Culture Guide

During my first two weeks here, i have come to realize the complexity of the Japanese culture. It is quite different from any other culture I have met so far. There are a lot of rules that Japanese follow. Often foreigners are forgiven any rudeness resulting from their lack of understanding for Japanese culture but even foreigners aren't forgiven some offences. I'll try to write down what i have learned so far.


The taboos mostly relate to Japanese hygiene. In such a small country with so many people, it is understandable that the Japanese have developed a set of rules addressing hygiene.

One of those rules is that you cannot use soap (or shampoo) in the bathtub, washing belongs to the shower, the bath is for relaxation. It is also offending to wear shoes indoors (Inside, you wear slippers or just socks) or to wear the wrong slippers into or out of the toilet area.

At the table, serious errors include touching food in a communal dish with your chopsticks but then not taking it. Shoveling food directly from bowl to mouth is also considered to be bad manners, however it is alright to bring up a bowl or plate to your mout to make eating with chopsticks easier. you should never stand your schopsticks upright in rice (to do with rituals for the dead)

Emissions from the body (includes blowing your nose, coughing) are considered rude, especially during a meal, but anything drawn inward is fine (for example sniffing).


All older people are treated with respect in Japan. The word sensei (teacher) is used for all elders and experts.

Different vocabulary is used when speaking to someone with a higher social status. This often consists of longer verb endings, the longer the ending, the more polite.


The traditional Japanese greating is a short bow, it's depth reflecting the social status of the ones bowing (a employee will bow lower than the employer). This greating is widely used, students also bow to their teacher before and after classes. Foreigners, however rarely need to bow, a handshake will do.

In departement stores, restaurants, hotels and elevators, a bow is often part of the service and can be ignored or answered with a brief smile or a short nod.

Body Language

Body language in Japan is not as sensitive an issue as in most Asian countries. however it is considered rude to point your feet at people as well as talking loudly and gesticulating wildly.

When eating in a restaurant or at a house, try to avoid stretching your lets if sitting on the floor. Japanese usually in the sieza positing, sitting on their knees with the feet crossed at the back. Men may also sit cross-legged while women should tuck their feet to one side.

Shrines and Temples

The atmosphere in temples and shrines is casual. you should show respect and not be noisy but other than that there are only a few other things you shouldn't do (mostly very obvious ones)

If you enter a building in a temple or shrine, except those with stone floors, take off your shoes before entering. You can either leave your shoes at the entrance or take them with you.

Some temples allow photographs, others don't while shrines usually allow you to take picture. The best way to be sure is by asking someone at the temple/shrine.

Meeting Japanese people

Visitors are met with warm hospitality, however, you will encounter curiosity (especially blondes and black people) and occasional, mostly unintended rudeness.

However, no matter how warm the welcome, because of the "them-and-us" mentality, you will always remain an outsider and considered different.

Anyone who shows sensitivity to Japanese culture or speaks Japanese will be accepted to some extent but even they cannot truly belong.

When complaining about poor service or having an argument, you should speak quietly and politly, not loudly.

Exect to be asked to pose for photographs or pratice English wherever you go in Japan.


Anonymous said...

our ickle scientist johannes. a social documentary on a blog. :D my hero. anyways, enjoy ur stay, eat sushi and have more rolls. btw, dont work too much when you get back. i already look bad enough.


Johannes said...

haha lol thanks man.. i was a bit bored at the time ;)

Anonymous said...

das ist eine so schoene Lektuere, du solltest ueberlegen, ob du diese kulturellen Eindruecke nicht in ein mit Anekdoten gespickten Guide fuer Teenies/Tweenies verarbeiten kannst....