Etiquette in Japan

Discussion in 'Open Discussion' started by Anna, Apr 27, 2007.

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  1. Anna

    Anna Established Member

    Jan 17, 2005
    I am heading to Japan next week. I've heard it is very rude to wipe your nose in public and that it is considered more polite just to sniff. Is this true? Are there any other little rules like that I should know about? It's a leisure visit, so no business meetings to contend with.

  2. serfty


    Nov 16, 2004
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    A Quick google on Japanese Etiquette revealed the following:

    Japanese Etiquette

    Japan FAQ--Japanese Manners and Etiquette

    New to Japan - General - Japanese Etiquette

    Japanese Etiquette

    • If you have to blow your nose, leave the room, or at the very least try to face away
      from other people--and use a tissue--not a handkerchief!
    • Japanese people don't usually use handkerchiefs for blowing their nose. It's very common to see packs of tissues being given out on the street. They're free because they contain advertisements.
    • outside the privacy of your own home, it does seem to be considered bad manners. The Japanese way just seems to be to sniff interminably.
  3. Happy Dude

    Happy Dude Active Member

    Oct 13, 2006
    A big blast into a hanky or tissue (freely given out on the streets) would be seen as uncouth, and downright disgusting if you put the results into your pocket. But a discrete wipe wouldn't raise an eyebrow. Feel free to sniff and snort to your satisfaction though.

    Almost all etiquette in Japan is centred on making as little impact on others as possible. You'll notice this as you ride escalators (keep to one side), and wait for trains (designated bowing and smoking areas), for example.

    Don't talk loudly on your phone in public. If you receive a call whilst on public transport, keep it short, quiet and cover your mouth. Applying makeup in public is considered rude. As is walking and eating (at the same time).

    If you smoke/chew gum, carry a little pouch thingy to ash in and discard chewed gum (remember to empty this!).

    Food etiquette is fairly straight forward. Don't stand your chopsticks upright in the food. Try not to put the ends of the chopsticks in your mouth (if you're sharing food). Don't pass food with chopsticks. Slurp your noodles to cool them down. Don't drown a bowl of white rice with sauce (something about the 'purity'). Sake: Always wait for someone to pour your drink, then pour theirs in turn. Never knock back an alcoholic drink without saying "Campai!" with your partners.

    Some or all of these may not apply to you or all places in Japan, and even if you make a social faux pais, no-one will really mind. The Japanese are far to polite to expect you to know all the nuances of their society, but they'll certainly appreciate any effort made by you. It's part of the fun I reckon.
  4. BlacKnox

    BlacKnox Active Member

    Jan 29, 2005
    The most useful Japanese word to know is sumimasen - pronounced (sue-me-ma-sen). Its 3 main meanings are thank you, excuse me and I'm sorry. Should a runny nose or other incident arise when you're not sure how to respond, simply utter sumimasen to any onlooker/ groupmember, and most will be forgiven.

    For a taster if you haven't been before, I'd recommend renting Lost in Translation with Bill Murray. Enjoy!
  5. Anna

    Anna Established Member

    Jan 17, 2005
    Arigato! Now I know 2 words of Japanese - that, and sumimasen.

    Thanks all for the helpful tips.
  6. BlacKnox

    BlacKnox Active Member

    Jan 29, 2005
    Hi Anna, note though its probably more appropriate to use sumimasen than arigatou when trying to communicate appreciation. But you can use both words e.g. in a bar, say sumimasen the first time you receive a drink; arigatou for the second one. That way, you'd sound more natural. Enjoy.
  7. QF WP


    Jun 20, 2002
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    I was expecting BlacKnox to answer here, given his recent long stint in Japan. Another excellent phrase to try and learn is:

    Watashi wa nihon go o hanashi masen. Sumimasen

    pronounced: wa-tush-ee wa knee-hon goh o hun-a-she ma-sen.
    which means: I don't speak Japanese. Excuse me.

    Even trying it with most Japanese gets much kudos.

    The one thing I learnt from a phrase book - oh, along with two beers :D
  8. Evan

    Evan Established Member

    Dec 26, 2006
    SIN / MEL
    All good advice :)
    Most of enjoy your trip, get out of Tokyo if you can, Kobe, Osaka, Koyto areas, down to Kyushu if you get the chance, visiting Hioishima (sp?) peace museum and that area.

    If your traveling on a tourist visa and travling a lot around the country consider a JR rail pass.

    Oh, and one last peice of advice i can offer, know the Kanji for male/female as some toilets only have the Kanji. I can't figure out how to do it in the board to show the symbol but you should be able to google it.

  9. shillard

    shillard Guest

    Here's a tip on what NOT to do....

    I was with a group in the Shinto temple markets in Tokyo (if you get there, find the stall selling Thunder Biscuits - awesome!), and the guide was explaining how the temple was rebuilt after being damaged in WWII.

    One of my colleagues turned to me and said:

    "I didn't realise we bombed Tokyo? I thought it was just Hiroshima and Nagasaki?"

    My reply:

    "Everyone bangs on about the nukes - 80,000 dead, 70,000 dead - big deal. Firestorm bombing of Tokyo with incindiaries by the USAF probably killed over 100,000 in a single night."

    His response, ever so impolite...

    "Well, that'll teach 'em not to **** with us, won't it?"

    Fortunately only overheard by one aghast local......
  10. Anna

    Anna Established Member

    Jan 17, 2005
    OK, I won't mention the war. Hopefully more successfully than Basil Fawlty.
  11. BlacKnox

    BlacKnox Active Member

    Jan 29, 2005
    Well spoken Lindsay Wilson :eek:. Or an easier way to express the same thing is simply Nihongo dekinai - pronounced - knee-hon-goh; de-key-ny (same sound as my but substitute m with a n). Literally it's Japanese I can't do.

    Evan's suggestion was excellent. The JR pass represents great value for money and is a wonderful way to explore the country. Whenever my family visited Japan they used this pass and thoroughly enjoyed it. Unfortunately I couldn't get one myself as I was a resident, but if you do buy a rail pass then invest in the 1st class one - just a little extra and well worth it.

    If you get down to the south island (kyushuu) then my old (still incompleted) trip report may be helpful, and can be found here: . And BTW, 2 beers is : Biiru o futatsu...

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