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A Basic Guide on Japanese Etiquette and Manners

Updated: Jun 17

Japan etiquette

Introduction


In Japan, there's a saying, "郷に入っては郷に従え," which translates to "When in Rome, do as the Romans do." This expression emphasizes the importance of respecting and adapting to the customs and traditions of the country you're in, and this holds true for Japan as well. Whether you're here for business or personal reasons, understanding and practicing local etiquette is crucial.


While Japan shares some basic manners with countries like the US and UK—such as polite language and appropriate dress—there are also many unique social etiquettes specific to Japan. Similarly, there are customs in Japan that might be unfamiliar to those from other countries. To navigate life and work smoothly in Japan, it's essential to learn and practice these local etiquettes.


That said, mastering Japanese manners and etiquette might seem daunting. Even those born and raised in Japan often struggle to be perfect. So, we recommend taking your time to read this guide thoroughly and learn gradually. Instead of striving for perfection, focus on acting with respect towards others. This is the most important aspect of Japanese etiquette. By using this guide, you can deepen your understanding of Japanese manners and enjoy your time living and working here.


In this Japanese etiquette guide, we'll break down etiquette and manners into different scenarios: business, personal life, and ceremonial events like weddings and funerals. This way, you can get a detailed understanding of what is expected in each context.



Japanese Etiquette: Basic Principles


Respect for Others

The foundation of Japanese etiquette is respect for others. How to be polite in Japan involves your language, attitude, and actions.

  1. Using Polite Language

    1. When addressing superiors or customers, use polite and honorific language (keigo). Even with close friends and family, maintaining a respectful tone is important.

    2. Recommended books and websites for learning about using polite language:

      1. 敬語の使い方が面白いほど身につく本 ―――あなたの評価を下げている原因は「過剰」「マニュアル」「繰り返し」 (ビジネスベーシック「超解」シリーズ) Kindle版

      2. 外国人就職活動&ビジネス場面で使う敬語表現

      3. 【外国人留学生】敬語の使い方/メール・電話のマナーを解説

  2. Modest Attitude

    1. Avoid imposing your opinions on others or boasting about yourself. It's essential to respect the perspectives and feelings of others.

  3. Considerate Behavior

    1. Be mindful of those around you and avoid actions that may inconvenience others.


Duty, Compassion, and Gratitude

In Japanese business culture, the concepts of duty (giri), compassion (ninjo), and gratitude (ongaeshi) are fundamental. These principles deeply influence business etiquette.

  1. Duty (Giri)

    1. Duty refers to the moral obligations and responsibilities one must fulfill in relationships. In business, this means keeping promises and building trust with clients and colleagues.

  2. Compassion (Ninjo)

    1. Compassion involves the empathy and thoughtfulness that arise in interpersonal relationships. Caring for others' feelings and fostering warm relationships is a cornerstone of Japanese etiquette.

  3. Gratitude (Ongaeshi)

    1. Gratitude means remembering and repaying the kindness received from others. In business, it's crucial to appreciate the help and kindness extended by others and to reciprocate in some way.


Punctuality

Punctuality is highly valued in Japan.

  1. Being late is strictly unacceptable, so you should always allow extra time for travel and preparation.

  2. If you anticipate being late, contact the concerned parties as soon as possible to inform them.


Cleanliness

Cleanliness is extremely important in Japan.

  1. Ensure that your clothing is always clean and well-maintained.

  2. Keep public spaces tidy and clean.


Wabi-Sabi

The Japanese have a unique aesthetic sense known as "wabi-sabi."

  1. Wabi-sabi appreciates simple and quiet beauty. In business settings, this means avoiding excessive extravagance and maintaining a modest and sincere demeanor.

  2. The spirit of wabi-sabi emphasizes simplicity and inner fulfillment, profoundly influencing overall etiquette and business manners in Japan.


Silence

Japanese culture highly values silence.

  1. In public places, it is important to keep noise to a minimum.

  2. During meetings and in the office, be mindful to avoid unnecessary noise.



Basic Guide to Japanese Etiquette: Business Scene

In Japanese business settings, etiquette and manners are highly regarded. Learning Japanese manners for business can help you navigate business relationships smoothly and build trust.


How to Greet in Japan
  1. Bowing (Ojigi)

    1. Bowing is one of the most fundamental manners in Japanese business settings. Correct bowing techniques in Japan include the following:

    2. Light Bow

      1. Angle: About 15 degrees

      2. Usage: For casual greetings or expressing light gratitude.

      3. Example: Greeting someone in the hallway.

    3. Normal Bow

      1. Angle: About 30 degrees

      2. Usage: For basic greetings in business settings.

      3. Example: Greeting someone you meet for the first time or a superior.

    4. Deep Bow

      1. Angle: About 45 degrees

      2. Usage: For formal occasions or when apologizing.

      3. Example: At the beginning of a meeting with an important client or when apologizing.

  2. Verbal Greetings

    1. Verbal greetings are also important. Use more polite language than in private settings.

Exchanging Business Cards

Exchanging business cards is a highly important ritual in Japanese business culture. Japanese business card etiquette requires the following step:

  1. Preparing Your Business Cards

    1. Always carry business cards with you and keep them easily accessible.

    2. Store your business cards in a card holder to prevent them from getting dirty or bent.

  2. Presenting Your Business Card

    1. Hold your business card with both hands, ensuring that your name and company logo are facing the recipient.

    2. As you present the card, say a greeting such as "よろしくお願いします" (Yoroshiku onegaishimasu).

  3. Receiving a Business Card

    1. Accept the business card with both hands and handle it carefully.

    2. Take a moment to look at the card and verify the name and title.

    3. Place the card in your card holder after a brief moment, or keep it on hand for a while to show respect.

Seating Etiquette in Meetings and Meals
  1. High and Low Seats

    1. In Japanese business settings, seating arrangements are very important. The seating order is generally determined as follows:

      1. High Seat (Kamiza): Located at the back of the room or with the best view. This is reserved for senior members or guests.

      2. Low Seat (Shimoza): Located near the entrance. This is where subordinates or the host sit.

    2. During meetings or meals, it is courteous to guide senior members or guests to the high seat.

  2. Entering and Exiting Taxis or Cars

    1. Seating etiquette also applies to getting in and out of taxis or cars:

      1. Best Seat (Kamiza): The seat directly behind the driver. This is for senior members or guests.

      2. Lowest Seat (Shimoza): The front passenger seat. This is considered the lowest rank.

  3. Always prioritize guiding senior members or guests to the high seat, and take the low seat yourself.


Telephone Etiquette
  1. Making and Receiving Calls

    1. Proper etiquette for making and receiving phone calls is crucial in business settings.

    2. Introduce Yourself: When making a call, start by stating your name and company.

    3. Use Polite Language: Use honorific language (keigo) and speak politely.

    4. Take Notes: Record important details to ensure you can review them later.

  2. Ringtone Settings

    1. In public places or during meetings, it is important to set your phone to silent mode or vibration mode to avoid disturbing others.


Gift-Giving Etiquette

Gift-giving involves careful consideration. Gift-giving manners in Japan include some key points:

  1. Wrapping

    1. Ensure the gift is neatly wrapped and presented. Pay attention to the wrapping paper and ribbon to make it look appealing.

  2. Handing Over

    1. Hold the gift with both hands and present it to the recipient. As you do so, say "どうぞ" (Douzo), meaning "Please."

  3. Reciprocation

    1. When receiving a gift, it is customary to give a return gift. Aim to do this promptly, preferably with something of equal or greater value.



Basic Guide to Japanese Etiquette: Private Scene

In daily life, various etiquettes and manners are essential. Understanding and practicing these can help you harmonize with the local community and lead a comfortable life. This section provides a detailed explanation of basic etiquette in private settings.


Table Manners

In Japan, table manners are highly valued. Here are some representative examples of Japanese table manners to know:

  1. Using Chopsticks

    1. Holding Chopsticks: Use the correct way to hold chopsticks.

      1. Ref: お箸の正しい持ち方と基本動作 - はし和文化研究会

    2. Sashi-Bashi: Avoid stabbing food with chopsticks; it is considered bad manners.

    3. Watashi-Bashi: Do not pass food directly from chopstick to chopstick, as this resembles a funeral ritual.

  2. Manners During Meals

    1. Itadakimasu: Before starting your meal, say "いただきます" (Itadakimasu) to express gratitude for the food.

    2. Gochisousama: After finishing your meal, say "ごちそうさまでした" (Gochisousama) to thank those who prepared the meal.

    3. Avoiding Noise: Try to eat quietly and avoid making noise while eating. However, slurping noodles is considered acceptable and even polite.

Behavior in Public Places
  1. On Trains and Buses

    1. Stay Quiet: Maintain silence on public transportation to avoid disturbing other passengers.

    2. Mobile Phones: Refrain from making phone calls. Use messaging and emails quietly.

    3. Priority Seating: Leave priority seats available for the elderly, pregnant women, and people with disabilities.

  2. Waste Disposal

    1. Sorting Waste: Separate your trash and dispose of it in the designated areas. It's important to distinguish between recyclable and non-recyclable items. Sorting rules may vary by municipality, so check the local guidelines on your city’s website.

      1. Ref: 渋谷区 資源とごみの分け方・出し方(英語版)

    2. No Littering: Littering in public places is strictly prohibited.

  3. Escalators

    1. Standing Position: In Kanto (e.g., Tokyo), stand on the left side of the escalator and leave the right side open for people who wish to walk. In Kansai (e.g., Osaka), stand on the right side and leave the left side open.


Handling Shoes
  1. Removing Shoes at the Entrance

    1. When entering a house or many facilities, remove your shoes at the entrance. Step onto the entry mat to remove your shoes and neatly arrange them with the toes pointing towards the door.

  2. Using Slippers

    1. If indoor slippers are provided, use them while inside. When entering a tatami room, remove your slippers as well.


Manners in Crowded Places
  1. Lining Up

    1. Train Platforms: When waiting for a train, stand in line along the designated lines marked on the platform.

    2. Checkout Counters: At supermarkets or convenience stores, respect others' turns and wait in line patiently.

  2. Personal Space

    1. Personal space is highly valued in Japan. Even in crowded areas, try to maintain as much distance as possible from others.


Paying at Restaurants
  1. Payment

    1. When dining with a group, if you plan to split the bill, do so smoothly. It’s best to decide on the payment method in advance to avoid loud discussions at the table.

  2. Tipping Culture

    1. Tipping is generally not practiced in Japan. There is no need to leave a tip as good service is already included in the price.



Etiquette Guide: Ceremonial Occasions


Weddings
  1. Attire

    1. Men: A formal suit is standard. Choose a black or navy tie.

    2. Women: Wear a formal or semi-formal dress. Avoid revealing clothing and flashy accessories.

  2. Monetary Gifts (Goshugi)

    1. New Bills: Prepare the monetary gift with new bills.

    2. Goshugi Envelope: Write the names of the bride and groom and the amount of the gift on the envelope.

    3. Presentation: Hold the goshugi envelope with both hands and present it politely.

  3. Manners

    1. Punctuality: Do not be late. Plan to arrive at the venue with plenty of time to spare.

    2. Mobile Phones: Set your phone to silent mode and remain quiet.

    3. Photography: Follow instructions for taking photos.

    4. Greetings: Keep greetings to the bride, groom, and their families brief and polite.

    5. After Party (Nijikai): If attending, ensure you arrive on time for the start of the second party.


 Funerals
  1. Attire

    1. Men: Wear a black suit with a black tie.

    2. Women: Wear formal black clothing. Keep accessories minimal.

  2. Condolence Money (Koden)

    1. New Bills: Use new bills for the condolence money.

    2. Koden Envelope: Write the name of the deceased and the amount on the envelope.

    3. Presentation: Hold the koden envelope with both hands and present it respectfully.

  3. Manners

    1. Punctuality: Being late is strictly unacceptable. Allow plenty of time to reach the venue.

    2. Mobile Phones: Turn off your phone or set it to silent mode.

    3. Behavior: Keep conversations and laughter to a minimum.

    4. Attire Condition: Ensure mourning clothes are wrinkle-free and clean.

    5. Footwear: Wear black shoes that do not make noise.


Memorial Services (Hōji)
  1. Attire

    1. Men: Wear a black suit with a black tie.

    2. Women: Wear formal black clothing. Keep accessories minimal.

  2. Manners

    1. Punctuality: Do not be late. Plan to arrive at the venue with plenty of time to spare.

    2. Mobile Phones: Turn off your phone or set it to silent mode.

    3. Behavior: Keep conversations and laughter to a minimum.

    4. Greetings: Keep greetings to the monks and the bereaved family brief and respectful.

General Principles
  1. Respect for Others: In any setting, always remember to treat others with respect.

  2. Variations in Customs: Manners may vary depending on the region or religious sect. It’s advisable to confirm specific practices beforehand.

  3. Seek Guidance: If unsure about proper etiquette, check in advance or ask those around you for guidance.



Conclusion


In this article, we've explained the manners and etiquette in Japan. The etiquette and manners we discussed here are just the basics, and there might be unique customs required in different situations that could be confusing. In such cases, as mentioned in "Japanese Etiquette: Basic Principles," remember that the fundamental principle of Japanese etiquette is respect for others. Even if your actions aren't perfectly aligned with the local customs, as long as you act with respect towards others, you'll likely avoid major missteps. To help smooth your interactions, we encourage you to practice the etiquette and manners outlined in this guide. If you come across any other unique Japanese customs that pique your interest, feel free to share them on the Jelper Club feed. Other Jelper Club members will be happy to provide background information and insights.



At Jelper Club, we're here to support you every step of the way for your career development in Japan. Our platform connects ambitious students from top universities worldwide with exclusive internship and full-time job opportunities in Japan with a variety of Japanese proficiency requirements. We also provide access to practical information, member-only events, and a professional community of like-minded individuals.

 

If you're ready to embark on your own Japanese adventure, visit Jelper Club today and discover how we can help you unlock your potential in Japan.




(Editor: Jelper Club Editorial Team)




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