Author Topic: Etiquette for a tourist in Japan  (Read 5307 times)

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Amalthea

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Re: Etiquette for a tourist in Japan
« Reply #15 on: October 05, 2012, 09:06:40 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 ?

Most of my experience is with Kanto too.  My boyfriend and I went on a trip around Kansai, and he corrected me when I stood on the wrong side of the escalator, which is how I found out about that one.

Some of the other teachers took the bunnies home with them over summer vacation and kept them, so hopefully they're taking good care of them.  My apartment doesn't allow pets, so I couldn't have one.

crella

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Re: Etiquette for a tourist in Japan
« Reply #16 on: October 05, 2012, 09:13:56 PM »
I was just going to comment on the escalator thing...it's on the right south of Nagoya (NHK actually did a bit on it, where the change occurs).

Wonderful advice from everyone. I would remember 'Ie', but not use it, it's tricky....better to go vague instead of an outright 'no' .

I'm in Kansai, but have only been to Hiroshima a couple of times, and don't remember anything in particular that was different. Just follow everybody else  ;D

HonorH

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Re: Etiquette for a tourist in Japan
« Reply #17 on: October 05, 2012, 10:45:07 PM »
Don't forget "kudasai"! It means "please". If you feel like using something more formal would be better, "onegai shimasu". And the Japanese turn the "su" sound into a long s at the end of words.

Japanese body language tends to be a lot smaller and closer to the body. Don't point at people; gesture open-handed. They also don't like saying "No". If, when you suggest something, they ask if you might like something else, take the alternative, because they're telling you it's Not Possible.

I'm a bigger girl, too, and I did fine in Japan. Chairs and such are a little smaller, but, as a size 16 American, I could still fit into them. Japanese pants, on the other hand . . . yeah, no.

Basically, though, don't worry too much. The Japanese understand that you aren't Japanese, and they won't hold any gaffes against you. And remember: When in doubt, bow.
William wondered why he always disliked people who said "no offense meant." Maybe it was because they found it easier to say "no offense meant" than actually to refrain from giving offense.

--Terry Pratchett, The Truth

onikenbai

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Re: Etiquette for a tourist in Japan
« Reply #18 on: October 05, 2012, 10:56:14 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? 

Eye contact is not rude in Japan.  Staring somebody to the ground is, but it is just about everywhere.  Hiroshima gets lots of foreigners so I wouldn't worry too much unless you were truly raised in a barn and have zero sense of propriety.  Most things are fairly obvious:  it's rude to stick your chopsticks upright in your food as a temporary parking spot for them; don't eat directly from the serving plate, and don't put soy sauce on your rice.  Follow that and you'll be fine in the food department.  It is customary not to pour drinks for yourself, but as a guest it's unlikely you'd ever get the chance anyway.

As for being a big person in Japan... it's not that bad except for the fact random strangers do tend to come up and poke you in the stomach because they think you're cute.  I also had quite a few experiences of random strangers doing a fly by 'boob check' to find out if they were authentic.  Again, in Hiroshima, you probably won't have that problem.  One thing I did like as a 300lb person in Japan is that you're forever invited to sit on the floor, which is a million times better than having to do the mental engineering of "can I fit into that wobbly looking chair?" I have to do the rest of the time.  The chairs on the train are incredibly small, which was kind of awkward, but generally I got on just fine.

Wear good socks.  Holes are frowned upon.  Japan has the most awesome sock shopping in the world because you are forever looking at people's socks.  They are not fans of bare feet.  Or sleeveless shirts.  Or shirts that expose your lower back when you're sitting down.

Google the uses of DOMO and DOZO.  You can get by for a week on these two words alone!

For fun, go onto youtube and look up the series "The Japanese Tradition".  It's a series of culture spoofs but there is a lot of truth in them too.

kglory

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Re: Etiquette for a tourist in Japan
« Reply #19 on: October 06, 2012, 01:40:42 AM »
I'm curious, what is so bad about putting soy sauce on your rice?  I believe you all, but haven't heard that one.

My advice is not nearly as current as any of this, but my dad used to travel to Japan on business when he was younger, and I remembered these things:

- If you are thirsty and want a refill, don't just pour more wine into your glass.  Instead, pour some more wine for the person next to you.  He/she will reciprocate and pour more wine for you.

- To signal that you are done eating, leave a little bit of food on your plate.  If you clean your plate, then your hostess will refill it, and it will only be polite for you to eat most of it.  A clean plate is a sign that you are hungry and want more.

- When you bring a gift for your host family, it's good to have it impeccably and beautifully wrapped.  Japanese culture values gift wrapping as a sign of the care and thoughtfulness you are showing them with the gift.

Not sure if the above is just for business or everyday life.  Have a wonderful trip!

Carotte

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Re: Etiquette for a tourist in Japan
« Reply #20 on: October 06, 2012, 04:55:14 AM »
If I remember correctly about gift giving, it's normal and expected that your host won't open it right away/ in front of you.
I wonder how that goes when you are actually staying somewhere, maybe they open it when you are not in the same room?

I spent 3 months in Tokyo and mostly went by with knowing the key phrases and a lot of observing before you act/speak.

One thing I was surprised my friend (who also likes Japan and went once) didn't know is that PDA is mostly frowned upon, and even hand holding is not something I saw a lot. So I wouldn't go around hugging people if you're not invited to.

Ms Aspasia

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Re: Etiquette for a tourist in Japan
« Reply #21 on: October 06, 2012, 04:57:07 AM »
I'm curious, what is so bad about putting soy sauce on your rice?  I believe you all, but haven't heard that one.
<snip>

I believe it's because the aesthetics of the meal are considered important: a meal should have a beautiful or appropriate appearance.  Pouring on the sauce will make a mess of the rice.  Instead, dip each small portion of the rice into the sauce as you eat.

Ms Aspasia

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Re: Etiquette for a tourist in Japan
« Reply #22 on: October 06, 2012, 04:59:37 AM »
Don't know if this is true, but I have read that the giving of gifts can become somewhat of a burden, so at a private home, people will sometimes place the carefully-wrapped item into the hall cupboard ready for re-gifting. 

I've also read that one needs to give a gift to each person present.  Is that true?

crella

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Re: Etiquette for a tourist in Japan
« Reply #23 on: October 06, 2012, 05:33:33 AM »
Soy sauce isn't usually a condiment for rice, the rice is meant to compliment whatever you're eating (tempura etc). Rice is to be enjoyed as a bland compliment to the stronger-flavored main dishes.

In my experience a gift is given to the family as a whole but it's not a mistake to gift each person, or give something age-appropriate to small children, for example.

Shotochick

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Re: Etiquette for a tourist in Japan
« Reply #24 on: October 06, 2012, 06:04:21 AM »
POD on "sumimasen"  (means excuse me - either for moving someone out of the way or getting someones attention),  and "kore wa nan desu ka" for what is this? (so sumimasen, korewa nan desu ka" - got me lots of introductions to new things and words!).

Also "gochisosama" after eating to show respect for the person who prepared it (at home or in a restaurant!)

Gifts - something personal, but pay special attention to the wrapping. The wrapping is more important than the gift as it shows how much you respect them bv taking the time to wrap!

Always pass things with both hands - and receive them the same way.

Dont pour your own drinks - pour for others, they will then reciprocate to you.

A hint for Hiroshima, I dont know if he is still alive, but when we were there 3 years ago (in fact almost to the day), we met an old gentleman with a translator hanging around the Dome. He was a survivor, and we spent almost 2 hours listening to his story.

An attempt at speaking Japanese will usually respond in delight, then they will happily talk to you in English. We found that they loved having an opportunity to practice on us!

Carry small gifts for children. I took a couple of dozen mini clip on koala bears. Made me very popular. Take something similar from your country.

Have fun, drink sake, play silly drinking games with locals, go to an onsen - mixed if you are brave!

And know I am totally and utterly jealous of you!
An Aussie Foodies Adventures Abroad: www.aussiefoodie.blogspot.com

Pen^2

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Re: Etiquette for a tourist in Japan
« Reply #25 on: October 06, 2012, 08:46:15 AM »
There are a lot of specific etiquette rules you could go over, but you could do that forever and never cover them all. Plus people here have already mentioned the important ones. I lived and worked in Japan for several years; here are my thoughts to make things simpler for you:

1. People say "thank-you" a lot. It's "arigato" or "arigato gozaimasu" or "domo arigato gozaimasu" (longer being more polite). You'll hear it from everyone about all sorts of tiny things that wouldn't be acknowledged in most other countries. Just go with it. If you can learn to pronounce it with a decent accent, try it yourself. You can never say it too much, as a rule of thumb, or say it at the wrong time. It's normal to nod the head in a sort of mini-bow as you say this, a deeper bow being more polite.

2. Observe people around you and copy. If they all walk on the right side of the street, do the same. If they're speaking in hushed tones, do the same. If they take their shoes off before going in somewhere, do the same. If they don't take umbrellas inside with them, do the same. Nearly all etiquette can be covered if you are observant and just copy.

3. Quiet is good. Some foreigners were very noticeable when I was in Japan due to this. A group of tourists would get into a train full of silent people on their way home from work, and start talking as though they were in a bar, almost shouting. No-one would say anything to them, of course, but it would always stand out as rude and unobservant. Try not to be the loudest person in any place.

4. Japanese etiquette is based around a simple rule: make others feel good. So don't be too loud if they're being quiet and obviously want peace, say thankyou and show appreciation, don't stare at people (eye contact is similar to the west in Japan, although it varies a bit place-to-place so just copy what you see others doing), don't be raucous...

5. People aren't stupid. They'll know if you're trying to be polite even if the way you do it is different, and appreciate that. I took part in a survey to this effect once; they found that in Japan, people feel grateful if you try to be polite even if you accidentally end up being rude, whereas in western countries people mostly only feel grateful if your final actions are polite, no matter what your intent might have been. As long as you are trying then you're fine. No-one will really care if you put soy sauce on the wrong thing as long as you don't eat with your mouth open and spit food everywhere.

I presume you don't speak much Japanese, since a great deal of their etiquette is tied in intimately with the structure of the language. That's fine, but it helps if you learn a few words, even if only "thank you" and "yes". It can help to watch a Japanese film (with subtitles) showing a bit of everyday life, just to show you how people normally go about their day and to calm any nerves you have.

onikenbai

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Re: Etiquette for a tourist in Japan
« Reply #26 on: October 06, 2012, 09:42:06 AM »
Soy sauce isn't usually a condiment for rice, the rice is meant to compliment whatever you're eating (tempura etc). Rice is to be enjoyed as a bland compliment to the stronger-flavored main dishes.


Good Japanese rice actually has a pleasant flavour, unlike the somewhat gluey stuff you end up with outside Japan.  Pouring soy sauce on the rice is an insult to the rice farmer and implies the taste has to be drowned out.  It's their version of ketchup on steak.  On a more practical side, it gets a lot harder to eat when it loses its stickiness from drowning it.

artk2002

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Re: Etiquette for a tourist in Japan
« Reply #27 on: October 06, 2012, 10:41:56 AM »
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).

In my experience, it's very much smaller than in the US. When you have people whose job it is to cram as many as possible into the subway, there isn't a lot of room for personal space.

The Japanese (at least the older generations, it's been a while since I've been there) are much more formal than we are in the US. In part that comes from having a society with a lot of people in a very small space.

I didn't see this in other posts (didn't read deeply, sorry): It's considered impolite to "clean your plate." Always leave a little bit of food behind; to clean your plate is to imply that your hosts have not provided enough and that's an insult. If you go out drinking, be very, very careful. Your drink will get topped off when it's about 2/3 gone and that makes it easy to lose track of what you've had to drink. Again, don't drain your glass because that's a clear signal for more. (Yes, I've watched colleagues get massively drunk because they weren't careful about this.)

Most of my knowledge is around business etiquette and not general social etiquette. I can teach you the proper way to exchange business cards if you'd like! (Yes, there is a proper way to do it!)
Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn't do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bow lines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover. -Mark Twain

Amalthea

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Re: Etiquette for a tourist in Japan
« Reply #28 on: October 06, 2012, 11:10:36 AM »
I didn't see this in other posts (didn't read deeply, sorry): It's considered impolite to "clean your plate." Always leave a little bit of food behind; to clean your plate is to imply that your hosts have not provided enough and that's an insult.

I think this might be changing.  I know students are strongly encouraged in school to finish their lunch and not to waste anything.  I'm bad at this because our school lunches are gross, and a lot of the time another teacher will say something to me when I throw something away.  When I'm out with friends, I'm almost always the only one who leaves any food behind because I grew up in a "stop eating when you're full" house, not a "clean your plate" house.

HonorH

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Re: Etiquette for a tourist in Japan
« Reply #29 on: October 06, 2012, 11:19:19 AM »
Wear good socks.  Holes are frowned upon.  Japan has the most awesome sock shopping in the world because you are forever looking at people's socks.  They are not fans of bare feet.  Or sleeveless shirts.  Or shirts that expose your lower back when you're sitting down.

Forgot about the socks! Yeah, bare feet are a no-go in Japan. If you're wearing sandals or something, one thing I found very useful in Japan was to have a pair of those "instant flats" in my purse, the kind you can actually fold. They're perfect when you enter a place where you're expected to take your shoes off and don't want to put on a pair of the communal slippers.
William wondered why he always disliked people who said "no offense meant." Maybe it was because they found it easier to say "no offense meant" than actually to refrain from giving offense.

--Terry Pratchett, The Truth