Do You Know About These Gaijin Gaffes?
If you ever visit Japan, you’ll notice that it has a relatively reserved and polite culture with its own set of manners and behavioral norms. It’s helpful to familiarize yourself with some of the cultural dos and don’ts to avoid unwittingly offending the local sensibilities. Don’t worry, the Japanese are extremely hospitable and pretty forgiving when it comes to foreigners’ social blunders (we all inevitably make them), but it’s always appreciated when one attempts to respect their ways. To help you brush up on some of the cultural etiquette and avoid some common traveler faux-pas, here’s a video outlining 12 things not to do in Japan.
Here’s a Transcript of 12 Things Not to Do in Japan
The Japanese are relatively reserved and you probably won’t even realize that you’re offending them unless you follow this quick guide of things NOT to do in Japan.
1. Don’t Wear Shoes in the House
They simply don’t want the dirt from the outside being trekked all over their clean floors and tatami mats.
2. Don’t Forget the Toilet Slippers
The Japanese have a dedicated set of slippers for toilet usage. Every foreigner forgets to remove these at some point.
3. Don’t Expect Western Toilets
If you’re lucky, you may encounter a high-tech Japanese toilet with all the bells and whistles. However, many places in Japan still have the hole-in-the-ground squat toilets. They’re not hard to use, but they will be an adjustment.
4. Don’t Bathe Dirty
These deep “ofuro” tubs are NOT for cleaning. Get in AFTER you’ve already showered as several people may take a turn in the same hot water.
5. Don’t Show Your Tattoos
Tatoos are associated with Yakuza gangsters, so you’ll often see “no tattoo” signs at pools, hotsprings (onsens), gyms and resorts.
6. Don’t Misuse Chopsticks
Here are a few chopstick etiquette rules. Don’t wave them, drum, sword-fight, point at people, poke food, stand upright (that’s akin to funeral rituals), pass food, stab food, pull dishes, lick, cross them or lay them like bridge.
7. Don’t Be Afraid to Slurp and Burp
Japanese will sip, slurp, and even audibly burp throughout the meal as a polite sign that they are enjoying the meal.
8. Don’t Pour Your Own Drink
The custom is to keep each others’ glasses full. It’s challenging to keep tabs on how much you’re imbibing when someone else is constantly refilling your glass! Kanpai!
9. Stop Spreading the Germs
If you’re sick in public, many people wear a surgical mask so they don’t catch or spread diseases.
10. Don’t Point to Your Chest for “Me”
In Japan the gesture is to point to one’s nose.
11. Avoid the Number Four
Four is a very superstitious number in Japan, akin to unlucky 13. It is pronounced ‘shi’ in Japanese, which has the same sound as their word for death.
12. Don’t Assume Yes means Yes
Although “hai” translates to “yes”, it’s more of an “uhuh, I hear you” kind of utterance. Don’t assume they’ve agreed with what your are saying. Also the Japanese rarely use a precise “no”. They prefer a subtle “maybe” or “we’ll try our best” which allows the rejectee to save face. “No” is considered too direct and confrontational. This ambiguity often causes great confusion in east/west negotiations.
Now you know what NOT to do, enjoy your stay in this fascinating country.
For a few more tips, read our post on 19 Things Not to Do in Japan.