Japanese Customs



Japanese Customs in the news

Japanese culture on show at New Year's celebration 

Sun-Sentinel - Jan 08 12:12 AM
West Delray ? The sights, sounds and smells of Japanese culture returned to Palm Beach County on Sunday, means of rekindling lost memories and teaching a new generation old customs.
Alienated Nation 
Time Magazine - Jan 11 7:28 PM
An insider reveals how Burma went from being a cosmopolitan center to an international pariah

Goodbye, sushi; hello, tea 
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette - Jan 10 9:06 PM
In the food world, hunger is eternal, the appeal of food timeless, but tastes, customs and expectations always change. Just think of small plates. So big in the last few years, they now are reverting back to the appetizers they once were.

Cos to pay Rs 1K cr penalty to tax dept 
The Times of India - Jan 12 1:29 PM
The transfer pricing directorate of the tax department has asked assessing officers in Mumbai to add Rs 1,000 crore in tax demands of 150 companies.

- Japanes Customs

Here is an article on Japanese Customs.

Japan has a code of Japanes Customs etiquette, the code that governs Japanees Customs the expectations of social behavior, and it is considered very important. Many books instruct readers on its minutiae.

Some customs here Japnese Customs may not be true in all regions of Japan. These are generally accepted modern Jappanese Customs customs in Japan. Some customs have changed over the course of history.


  • 1 Bathing
  • 2 Bowing
  • 3 Eating Japannese Customs and drinking
    • 3.1 Chopsticks
  • 4 Visiting Japanee Customs someone's house
  • 5 Gifts Apanese Customs and gift-giving
    • 5.1 Seasonal gifts
    • 5.2 Other gifts
    • 5.3 Souvenirs
  • 6 Greetings
  • 7 Hospitality
  • 8 Illness
  • 9 Letters Japaese Customs Japamese Customs and postcards
    • 9.1 Titles
    • 9.2 Letter writing materials
    • 9.3 Seasonal Japanesee Customs greetings
    • 9.4 Greeting Japnaese Customs postcards
  • 10 Respectful language
  • 11 Service and public employees
  • 12 Weddings
  • 13 Funerals
  • 14 Working Jpanese Customs ethics
  • 15 Special birthdays
  • 16 Business etiquette
  • 17 See also
  • 18 External links


Bathing is an important part of the daily routine in Japan. Baths are for relaxing; the body and hair must be thoroughly scrubbed and all soap removed before entering the bathtub or ofuro. This is normally done at a small faucet or shower located in the same room as the tub, while seated on a small stool. The traditional shape of the tub is smaller and deeper than is common in Western homes. A traditional Japanese bathtub is square, and deep enough that the water will cover the shoulders, but requires the bather to sit with the knees drawn up to the chest. Newer bathtubs are more like the western shape. Rather than being drained at the end of each bath, the water is kept warm by means of special heaters, and the same water is used by all the family members. After use, some homes take the hot bath water from the tub and use it to wash clothes in a washing machine. A lid is placed on the tub to maintain the water temperature when not in use, and to prevent evaporation. Any hair or debris is scooped from the water after the bath.

In homes with small tubs, each family member bathes one by one, in order of seniority, traditionally starting with the oldest male. However, many young Japanese women now refuse to bathe after their fathers. If there are guests in the home, they will be given priority. In homes with larger tubs, it is not uncommon for family members to bathe together. Typically one or both parents will bathe with babies and toddlers, and even as children grow older they may still bathe with one of their parents.

Bathtubs are increasingly common in modern Japanese homes, but there are still many homes, particularly in older or rural areas, that do not have bathtubs, so public bathhouses called sentō (銭湯) are common. A regular bathhouse will have tap water heated in a boiler. In all but the most rural areas baths are segregated by sex, and customers bathe nude, many using a small washcloth to cover the genitals. Hotels, pachinko parlours and other venues may have on-site sentos for customer use.

Onsen (温泉) are baths that by definition use naturally hot water from geothermally-heated springs, sometimes outdoors. Larger onsen will have separate pools for men and women, and visitors normally bathe nude. At onsen where men and women bathe together, customers may wear towels into the pools.

As with home baths, at sentō and onsen bathers must wash thoroughly before entering the communal baths. Many sentō and onsen ban customers with tattoos which are traditionally taboo, citing concerns over yakuza activity. Some ban non-Japanese visitors, a practice regarded as xenophobic. The bathouses respond that non-Japanese, particularly Russian sailors visiting Hokkaidō in northern Japan, are unfamiliar with the correct etiquette and either dirty the bathwater or behave inappropriately. For a recent, well-publicised example, see Arudou Debito.


Main article: Bowing (social)

Bowing ((o)jigi (お辞儀, おじぎ), (o-)rei (お礼)), is probably the best-known feature of Japanese etiquette outside Japan. Bowing is considered extremely important in Japan, so much so that, although children normally begin learning how to bow from a very young age, companies commonly provide training to their employees in how to execute bows correctly.

Bowing is a gesture of respect. Different bows are used for apologies and gratitude, to express different emotions, humility, sincerity, remorse, or deference, and in various traditional arts and religious ceremonies.

Basic bows are performed with the back straight and the hands at the sides (boys and men) or clasped in the lap (girls and women), and with the eyes down. Bows originate at the waist. Generally, the longer and deeper the bow, the stronger the emotion and the respect expressed.

Bows can be generally divided into three main types: informal, formal, and very formal. Informal bows are made at about a fifteen degree angle and more formal bows at about thirty degrees. Very formal bows are deeper.

The etiquette surrounding bowing, including the length and depth of bow, and the appropriate response, is exceedingly complex. For example, if the other person maintains his or her bow for longer than expected (generally about two or three seconds), it is polite to bow again, upon which one may receive another bow in return. This often leads to a long exchange of progressively lighter bows.

Generally speaking, an inferior bows longer, more deeply and more frequently than a superior. A superior addressing an inferior will generally only nod the head slightly, while some superiors may not bow at all and an inferior will bend forward slightly from the waist.

Bows of apology tend to be deeper and last longer than other types of bow. They tend to occur with frequency during the apology, generally at about 45 degrees with the head lowered and lasting for at least the count of three, sometimes longer. The depth, frequency and duration of the bow increases with the sincerity of the apology and the severity of the offence. Bows of thanks follow the same pattern. In extreme cases a kneeling bow is performed; this bow is sometimes so deep that the forehead touches the floor. This is called saikeirei (最敬礼), literally "most respectful bow."

When dealing with non-Japanese people, many Japanese will shake hands. Since many non-Japanese are familiar with the custom of bowing, this often leads to a combined bow and handshake which can be quite complicated to execute. Bows may be combined with handshakes or performed before or after shaking hands. Generally when bowing in close proximity, as necessitated when combining bowing and shaking hands, people turn slightly to one side (usually the left) to avoid bumping heads.

Eating and drinking

Meals in Japan traditionally begin with the phrase, itadakimasu, (literally, "I receive"). The phrase is similar to the phrase "bon appétit," but is used more frequently; in the case of some individuals, at every meal.

It is considered polite to clear one's plate; children are especially encouraged to do so. It is impolite to pick out certain ingredients and leave the rest. One should chew with the mouth closed.

It is acceptable to lift bowls or plates to the mouth rather than bringing the eating utensil from the dish to the mouth. It is also appropriate (and sometimes even encouraged as the proper way) to slurp certain foods, especially ramen or soba noodles, though this is not practiced universally.

Rice is generally eaten plain or sometimes with nori (dried-pressed seaweed) or furikake (various seasonings). Pouring soy sauce onto plain white rice is not a Japanese custom, nor is it common to pour soy sauce directly over sashimi or sushi. Instead, soy sauce is poured into a small dish that is provided, and the food dipped into the sauce. When eating nigiri-zushi, one should dip the sushi topping side down into the sauce; leaving stray grains of rice floating in the sauce is considered uncouth.

It is still uncommon for Japanese people to eat while walking about. Some consider it rude to eat in public or on trains, but this is not practiced universally.

In Japanese restaurants, customers are given rolled hand towel called "Oshibori", it is considered rude to use the towels to wipe one's face; however, some people do that.

When you must use tooth picks, you must cover your mouth with other hand.


Main article: Chopsticks

There are many traditions surrounding the use of chopsticks. For example, it is considered particularly taboo to pass food from chopsticks to chopsticks, as this is how bones are handled by the family of the deceased after a cremation. Mismatched chopsticks should also not be used for the same reason. Similarly, chopsticks should not be stood up in a bowl of food, as this is how offerings are made to the dead.

It is considered thoughtful to reverse chopsticks and use the clean end to pick things out of a common dish if serving cutlery has not been provided for this purpose, although in casual circumstances (among friends) it is common to forgo this.

Chopsticks should not be used to skewer food. Items that are too large to be eaten with chopsticks may be eaten with the fingers if no cutlery is provided.

Visiting someone's house

It is the custom in every Japanese household to take one's shoes off when entering the house. It is generally considered polite to wear shoes instead of sandals, but sandal wearers may carry a pair of white socks to put over their bare feet or stockings, so that their bare feet will not touch the slippers that the host offers. The shoes are turned around so that the toe faces the door after taking them off. If during the winter time, a guest is wearing a coat or hat, the guest will take it off before the host opens the door. When the guest is leaving, he or she does not put on the coat or hat until the door has closed.

Gifts and gift-giving

When unwrapping a gift, Japanese people may carefully remove the paper and the seals and keep the paper as a compliment to the hosts. The presentation of the gift is an important part of the exercise; gifts are carefully wrapped. Gifts are not opened immediately. Traditionally, it was polite to take the gift home as is and send a thank you note later. Today, many people will ask a guest to open a gift, but if they do not, the Japanese will resist the urge to ask if they can open the gift. Since the act of accepting a gift can create a sense of unfulfilled obligation on the part of the receiver, gifts are sometimes refused, depending on the situation.

Seasonal gifts

There are two gift seasons in Japan, called oseibo (お歳暮?) and chūgen (中元?). One is for winter and the other is for summer. Gifts are given to those whom one has a relationship with, especially the people who have helped the gift giver.

It is considered impolite to go to someone's house without a gift. In Japanese this is called tebura (empty-handed). A gift is usually brought in a paper bag (preferably a bag from the shop where you bought the gift), the gift is taken out of the bag and the bag is placed underneath the gift when giving it to the host, using both hands. The gift is often presented when shown into the living room, saying "tsumaranai mono desu ga" (Literally: "It is a meager thing, but...") to show modesty. If the host offers something, it is polite to make a soft declination saying "okizukai naku" (please don't go through the trouble), but the guest can gladly accept if the host asks for the second time.

Other gifts

Another custom in Japan is for women to give men chocolate on Valentine's Day. The chocolate can be given to the object of the woman's affection, or to any man the woman is connected to. The latter is called giri-choko (obligation chocolate).

This custom is also performed by the male one month after Valentine's Day, called White Day.


In Japan, vacation-goers do not send postcards. However, those returning from a vacation usually bring back a souvenir called omiyage (お土産). The most common form of omiyage is a box of sweets such as chocolates or manju to be shared around with co-workers. In tourist spots in Japan, the sale of omiyage is a big business, and there are also omiyage stands at train stations selling gifts from far-away areas for returning people who didn't want to carry around or have forgotten to buy a gift. There are also services which deliver regional souvenirs from places in Japan or from foreign countries to be used as omiyage.


Greetings are considered to be of extreme importance in Japanese culture, and students in elementary and secondary schools are often admonished to deliver greetings with energy and vigour. A lazy greeting is regarded with the type of disdain that would accompany a limp handshake in parts of the West.

The main greetings are o-hayō gozaimasu (お早うございます -- good morning -- used until about 11am), konnichi-wa (今日は -- roughly equivalent to good day, good afternoon -- used until late afternoon), konban-wa (今晩は, good evening), and o-yasumi nasai (お休みなさい, good night). Different forms of these greetings may be used depending on the relative social statuses of the speaker and the listener; see respectful language, below.


  • Bow or shake hands when meeting.
  • When parting, instead of simply saying goodbye, make a wish to meet again.


  • Simply walk off.


Since many Japanese homes are very small, entertaining is traditionally done at restaurants and other establishments. Entertaining at home is not unheard of, however, and hosts will often go to great lengths to be hospitable.

Generally, as in many other cultures, the guest takes priority. He or she will be seated in the best place, served the best food and drinks, and generally deferred to. If staying overnight, the guest will also be offered the first bath, and the hosts may even give up their own beds.

Japanese hosts generally try for the ideal of being busy so the guest can relax. As opposed to Western hospitality styles where the host presents a relaxed front to the guests or may encourage guests to "make themselves at home" or "help themselves," Japanese hosts will often present a busy front to guests. The general aim is to cultivate the idea among guests that everything is being taken care of so that they may relax and be at ease.


It is common to bring a gift to someone staying in hospital such as flowers, but it can be considered bad luck to bring a potted plant. The word 根付く (nezuku) meaning "to take root" is similar to the word 寝付く (netsuku) meaning "to be bedridden".

When saying goodbye to someone who is ill, it is common to say お大事に (odaiji-ni) meaning "take care" or "get well soon". Although, in some cases, this may be considered slightly condescending, as usually お大事に (odaiji-ni) is reserved for someone in a position of authority (i.e. a doctor, nurse, etc.).

When staying in a hospital, it is sometimes customary to provide a small gift for the doctor or nurses.

Letters and postcards

Letter-writing remains an important part of Japanese culture, despite the advent of email and text-messaging. In Japan letter-writing skills are dependent not upon the ability to be original but rather on the ability to follow the prescribed format (although some forms of letters, such as e-tegami or "picture-letters" which incorporate hand-painted decorations, often seasonal motifs, certainly require creativity).


Main article: Japanese titles

Letter addresses, even those sent to close friends, are normally written in quite formal language. Unless some other title is available (sensei, for example, which can mean "Doctor" or "Professor" among other things) the standard title used with the addressee's name is the very formal sama. Letters addressed to a company take the title 御中 (onchū) after the company name. It is also considered important to mention in the address if the company is incorporated (kabushiki gaisha) or limited (Yugen kaisha). When a letter is addressed to a company employee at their place of work, the address should contain the full name of the place of work, as well as the title of the employee's position, and the full name of the employee. The titles, from least to greatest respect, are chan (for women) or kun (for men), san, sama.

Letter writing materials

Personal letters are traditionally written by hand using blue or black ink, or with a writing brush and black ink. The preferred paper is washi (Japanese paper). Letters may be written vertically (tategaki) or horizontally (yokogaki), but vertical is the traditional, and therefore more formal, direction.

Seasonal greetings

A letter typically opens with a seasonal greeting. A typical example incorporates a remark about the temperature, rain, snow, and so on. These greetings are often quite poetic, and include observations about the changing colours of the leaves or the emergence of spring flowers. The seasonal greeting is followed by an enquiry about the addressee's health, and a report of one's own. The first paragraph of a typical letter might thus read as follows:

The hot weather of summer has finally passed. The days are getting cooler and the leaves are turning vivid colours. How have you been? Thankfully, I have been getting along well.

The second paragraph is devoted to news about the writer. Requests, if any, will likely not appear until at least the third paragraph. Letters close with greetings to others, and with one of a number of standard phrases urging the reader to "take care." A typical example might be:

Please send my regards to your wife. Now that the weather is getting cooler, please take care of yourself.

Greeting postcards

In Japan, holiday-goers do not send postcards. Instead, the tradition in Japan is for a holiday goer to bring back a souvenir, often edible (see "Gift Giving"). However, New Year's greeting postcards (年賀状, nengajō) are a tradition similar to Christmas cards in the West. If sent within a time limit, the Japanese post office will deliver the cards on the morning of New Year's Day. These are decorated with motifs based on the year of the Chinese zodiac which is starting. They request the addressee's continued favour in the new year. If one receives a card from someone to whom one has not sent a card, etiquette dictates that one must send a card in return, to arrive not later than the seventh of January.

However, if a relative of a person has died during that year, they will send a postcard written in black before the New Year apologizing for not sending a New Year's card. The rationale for this is that since their relative has died they cannot wish or experience a happy new year. In this case, the etiquette is not to send them a New Year's Greeting either.

See also Japanese New Year.

Respectful language

Main article: Japanese honorifics

There is an entire grammatical rule-set for speaking respectfully to superiors, customers, etc., and this plays a large part in good etiquette.

Service and public employees

Japan is frequently cited by non-Japanese as a place where service is excellent. Such claims are difficult, if not impossible, to quantify. Nevertheless, service at public establishments such as restaurants, drinking places, shops and services is generally friendly, attentive and very polite, as reflected in a common reminder given by managers and employers to their employees: "okyaku-sama wa kami-sama desu" (お客様は神様です), or "the customer is a god." However, service employees will seldom engage in casual conversation with a customer with the aim of forming a closer friendship or romantic relationship as sometimes happens in "western" cultures. The service employees are expected to maintain a more formal, professional relationship with all customers.

In general, as in most countries, etiquette dictates that the customer is treated with reverence. In Japan this means that employees speak in a humble and deferential manner and use respectful forms of language that elevates the customer. Thus, customers are typically addressed with the title --sama (roughly equivalent to "sir" or "madam" in English).

Dress for employees is normally neat and formal, depending on the type and style of establishment. Public employees such as police, taxi drivers, and the pushers whose job is to ensure that as many people as possible board the rush-hour trains--and other types of employees who must touch people--often wear white gloves.


It is traditional for wedding guests to provide a gift in a stylized, sealed envelope. The money is understood to be used to cover the cost of the wedding and party. Depending on the group of people involved, people of higher status may be expected to give more, or there may be a decided amount.

Wedding guests may also receive wedding gifts, in a kind of reverse-wedding registry situation. Near the wedding date guests may receive a catalog of gifts available for them to choose.


Main article: Japanese funeral


  • Bring money in a funeral envelope rather than flowers
  • Do participate in the entire ceremony. This may include the wake the night before the funeral. (The cremation is usually reserved for family.)
  • Bow respectfully to the family when you go up to the front.
  • Wear black or dark clothes. (all black is preferable).
  • Wear pearls if you are a woman and want to wear jewelry.


  • Don't laugh or make a joke.
  • Don't shout or make a lot of noise.
  • Don't wear bright or loud colors.
  • Don't wear conspicuous jewelry other than pearls.

Working ethics

Japanese people generally arrive early and are prepared to start working as soon as work hours begin. They also praise other workers for support, even when they have been of little help in succeeding. When leaving work, the greeting otsukaresama "You're tired" is often used to those leaving, and the person who is leaving often says osaki ni shitsurei shimasu "I'm sorry to leave before you". For many workers, it is considered poor form to leave before the boss goes home. As in most countries, coming to work drunk and sexual harassment are frowned upon.

Special birthdays


The sixtieth birthday is the occasion of kanreki, 還暦, when five cycles of the Chinese zodiac have completed.


The seventy-seventh birthday is the occasion of kiju 喜寿, "happy age", because the Chinese character 喜 is also written using three sevens.


The eighty-eighth birthday is the occasion of beiju 米寿, "rice age", because the Chinese character for rice, 米, looks like the characters for eight tens plus eight (八十八).


The ninety-ninth birthday is the occasion of hakuju 白寿, "white age", because the Chinese character for white, 白, looks like the Chinese character for one hundred, 百, with the top "one" removed.

Business etiquette

Main article: Meishi

See also

  • Japanese language
  • Cuisine of Japan
  • Intercultural competence

External links

  • Japanese Manners & Etiquette
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