Cultural Notes on Japan: 10 Dos and Don’ts when in the Land of the Rising Sun

Land of the Rising Sun

10 Dos and Don’ts when in the Land of the Rising Sun

One of the world’s most intriguing destinations. Japan is a place where rich tradition harmoniously collides with spellbinding innovation.  Everything from its cuisine to its natural wonders to its pop culture has the power to captivate and delight even the most jaded of travellers.

Land of the Rising Sun
Land of the Rising Sun

At the heart of it all are its people, a society of warm and welcoming individuals who take pride in their culture and are eager to share it with the world. Visiting Japan opens you up to a world like no other but before your first foray into this beguiling country, here are a list of dos and don’ts to help you along the way.

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DOs

dos
dos Image via topshelfmag.net

Remove your shoes

In many indoor spaces across Japan such as homes, temples and certain restaurants, it is customary to remove your shoes and leave them at the door. In ancient times, many homes featured woven straw mats called tatami that people would sit and sleep on in place of furniture. The process of leaving one’s shoes at the door was so that they wouldn’t bring mud and dirt into the house and soil the mats.The tradition of doing so has been carried forward and is still actively practiced in modern day Japan.

Remove Shoes
Remove Shoes

Slurp with gusto

When eating noodles in Japan, it is customary to slurp them down loudly and with gusto as this is considered as a sign that you are enjoying your meal and not doing so may serve as an insult to the cook. Additionally, noodles are often served in piping hot broth and slurping them down with a pair of chopsticks helps to cool the noodles before they go into your mouth.

Eating Ramen in Japan
Eating Ramen in Japan

Eat KFC for Christmas

If you have the pleasure of spending Christmas Eve in Japan, forego the customary roast turkey with stuffing and instead, take part in the Japanese tradition of feasting on KFC for dinner. This tradition picked up early in the 1970s when foreigners had a hard time finding turkey during the festive season as it was uncommon for Christmas to be celebrated by Japanese households. KFC picked up on this and filled the gap by launching a slew of successful campaigns which  resulted in it becoming a traditional Christmas dining option. Today, many Japanese place their orders up to two months in advance due to its popular demand.

Learn a few Japanese phrases

In any country that you visit, learning a few phrases can be extremely helpful and it’s also a simple way of showing the locals that you’re interested in their culture and their language. Plus, you’ll be pleasantly surprised by how happy you can make someone just by saying ‘thank you’ in their language.

Bring gifts

The Japanese tend to be quite reserved and as such, gifts are often exchanged as it is used to express and communicate messages of love, gratitude, affection, sympathy and more. When visiting someone’s home for a meal or if you happen to be staying with locals, presenting your host with a simple gift is a beautiful and thoughtful way of saying thank you. And as it is customary in Japan, always remember to present your gift with two hands.

DON’Ts

donts
donts Image via difangzhi.org

Leave tips

Despite Japan’s reputation for its top-notch service, tipping is not required nor expected in Japan and chances are even if you insist on doing so, you will be politely turned down. There are even some who consider tipping insulting as the Japanese believe that treating their guests well is an act that comes from the heart, trying to tip them for their service is akin to implying that their kind gestures are insincere.

Stick your chopsticks upright in a bowl

Chopsticks are serious business in Japan and there are a lot of taboos and rules surrounding their usage. Among others, it is considered impolite and uncouth to play with them or use them to pierce your food as would a fork. A major no-no however, is to stick them upright in your rice bowl or use them to pass food to another pair of chopsticks are these are associated with rituals practiced during funerals.

Blow your nose in public

Blowing your nose and sneezing in public is a major faux pas as it is viewes as unhygienic and runs the possibility of spreading diseases. If you’re nursing a cold, consider picking up a surgical mask and using it when it public.

Litter

Japan is exceptionally pristine and you’ll be hard pressed to find scraps of trash even in the busiest streets of its cities. The Japanese also happen to be wonderfully committed to recycling and often take their waste to recycling bins around the city instead of discarding them.

Drink or eat in public

Or while you’re using public transport as it is considered bad manners. The smell of your food might bother the other passengers and while we’re on it, the Japanese also avoid talking loudly or on the phone in public transport so as not to disturb other passengers.

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