Author Topic: Etiquette for a tourist in Japan  (Read 5264 times)

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Adelaide

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Etiquette for a tourist in Japan
« on: October 05, 2012, 11:25:13 AM »
(If this needs to be moved I apologize.)

I have been invited by a college friend to stay with her family in the city of Hiroshima for a week. My friend is an only child and lives with her mother and father. After skimming some internet articles on Japanese etiquette I'm feeling a little overwhelmed. Of course I'll ask my friend what I should/shouldn't do, but she's very shy and doesn't like to correct people, so I'm afraid she won't tell me to correct my behavior/speech every time I need to.

If anyone could give me some advice on the "bare bones" of Japanese etiquette that I absolutely should follow I would be grateful. Also, if you know of any up-to-date websites that have modern Japanese etiquette I would definitely look over those. I'm afraid of going over them on my own, because I know some of these rules are archaic, especially for the younger generation. (Around my friend's parents, I'm not so sure. They're both in their 40's.) I'm not worried about offending my friend, who isn't shocked by anything, but I am worried about offending her parents. I'd like to make a good impression, or at least not an offensive one.

Amalthea

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Re: Etiquette for a tourist in Japan
« Reply #1 on: October 05, 2012, 11:31:38 AM »
Don't worry too much.  As long as you make an effort, you'll be fine, so don't worry about making mistakes.

How much do you know about Japan, and do you speak any Japanese?  It'll be easier to give advice knowing that.

Alpacas

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Re: Etiquette for a tourist in Japan
« Reply #2 on: October 05, 2012, 11:42:00 AM »
I do know a few Japanese colleagues but as they live here in my country, i do not know if they "changed" anything in their ettiquett.
I'd recommend reading the Wikipedia article on the etiquette in japan to get an idea of what to do and what not to do.
I think most of the time the effort is already appreciated. So even if you do make mistakes ettiquetwise, they probably can tell that you try to follow their ettiquet rules.

NyaChan

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Re: Etiquette for a tourist in Japan
« Reply #3 on: October 05, 2012, 11:51:53 AM »
Adelaide, what's the language situation between you and your hosts?  I would plan on having a hostess/thank you gift for them.  I get how it can be confusing as there are so many things like slippers in the house, no slippers on tatami, diff. slippers for the bathroom, but I would just follow your friend's lead.  They will appreciate that you are trying even if you make a mistake - and if you do, just apologize, I'm sure they won't hold it against you!

Adelaide

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Re: Etiquette for a tourist in Japan
« Reply #4 on: October 05, 2012, 11:57:03 AM »
Don't worry too much.  As long as you make an effort, you'll be fine, so don't worry about making mistakes.

How much do you know about Japan, and do you speak any Japanese?  It'll be easier to give advice knowing that.

I don't know that much. I know that it's customary to bring a gift so you don't arrive empty-handed. But that's about it. Assume I'm starting from zero. Also, they don't speak English. I'm really auditory though so i feel like if I knew what key phrases to learn I could get by with those.

Amalthea

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Re: Etiquette for a tourist in Japan
« Reply #5 on: October 05, 2012, 12:03:52 PM »
First, important words:
Arigato gozaimasu is thank you.  Just say this a lot, and you'll be fine.
Sumimasen can be excuse me, thank you, or I'm sorry depending on the context.  It's a very useful word, so you should also say it a lot.
Gomen nasai is I'm sorry.
If you really want to be impressive, say "ojama shimasu" when you enter their house.  It pretty much means "I'm invading your house," but it's the normal thing said when you enter someone's house.

For a hostess gift, food is best.  Especially something from your hometown.  Take your shoes off in the entrance way, and if they have slippers for you, wear those inside.  If there's a tatami room, take the slippers off before you go in.

For meals, wait for everyone to say "itadakimasu" before you start eating.  Don't pour soy sauce on your rice, and don't stick your chopsticks straight up in the rice.  Watch everyone else and kinda copy what they do.  That's what I usually do at least.

Really, just say arigato gozaimasu and sumimasen over and over again, and it'll be fine.

ETA: I forgot wakarimasen. It means "I don't understand."
« Last Edit: October 05, 2012, 12:23:04 PM by Amalthea »

missanpan

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Re: Etiquette for a tourist in Japan
« Reply #6 on: October 05, 2012, 03:38:14 PM »
Just one thing about bringing a gift, make sure that it's not a set of 4 (i.e. a set of 4 coasters).  The number 4 is associated with death.

Firecat

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Re: Etiquette for a tourist in Japan
« Reply #7 on: October 05, 2012, 04:54:36 PM »
If I remember what I've read correctly, it's considered rude to say "no" directly in Japan. So people will say something like "next week" etc. if they really mean "no." It might be best to check with your friend if you run into that situation; she'll likely know what's really meant.

Calypso

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Re: Etiquette for a tourist in Japan
« Reply #8 on: October 05, 2012, 05:38:47 PM »
Amal and other Japan experts, there are two (sort of three) things I wonder about:

In some countries, it's rude to make direct eye contact with someone. Is this the case in Japan?

Is the polite amount of space you keep around yourself larger, smaller, or the same as in the U.S. (I'm guessing it's smaller, but I don't really know).

And quite O/T, but for people who've lived in Japan I have a third question: how should a big person handle themselves? My female coworker is  5'9" and weighs about 160, and she said she always felt too big for furniture, etc., when she was there. What about really really fat people, like me, or super tall people? Is there any way to not disrupt others? 

poundcake

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Re: Etiquette for a tourist in Japan
« Reply #9 on: October 05, 2012, 06:16:16 PM »
I found that Japanese people were always very kind and courteous, especially if you are kind and courteous as well. And I got a lot of milage out of "Sumimasen"!

Ms Aspasia

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Re: Etiquette for a tourist in Japan
« Reply #10 on: October 05, 2012, 06:21:16 PM »
Don't walk around eating snacks or a meal.  There will often be a small eating area near a food shop, such as a couple of chairs and a table; this is meant to be used.  Where there's none, I've seen people standing discretely at the side of the building.

Don't brush your hair or blow your nose in public.




Amalthea

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Re: Etiquette for a tourist in Japan
« Reply #11 on: October 05, 2012, 08:16:30 PM »
Amal and other Japan experts, there are two (sort of three) things I wonder about:

In some countries, it's rude to make direct eye contact with someone. Is this the case in Japan?

Is the polite amount of space you keep around yourself larger, smaller, or the same as in the U.S. (I'm guessing it's smaller, but I don't really know).

And quite O/T, but for people who've lived in Japan I have a third question: how should a big person handle themselves? My female coworker is  5'9" and weighs about 160, and she said she always felt too big for furniture, etc., when she was there. What about really really fat people, like me, or super tall people? Is there any way to not disrupt others?

I've heard direct eye contact is rude, but I've never really experienced it.  Really the only time I notice people not making eye contact with me is when I'm trying to get volunteers for an activity in class and the students think if they're not making eye contact, I can't see them.  I think that's a world wide thing though.

Personal space bubbles are usually about the same, except in really crowded areas like trains.  If you're packed like a sardine into the trains, you totally ignore all the people around you.

I'm pretty average height and weight, so I can't really answer your third question.  There's a variety of sizes in the English teachers in my city, but I've never noticed anyone doing anything differently due to size.

chibichan

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Re: Etiquette for a tourist in Japan
« Reply #12 on: October 05, 2012, 08:27:06 PM »
As Amalthea said , Sumimasen and Arigato Gozaimas will cover a lot of things . Here's a few more :

Stand to the left on escalators . The right side is for passing . The same goes for sidewalks and building entrances, but this is not always strictly observed . Go with the flow of the crowd .

Bicycles on the sidewalk may ring their bell when coming up behind you . Move out of their way when you hear it .

In convenience stores , the norm is to wait for the cashier to bag your purchases and hand them to you before you give them the money .

You do not need to bow to store workers or restaurant personnel , but a slight nod of you head is a nice way to acknowledge their politeness to you .

If there is a small , flat tray at the cash register , place your money on that ( observe what the customer before you does ) . Some places do not have these , so you just hand your money to the cashier .

Most stores and restaurants will greet you with " Irrashaimase " ( EE RAH SHY MA SAY ) . This means Welcome to the Shop , and you do not need to rely to this with anything except a smile . Grocery stores and 100 Yen shops are self -bagging , which is done at a small table close to the registers .

A few nonverbal clues : Any tilting of the head while sucking air through clenched teeth or muttering the word " muzukashi " means NO ( literally : it is difficult ). There  is no argument for this phrase .

If the matter is important , your only hope is to look worried and muse out loud " What shall I do ? " You may get a workable suggestion . If none is forth-coming , you are out of luck .

The actual word for NO is " ie " ( EE-EH ) , which ironically sounds much like Yeah .

Crossing one's arms in front of the body to form an X is the intenational symbol for " It is forbidden " . This is usually used as a No Entry indication here .

When boarding a train , stand to the side of the doors until arriving passengers have gotten off .

If you think you will have trouble with chopsticks , feel free to take your own fork to restaurants . It is not rude , although many places have both cutlery and chopsticks .

Regarding the Big Beautiful people : Japan has its share of them . Do not feel uncomfortable ! The furniture here is no more fragile than in any other country . True , you will have a tough time finding clothes and / or shoes . I am a US size 8 and that makes me an Extra Large in Japanese clothing .  ::)

I understand that your Japanese friend will be reluctant to correct you , but if you make it clear to her that you want to learn , then that will put things in a different light for her . She will not be correcting you , she will be teaching you .

When you say to a Japanese person " Please teach me ." you will open up wonderful doors to their culture !

That said , you are an honored guest in their country . Short of committing mayhem , you can do no wrong . They know you are not in your element . Be free with compliments about their country and ask a lot of questions and you will have an experience that you will treasure for the rest of your life !



 

The key to avoiding trouble is to learn to recognize it from a distance.

Amalthea

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Re: Etiquette for a tourist in Japan
« Reply #13 on: October 05, 2012, 08:39:10 PM »
Stand to the left on escalators . The right side is for passing . The same goes for sidewalks and building entrances, but this is not always strictly observed . Go with the flow of the crowd .

And just to make life extra confusing, some regions are opposite.  The norm in the Kansai region is to stand on the right and pass on the left.  I'm not sure what the norm is for Hiroshima though.   

chibichan

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Re: Etiquette for a tourist in Japan
« Reply #14 on: October 05, 2012, 08:57:06 PM »
Wow , I didn't know that ! I know there are regions that have their own customs and peculiarities - my experience is mostly with the Kanto Plain .

OT - Amalthea , did you ever get your bunny problem solved ?
The key to avoiding trouble is to learn to recognize it from a distance.