The Lies (and Truths) About Manners in Japan

Japan is full of kind, helpful, and loving people – but if you dare to eat while walking or you forget to really slurp your noodles, then you shall be hated by the entire nation and will be forbidden from ever entering the country again.

Or at least, this is what most of the internet would have you believe. In reality, the old woman who pointed you to your hotel won’t suddenly look at you with the scorn of god if you don’t reply in keigo-level politeness. Here are a few things to be mindful of – but that you don’t need to worry about too much.

Tabearuki (walking while eating)

Walking and eating is generally considered to be bad manners. Recently, it has even been in the news as busy streets like Kamakura had forbidden the act. Obviously, walking down an incredibly busy street with all your hands full of food isn’t a good idea, anyway. Neither is dropping crumbs all over shop displays. In reality, however, it’s not uncommon to see people eating and walking, and if you don’t cause a mess or get in other people’s way, you should be fine eating and walking with your chocolate bar or whatever.

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Slurping Noodles

Slurping or not slurping your noodles – do whichever comes most naturally. You don’t have to force yourself to do one or the other. Neither is it a complement to the chef – but excessively loud slurping will even annoy the typical Japanese person.

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Incorrect use of Chopsticks

While there are social etiquettes on how to use chopsticks, as a foreigner, incorrectly using them won’t give anyone a heart attack. Sure, stabbing the top of a bowl of rice with chopsticks so they stand vertically may resemble a funeral-related tradition, but why would you stab your food?

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Trains and Phones

Talking on the phone will on the train is bad manners and will get you some strange looks. Generally, it’s good to be fairly quiet on the train. Eating and making calls is generally a bad idea, but if it’s an extremely important call – you can try to quietly take it.

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Not offending people in Japan isn’t as hard as many say it is. As a foreigner, most of your ‘mistakes’ will be forgiven. And when it really comes down to it, most people in Japan are just getting on with their own busy life and don’t really care that much about what you’re doing. As long as you are respectful and typically good-mannered, there isn’t much you need to worry about – so relax and enjoy your holiday.

However…

Unfortunately, it’s not the people who worry about manners to the point of researching it before they go who are typically the ones who need to worry about their manners. If you do any of the following, you should maybe try be a little bit more careful when you’re in Japan.

  • Talk to the person standing next to you like they’re on the other side of a football pitch.
  • Litter, make a mess, or don’t tidy up after yourself.
  • Cause a ruckus, make a scene, shout, drink too much.
  • Smoke in non-smoking areas.
  • Ride bicycles in areas where riding bicycles isn’t allowed.
  • Not following rules such as correct rubbish disposal.
  • Playing music in public or using earphones that excessively ‘leak’ sound.

The list goes on. It’s not really anything to do with Japan, but it’s just common sense when out in public (no matter where you are). So, be mindful and respectful around others and you should be fine in Japan.

…That is, unless you forget to take your shoes off.