two Geisha on kneeling brown floor
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Have you ever wondered what it would be like to travel to Japan? The beautiful landscapes, the delicious food, and the rich cultural traditions make it a fascinating destination. But before you pack your bags and head off, it’s important to understand the cultural etiquettes of Japan to ensure you have a respectful and enjoyable experience. In this article, we’ll delve into the dos and don’ts of traveling in Japan, from dining etiquette to bowing, so you can navigate this amazing country with ease and confidence.

Cultural Etiquettes in Japan
Photo by wang xi on Unsplash

When it comes to cultural etiquettes in Japan, there are a few key aspects to keep in mind. First and foremost is respect. Japanese culture places a strong emphasis on showing respect to others, especially to elders and those in positions of authority. You’ll frequently encounter situations where bowing is expected, such as when greeting someone or expressing gratitude. It’s also important to remember to remove your shoes when entering homes, temples, and certain restaurants. By understanding and following these cultural customs, you’ll not only show respect, but also gain a deeper appreciation for Japanese culture. In the rest of this article, we’ll explore more etiquettes and customs to ensure your trip to Japan is smooth and memorable. So, let’s dive in and discover the fascinating world of Japanese cultural etiquettes!

Culture Immersion Is Important

When traveling to a foreign country, it is important to understand and respect the cultural etiquettes of the local people. Japan, with its rich history and unique customs, has a set of etiquettes that visitors should be aware of to ensure a smooth and enjoyable experience. From bowing as a greeting to respecting personal space, this article will guide you through the cultural etiquettes in Japan.

Cultural Etiquettes in Japan

Bowing as a Greeting

Bowing is an essential part of Japanese culture and is used to greet others, show gratitude, apologize, and express respect. It is important to understand the different types of bows and when they should be used. A slight nod of the head is usually sufficient for casual greetings, while deeper bows are reserved for more formal situations or when showing respect to someone of higher status. Make sure to return the bow if someone bows to you.

Removing Shoes

In Japan, it is customary to remove your shoes before entering someone’s home, traditional Japanese inns (ryokans), temples, and certain restaurants. Look for a designated area or shoe rack where you can place your shoes, and remember to step out of your footwear when visiting these places. It is also advisable to wear clean socks or bring your own slippers if required.

Using Chopsticks

Chopsticks are widely used in Japan and mastering their proper use is considered a respectful gesture. When using chopsticks, make sure to hold them towards the bottom, rather than in the middle or near the top. Avoid using chopsticks to pass food directly from your chopsticks to someone else’s, as this is considered impolite. Additionally, do not stick your chopsticks vertically into a bowl of rice, as it resembles a funeral ritual.

Respecting Personal Space

In Japan, people value personal space and it is important to be mindful of this. Try to maintain a respectable distance from others, especially when in crowded areas. Avoid touching or hugging people you do not know well, as physical contact is generally less common in Japanese culture. By respecting personal space, you will demonstrate your understanding and appreciation of Japanese customs.

Communication Etiquettes

Speaking Softly

When conversing in Japan, it is considered polite to speak softly and avoid raising your voice unnecessarily. Speaking softly shows respect for others and promotes a calm and harmonious atmosphere. You may notice that many Japanese people speak quietly in public places, even when talking on their mobile phones. Following this etiquette will help you blend in and be seen as considerate.

Using Honorific Language

Japanese language includes honorifics, which are used to show respect towards others. When addressing someone who is older or of higher social status, it is customary to add a honorific suffix to their name, such as “san” or “sama.” Avoid using first names unless explicitly given permission to do so, and use appropriate titles when addressing people, especially in formal or professional settings.

Avoiding Direct Confrontation

In Japanese culture, confrontation is generally avoided and it is important to maintain harmony in social interactions. Instead of outright disagreeing or contradicting someone, it is more customary to use indirect language or subtle hints to express your point of view. By adopting this etiquette, you will show respect for others’ opinions and contribute to a peaceful and non-confrontational environment.

Exchanging Business Cards

When conducting business in Japan, the exchange of business cards is a common practice. Present your business card with both hands, making sure the writing is facing the recipient. Receive a business card with both hands as well, and take a moment to examine it before carefully placing it in a card holder or a respectful location. Treating business cards with care demonstrates your professionalism and respect for the other person.

Etiquettes in Public Places

Using Public Transportation

Japan is known for its efficient and punctual public transportation system. When using buses, trains, or subways, it is important to queue in an orderly manner, allowing others to exit before boarding. Keep your voice low and avoid talking on your phone in crowded areas. Offer your seat to those in need, such as elderly or pregnant individuals. By following these etiquettes, you will contribute to a pleasant commuting experience for everyone.

Observing Queueing Etiquette

Japanese people take queueing seriously, and it is important to respect this practice. Whether it is lining up for a ticket counter, a popular restaurant, or even at a convenience store, make sure to form a neat and organized line. Avoid cutting in line or rushing ahead. Patience and courtesy are highly valued in Japanese society, and adhering to queueing etiquettes will show your respect for others.

Properly Using Public Toilets

In Japan, public toilets often come equipped with high-tech features such as bidet functions and heated seats. Take your time to understand the various buttons and settings. Remember to always flush after use and keep the toilet clean for the next person. Additionally, many public toilets provide slippers to wear while inside the restroom, so make sure to change into them before entering and change back into your regular shoes afterwards.

Not Talking Loudly

Japanese people generally speak softly in public places, and it is considered impolite to speak loudly or make disruptive noises. Whether you are in a restaurant, a museum, or even on public transportation, try to keep your voice low and avoid being a disturbance to others. By being mindful of your volume, you will contribute to a harmonious and considerate environment.

Dining Etiquettes

Saying ‘Itadakimasu’ before Eating

Before starting a meal in Japan, it is customary to say “itadakimasu,” which translates to “I humbly receive.” This phrase expresses gratitude for the food and the effort put into preparing it. Remember to say it before you start eating as a sign of appreciation for the meal. After finishing, it is polite to say “gochisousama deshita,” which means “thank you for the meal.”

Using Chopsticks Properly

Using chopsticks properly is an important skill to have when dining in Japan. Hold the chopsticks towards the end, and avoid crossing them or pointing them towards others. It is considered impolite to spear food with chopsticks or use them to gesture while speaking. Take your time to practice and master the correct technique, as it is seen as a sign of respect for Japanese culture.

Not Sticking Chopsticks Vertically in Rice

In Japan, sticking chopsticks vertically in a bowl of rice resembles a funeral ritual and is seen as highly disrespectful. When you are not using your chopsticks, rest them on a chopstick holder or on the edge of your plate. This simple gesture shows your understanding and respect for Japanese customs and beliefs.

Not Slurping Soup

Contrary to many Western cultures, slurping soup in Japan is not impolite. In fact, it is considered a way to show appreciation for the delicious flavors. However, make sure to slurp quietly and avoid making excessive noise. Following this etiquette will help you immerse yourself in the Japanese dining experience and avoid any unintended offense.

Gift-Giving Etiquette

Using Both Hands when Receiving Gifts

When receiving a gift, it is polite to accept it with both hands. This shows respect and appreciation towards the giver. Take a moment to show genuine gratitude and avoid opening the gift immediately in front of them. Instead, it is customary to wait until you are alone before opening the gift.

Avoiding White Wrapping Paper

In Japanese culture, white is associated with funerals and mourning. Therefore, it is best to avoid wrapping gifts in white paper. Instead, choose colorful or patterned wrapping paper, as it adds cheerfulness to the occasion. By being mindful of the color of the wrapping paper, you will demonstrate your understanding and respect for Japanese customs.

Not Opening Gifts Immediately

When you give someone a gift in Japan, they may not open it immediately in your presence. This is not a sign of disrespect, but rather a cultural norm. Wait patiently for the recipient to open the gift in their own time. By not rushing or expecting an immediate reaction, you show consideration and respect for their personal preferences.

Giving and Receiving Business Gifts

When conducting business in Japan, it is common to exchange gifts as a gesture of goodwill. When presenting a gift, use both hands and offer it with a slight bow. The recipient will likely reciprocate the gesture, so be prepared to receive a gift in return. It is important to express gratitude and carefully consider the appropriateness of the gift, taking into account the recipient’s position and the nature of the business relationship.

Respecting Temples and Shrines

Proper Attire

When visiting temples and shrines in Japan, it is important to dress appropriately out of respect for the sacredness of these places. Avoid wearing revealing or offensive clothing, such as shorts, tank tops, or mini-skirts. Instead, opt for modest attire that covers shoulders and knees. Some temples may also require visitors to remove their hats or cover their tattoos, so be mindful of any specific rules or guidelines.

Entering and Exiting Rituals

When entering a temple or shrine, it is customary to bow slightly towards the altar as a sign of respect. If there is a purification trough or fountain at the entrance, take a small ladle, fill it with water, and rinse your hands and mouth before proceeding. When exiting, follow the same procedures and bow once again as a sign of gratitude for the visit.

Not Touching Sacred Objects

In temples and shrines, you may come across various sacred objects and sculptures. It is important to refrain from touching or disturbing them, as they hold religious significance. Take a moment to admire these objects from a respectful distance and avoid any actions that may be seen as disrespectful or intrusive.

Respecting Prayer Areas

Temples and shrines often have designated areas for prayer and meditation. These spaces should be treated with reverence and kept quiet. Avoid talking loudly, making unnecessary noise, or taking photographs in these areas. By respecting the sacredness of these spaces, you show your understanding and appreciation of the spiritual importance they hold.

Etiquettes in Traditional Onsen

Showering before Entering

Before entering an onsen (traditional Japanese hot spring), it is proper etiquette to thoroughly wash and rinse your body. Most onsen facilities provide showering areas with stools, buckets, and showerheads. Use the provided soap and shampoo, and make sure to rinse off all the soap before stepping into the hot spring. This practice ensures the cleanliness and hygiene of the onsen for all visitors.

Using Small Towel for Privacy

When entering an onsen, it is common to bring a small towel with you. This towel should not be submerged in the hot spring, but rather used for covering your private parts while walking around or sitting. Avoid using the towel to wipe your face or body inside the onsen, as it should remain clean for wrapping up after your bath.

Not Wearing Swimwear

In traditional onsen, swimwear is not permitted. Both men and women bathe nude in separate gender-segregated areas. This may be unfamiliar to some visitors, but it is important to respect this cultural practice. By embracing the tradition and following the norms, you can fully enjoy the therapeutic and relaxing experience of the onsen.

Respecting Quietness

Onsen are places of tranquility and relaxation, and it is important to maintain a quiet and peaceful atmosphere. Avoid talking loudly or making unnecessary noise that may disturb others. Use a low tone of voice when necessary and enjoy the serenity of the surroundings. By respecting the quietness of the onsen, you contribute to the overall ambiance and allow others to fully enjoy the experience.

Business Etiquettes


In Japanese business culture, punctuality is highly valued. Arrive on time for meetings and appointments to show respect for other people’s time. Plan your schedule accordingly to account for potential delays and consider arriving a few minutes early. Being punctual demonstrates your professionalism and dedication.

Respecting Hierarchy

Japanese businesses often have a hierarchical structure, and it is important to show respect to those in higher positions. Use appropriate titles and honorifics when addressing superiors, and avoid interrupting or contradicting them in public. Make an effort to understand the hierarchy within the organization and adapt your behavior accordingly.

Preparing Business Cards

Business cards play a significant role in Japanese business culture. Make sure to carry a sufficient number of business cards with you and present them with both hands when exchanging. Take a moment to carefully examine the card you receive and show genuine interest. Place the received cards in a designated card case or sleeve, rather than casually slipping them into your pocket.

Not Slouching during Meetings

Maintaining good posture and showing attentiveness are important aspects of Japanese business etiquette. Avoid slouching, crossing your legs, or appearing disinterested during meetings. Instead, sit upright and engage actively in the discussion. By demonstrating your professionalism and respect, you will make a positive impression on your Japanese counterparts.

Etiquettes during Festivals

Following Dress Codes

When attending festivals in Japan, it is common to see people dressed in traditional attire. If there is a specific dress code mentioned for the event, make sure to adhere to it. Even if there is no dress code specified, it is still recommended to dress modestly and respectfully. By blending in with the crowd, you will fully embrace the festive spirit and show your appreciation for Japanese culture.

Participating in Rituals

Festivals often feature various rituals and ceremonies. If you are invited to participate, consider it a privilege and show respect for the customs involved. Observe and learn from others before joining in, as some rituals may have specific gestures or chants. By actively engaging in the festivities, you will create memorable experiences and gain insights into Japanese traditions.

Respecting Religious Customs

Many festivals in Japan have religious origins and it is important to respect the customs and beliefs associated with them. Avoid any disrespectful behavior that may offend the religious sentiments of others. Refrain from taking photos without permission, and be mindful of designated areas that may be considered sacred.

Not Taking Photos without Permission

While capturing memories of festivals is a wonderful way to commemorate your experience, it is important to be mindful of where and when you take photos. Some festivals may have specific rules regarding photography, especially in areas where religious rituals are being conducted. Always ask for permission before taking photos of individuals and respect their privacy. By being considerate, you can enjoy the festivities while maintaining respect for those involved.


Traveling in Japan offers a unique opportunity to immerse yourself in a rich and fascinating culture. By understanding and respecting the cultural etiquettes, you can navigate through the country with ease and make meaningful connections with the locals. Whether it is bowing as a greeting, using chopsticks correctly, or respecting personal space, embracing these etiquettes will enhance your travel experience and leave a lasting impression. So, pack your bags, take along this guide, and embark on a memorable journey through the beautiful land of Japan.