Japanese Etiquette and Taboos


Dining taboos are one of the most commonly displayed taboos by foreigners in Japan.  Japan food that is unique to the culture and along with it they developed a unique dinning etiquette.   It would be best that a foreigner looks up on Japanese etiquette before entering a Japanese restaurant.

1.  Do Not Stab Chopsticks in Rice - When placing chopsticks down, stabbing them into the rice is a major offense.  This is a symbol of offering food to the dead.  Instead, chopsticks should be carefully set on the side of a plate or on the proper chopstick holder (“Top”).

2. Do Not Play With Chopsticks -  A common mistake made by foreigners is misuse of their chopsticks.  Chopsticks are eating utensils, not toys.  A Japanese person would be appalled if they saw a foreigner using chopsticks to play a mock sword battle or drumming a beat (“Top”).  Even more so to see a foreigner using the chopsticks to point at others; America expresses a similar idea that it is just plain rude to point. 

3. Don't Leave Tips - As an American, we are use to leaving tips after a meal in a restaurant, but do that in Japan and someone might be offended. They might feel that you are looking down to them by tipping them.

4. Do Not Pass Things Between Chopsticks - Passing items from chopstick to chopstick is a funeral ritual where relatives passed the bones of their dearly departed to one another before laying them down to rest (“Top”).

5.  Do Not Pour Soy Sauce Directly Over Rice - This is considered very rude and messy.  Instead, pour a small amount into a small dish and then use your chopsticks to pick up your rice or sushi and dab it slightly in the soy sauce.  Drowning your rice in soy sauce is considered bad etiquette.

6. Slurp Your Noodles - Yes, you read it right, slurp them.  Believe it or not, this is a sign showing that you are actually enjoying your meal and it would be rude not to slurp your noodles.  This only works on noodles and soup and should not be done when drinking tea or other beverages.

7. Never Pour Your Own Drink -  It is better to let others serve you, and in return you serve them.  This shows that you are not hogging the drink to yourself.


8. "Itadakimasu" and "Gochisousama Deshita" -   It is also important to use the proper Japanese dining phrases before eating.  Before the meal, one should put their hands together in the “Namaste” gesture and say “itadakimasu”.  This phrase which literally means “I humbly receive” shows that one is grateful for the food given to them.  When finished eating, it is just as important restate one’s appreciation through the phrase “gochisousama deshita” which means “it was a feast”.  This phrase emphasizes that the meal was thoroughly enjoyed.

Everyday Life

Dining is just one area where foreigners are constantly committing taboos, but it is also easily committed through everyday activities. 

1. Never Blow Your Nose in Public -  People around you will find it extremely rude and gross.  The Japanese are extremely clean folk and even do their best to avoid spreading their own germs.  The even go to the length of wearing a medical mask when sick out in public.

2. Never Talk or Make Noise on the Subway -  Chatting away on the cellphone or talking loudly with a friend on the train is a no-no.  Japanese like it to be quiet and would most likely find your blabbering just as rude as if you were talking in a library.

3. Never Soap Off in a Bath -  You cannot do this whether you're in a host family's bath, or in a public bath house. This will end up dirtying the bath water. Instead soap off and rinse in the shower area before entering the bath.  The Japanese don't like to waste water and will take turns taking a bath using the same bath water. If you feel unsure about sharing bath water, it might make you more comfortable to know that host families will most likely allow the guest to use the bath first.  When done, drain the bath just a bit and pour more hot water in.  This keeps the bath water nice and hot for the next person.  If you choose to just shower instead, never let the shower run;  Soap first and then rinse.

4. Never Wear Shoes Indoors - When visiting someone’s house, it is inexplicably rude to enter with shoes on.  Most Japanese houses’ floors are covered in Tatami mats made from straw like material that is difficult to clean when dirtied.  Shoes should be taken off at the door and replaced with indoor slippers. 

5. Don't Eat in Public - Walking through the streets of Japan while nibbling on a sandwich is also frowned upon.  Food should be respected and casually eating while walking does not show that respect (Mathis). 

6. Don't Touch People - Touching is another thing that Japanese dislike. You might not realize it, but Americans touch others a lot.  It is common to see an American touch a stranger when apologizing or throughout a conversation.  Americans also have a thing for shaking hands that some Japanese still avoid doing. Just keep your hands to yourself, if you need to apologize, bow a little and say sorry.  Any physical contact can make a Japanese person feel extremely uncomfortable, especially if they don't know you.

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