Japan is a highly organised society deeply rooted in traditions. Japanese place great importance on loyalty, grace, responsibility, and on everyone working together for the betterment of the nation; Education, aims, hard work, self-restraint and determination are held in high regard. This is the reason crime rate in Japan is one of the lowest in the world.
If you ask someone to describe Japanese people, words like “polite” and “reserved” will appear somewhere in the mix. All over the world, Japan is famous as a safe and pleasant place where people are accommodating and courteous. It’s very rare to find a Japan return person with tales of rude staff or discourteous people.
The English word “manner” is adopted into the Japanese lexicon as “mana”, it is used to describe manners such as placing your chopsticks on the bowl of rice and putting your mobile phone on discreet mode during a meeting or gatherings.
Japan has a population of more than 12 million, therefor it is incredibly crowded. Add an extra 3 million people who commute in and out of the capital every day, it reaches an astounding 15 million. With so many people crammed into such a small place, it’s no wonder people place a lot of importance on personal space and manners in daily life. Perhaps the reason because Japanese people are impeccably polite or considerate is due to the structure of their society. Because of the constricted space, the buildings are constructed in ingenious space-saving ways, people often live in very close proximity to each other. Therefore, when people violate the codes of conduct, it stands out. For a foreigner, their manners and etiquettes might be a bit unnerving and just too much. Following 11 protocols would stand out especially for the foreigners.
11. Addressing people:
The number of suffix Japanese have for every relation would be too much for people who have the suffix of Mr. for everyone. Following are the respectful suffix used by Japanese in day to day life:
-San – this is the neutral suffix which is used for people who don’t fall into any other category.
-Kun – it is generally used to refer to a friend.
-Chan – it is a diminutive suffix which is used primarily for children, female family members, intimate partners, and close friends.
-Sama – this is the most respectful suffix which is reserved for lords or deities. But nowadays it is usually used in sarcasm.
-Senpai – it is mainly used to address one’s elder colleagues or schoolmates.
-Kohai – it is used for younger colleagues you younger schoolmates.
-Sensei – for addressing authority figures like teachers, scientists, doctors, politicians etc.
-Shi – this is used in formal writing.
10. Exchanging business cards:
Exchanging business card with Japanese is a ritual. You have to offer the card with both hands and make sure that the front side of the card is facing the receiver. If you rank lower than the receiver of the card, hold your card lower than they do. If you don’t have a card holder while you are visiting Japan, then make sure that you buy one. Because when you receive a business card, you should always put it in a card holder and look at it for a few seconds. After receiving the card, a bow is a must!
9. In an elevator:
Japanese have informal but clear rules even in an elevator. If you happen to enter into an empty elevator, then you automatically become the captain. You have to stand close to the panel and keep the doors open for everyone, at every floor at which the elevator stops. When you reach your level, you should wait for everyone else to leave before disembarking yourself.
8. On a subway:
Japanese people take subway stations and subways very seriously. There are stringent rules regarding the etiquettes on the trains and stations. It is ungracious to stare at people and talk loudly on phones during commutation.
Standard decorum dictates that you should give your seat to an elderly or a disabled person when they enter the train; Japanese etiquette dictates that you should never give them a place. BUT, there are special seat marked for the elderly, disabled people, and pregnant women which are not to be occupied by anyone else not following in that category, even if the train is full.
7. No Touching:
Staring at strangers is considered very ill-mannered in the Japanese culture. Because Japan is not a very big country, so people respect each other’s personal spaces. Therefore unnecessary touching is also considered a faux pas.
6. Alcoholic drinks:
There is one place when there is no social hierarchy, and that is the bar. All rules break when they drink, and they drink heavily! A professor can drink with her students and then proceed to go home with them.
A formal business colleague who bows to his boss can get drunk with him and vomit all over his suit. All of this is considered normal. The interesting thing is, when they sober up, they act as nothing happened between them and the rules of hierarchy go up again.
5. They are money-shy:
Japanese are embarrassed to show money in public, that’s why traditionally decorated money envelopes are very common. If you don’t have an envelope, then you have to wrap the money in a piece of paper. But you don’t have to go to all this trouble in a supermarket. You can place the cash in cash till, instead of handing the cashier with the money.
4. Correct posture:
Japanese sit in a specific manner called “seiza”, which means sitting by folding legs underneath the thighs, as if in an armchair. But non-Japanese find this style very uncomfortable, their legs start to feel numb within a few minutes. That’s why they are allowed to sit in a casual position.
3. Giving gifts:
Japanese have a robust culture of giving gifts. There give and receive gifts especially in summers and winters. While it is considered normal in many countries to open presents right when you receive them, but it is a sign of impatience and greediness in Japan. People also avoid opening presents in front of the gift giver, because they might become embarrassed with their modest gift.
Japanese’s bow in the same way we say “hello” or shake hands. It’s a regular custom for them and they teach the correct bowing postures to their children at very young ages. Typically there are three types of bows:
- The greeting bow – done at an angle of 15° in front of a person having equal business r social rank.
- The respectful bow – done at an angle of 30° in front of a teacher or a boss.
- The deep, reverent bow – done at an angle of 45° in front of an emperor or used to apologise to someone.
1. Taking leave:
It’s no wonder Japanese are famous for their hospitality; when a customer or a business partner leaves, they follow them to the door or to the elevator and keep bowing until the doors are closed. They treat their customers or anyone who is profitable for them with immense respect, and it shows in their gestures and etiquettes.