Traveling to Japan – Manners

Traveling to Japan – Manners

japanese-bowing-etiquetteManners in Japan

I can’t stress this enough…manners. You don’t have them. I assure you! Go look at yourself in the mirror and say this;

“I am an American and I don’t have any clue what manners are!”

Now that we have established that you don’t have any manners you will need to find some on the flight over. Everything can be fixed.  I am going to be honest with you and tell you that in Japan you will do something that is 100% stupid and you will not know it until about 3 minutes after you have done it. You may hear the word “BAKA” and at that point you will know they have called you a “FOOL”. This is going to happen. You will not be able to stop it. You will walk into a place you are not supposed to be, leave your shoes on in a place where you are not supposed to have them or just talk to loudly on the train.


(武士道) literally meaning “the way of the warrior”, is a Japanese word for the way of the samurai life, loosely analogous to the concept of chivalry in Europe. Just as the knights in Europe the samurai had a code to live by that was also based in a moral way of life.

Bushido is still very much apart of every persons day in Japan. It’s normal. To the outsider this can be hidden unless you look for it. From the way they arrange things in stores, eating, and how they move around the city. it’s all Bushido.

Japanese people are very polite to each other even people they have known for a very long time. They clean up after themselves and are very conscience of each other and everyone around them.  They expect you to do the same. They also know you are an American and you are known to be loud and walk around like you own the place…it’s OK just try to break that mold.

You know absolutely no one in Japan and even if you do act like you don’t know them until you have greeted each other and formalities are out of the way.

The Japanese are a very quiet people. They are very orderly and soft spoken unless their job calls for it. It’s important to learn to walk  and move around a store, train station, or the streets without being a bull in a china shop. Always make a little (too much is rude) eye contact and bow. Even a slight head nod will do in most cases. These are very simple things. Learn the few phrases that can help you greet people and use them. Even using them wrong is OK.

Next if you don’t have anything to say that is constructive to a Japanese person , even friends, sit quietly and listen. The more you listen and the more you interact when asked to interact. This will allow you to create a positive vibe and consideration they will offer you when you do mess up. They expect you to listen to them and you don’t have to say anything. Just shake your head and say “UMMMM” with your mouth closed. You will pick this up very quickly.

Always bow and hold your head down just a little when seeing someone for the first time. Its like giving someone a “hello” when you meet them.

While you may know very little Japanese there are people in Japan who do speak English. They know it rather well and many times will not tell you they know it in order to keep some distance from you the big American. So like I have said before… listen. Open your eyes and look and if everyone in a room is quiet then you should also sit there quietly. Don’t think that quiet is your queue top start running your mouth. I saw this a lot from who think that quiet is a bad thing and it’s time to make as much noise as possible or be sarcastic.

Sarcasm is indeed lost in translation and very difficult for some Japanese to understand. Do not use sarcasm as it can be misunderstood as insulting behavior. It’s not that they are incapable rather it’s not something the deal in so it’s just not acceptable…again….manners and quiet will help here.

Keep the question simple and direct without using too many confusing words. The better you communicate with them they more they will bend over backwards to communicate with you.

I really wish I could explain this to every person visiting Japan. Yes Japan can be noisy and yes the Japanese are just people but you are a guest in a very large country with tons of traditions and they still show respect for each other no matter what. Unlike Americans they show each other respect first and always.

After you learn to listen then you will need to learn to speak directly and clearly not wasting any energy with lazy speak or useless words. Be efficient with your words and conversations. It will take you very far and people will be willing to listen to your poor Japanese or even might try speaking to you in English if you are lucky.

Google Translate

There is an app from Google that can help you in Japan but it’s not the end all be all of translation apps. Sadly it does not know grammar. So it will translate what you need to Japanese but will not put it in the right sentence structure. It can however help you get your idea across when you need to by using context.

There is also a new app called iTranslate Voice which does a really good job of translating from each language.

Now that we have covered this I can explain who I act in Japan. I am 5’11” tall. I have wide shoulders and am not small. I try to move around Japan quietly. I try to make myself as small as I can. I do a lot of watching and mimicking behavior when I am not familiar with the way to do things. There are times you will have no clue what to do and I run into that a lot. I will watch and see if I can figure it out and if not I just apologize and hope for the best.

Hope this helps a little…and good luck!

Next – Exchanging Money

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