing your nose in a public place. Dab or wipe your nose with tissues instead.
There are many more cultural differences in Japan that are worth learning before you go, but hopefully these six will give you some basic knowledge not to find yourself in an embarassing situation.
Please keep in mind that the Japanese are quite forgiving to foreign people, and you usually won't get in any kind of trouble for making cultural mistakes - more like gentle reminders. However, it's always good to get familiar with a country's local expectations before visiting. Have a great time!