Japan Travel Tips
Courtesy ITC Travel & Tours
A bow is the traditional greeting between Japanese. Persons wishing to show respect or humility bow lower than the other person. The Japanese shake hands with Westerners. While some appreciate it when Westerners bow, others do not, especially when the two people are not acquainted. Therefore, a handshake is most appropriate for foreign visitors. The Japanese are formal, and titles are important in introductions. A family name is used with the suffix -san. A Mr. Ogushi in North America is called Ogushi-san in Japan. The use of first names is reserved for family and friends. Between business representatives, the exchange of business cards (offered and accepted with both hands) most often accompanies a greeting.
Greetings used depend on the relationship. A worker might greet a superior with Ohayogozaimasu (Good Morning), but he or she would greet a customer with Irasshaimase (Welcome). When business representatives meet for the first time, they may use Hajimemashite (Nice to meet you). Konnichiwa (Hello) is a standard greeting. Ohayoh (an informal “Good morning”), Yahhoh (Hey!), or Genki (How are you?) are common casual greetings among the youth.
Visiting cards (meishi) are exchanged frequently in business situations. Basic information given on a visiting card are usually the name and office address of the person, as well as the company’s name and logo and, importantly, the person’s position within the company. Many people use cards that are printed on both sides: One side in Japanese characters and the other in Roman letters.
When visiting cards are exchanged, one should pay attention to the following points:
A visiting card should be given and received with both hands.
•It should be handed to the other person in a way that he or she will be able to read the card without turning it around.
•The received card should be “treated with respect”, i.e. after a short inspection it should, for example, be put into a special wallet whose only purpose is the storage of visiting cards (also always a few of your own cards).
Have your business cards available at all times. Carry three to five times the number of cards you think necessary. Business cards should not be carried in your hip pocket. To bend or damage the business card in front of its owner is considered a direct insult. The owner’s name and title should be memorized. Constantly retrieving the card to reconfirm the owner’s name is extremely poor etiquette. Most business cards are blank on the reverse side, offering convenient space for jotting down memo, don’t do it!
During a meeting in which you are not able to memorize the names of all the persons present, you may place the visiting cardsmay in front of you corresponding to the seating arrangement. Very common among business people is to collect all the visitingcards in a special album for reference in the future.
The Japanese exchange gifts on many occasions: There are two gift exchange seasons during the year: One in the end of theyear before New Year. During these days Oseibo are exchanged. Such gifts could, for example, be a bottle of expensive wine.
The other present exchange takes place in the middle of the year when Ochugen are exchanged. Fortunately, company worker receive special bonuses in June and December, which they can invest in buying gifts. When somebody is invited, he or she should bring a gift (Temiyage) for the host. The gift could be a cake, Japanese sweets, or the like. When a Japanese person returns from a trip, he or she is supposed to bring home souvenirs (Omiyage) for many friends, co-workers, relatives, etc. There are a few rules what not to give, mostly due to superstition. Some gifts or a certain number of gifts can cause bad luck.
Gifts our students take do not have to be expensive but do need to be meaningful. Food gifts are allowed with the exception of meat products. Fur, ivory and baleen are not allowed. The important thing is that each member of the family, even the pets, receives something from the student. If you are a chaperone you would also take gifts for the family so you are prepared if you are invited to the home.
Yawning in public is impolite. A person should sit up straight with both feet on the floor. Legs may be crossed at the knee orankles, but placing an ankle over a knee is improper. One beckons by waving all fingers with the palm down. It is polite to point with the entire hand. Shaking one hand from side to side with the palm forward means “no”. A person refers to himself by pointing the index finger at his nose. Laughter does not necessarily signify joy or amusement; it can also be a sign of embarrassment. One covers one’s mouth when using a toothpick. Chewing gum in public is considered impolite. Young girls often walk hand in hand.
In the House
When entering a Japanese house, you should always get out of your shoes first. Usually there are already slippers ready at the entrance into which you can change. However, when entering a room with a tatami floor, you also have to take off your slippers.
On tatami one should only walk in socks or barefoot.
Taking a Bath
Taking a daily bath is very important for the Japanese. Its main purpose is relaxation at the end of a day. Many Japanese also love hot springs and public baths, which having disappeared in most other developed countries, can still be found in Japan.
The average Japanese bathroom consists of two rooms: a first room with a sink and a second, the actual bathroom with a shower and a deep bathtub. When using the bathroom, you are supposed to first take a shower outside of the tub. That’s the time to use soap and to clean your body. After cleaning yourself, you enter the tub. No soap should get into the bathing water. The tub has been filled with water earlier. After leaving the tub do not drain the water since everybody in the house will use the same water. Modern bathtubs are equipped with new technologies and digital temperature screens. They can be programmed to mix you the correct temperature and automatically fill in the water. The temperature of the bathing water is usually quite high for foreigners. If you can barely enter, you should not move too much since moving around makes it appear even hotter. After taking hot baths for several days, you will get accustomed to the high temperatures and find out that the hotter the water is, themore relaxed you feel afterwards.
There are two kinds of toilets in Japan: the Japanese style toilet and the western style toilet. In order to use the Japanese style toilet one has to get into a low position and keep the balance, which may be difficult for some foreigners. The Japanese toilet is essentially the more hygienic one since the user does not touch it. Japanese styles can be found in most public toilets. Toilet paper is not always provided there, and it is recommended to always carry a small package of tissues with you. Western style toilets can be found more and more in public toilets, especially in the tourist areas. Sometimes the two toilet styles exist side by side. The toilets in newly built private houses are usually western style toilets. Many of them offer many luxury gadgets like heated seats or small built-in showers. When entering the washroom in a private house, you are supposed to change into special toilet slippers. Don’t forget to change the slippers again afterwards.
You start eating after saying “Itadakimasu” and finish with “Gochiso sama deshita”. Slurping is done all the time while eating(soup, noodles, etc.), but do not burp. Blowing your nose in public, and especially at the table, is considered very rude. Soy sauce is usually not poured over white, cooked rice. When drinking alcohol you should remember that the Japanese pour alcohol into each other’s cups, but one does not pour it into his or her own glass. You should always check if your friends’ cups are getting empty, and then give them more. If someone wants to give you more to drink, you should take your glass and hold it towards that person.
How to eat …
•Lead them with the chopsticks step by step into your mouth. Keep the distance between the bowl and your mouth small and slurp loudly.
•Either you get a ceramic spoon which makes eating soups no big problem for an inexperienced foreigner, or you do not get one. In that case you drink the soup out of the bowl as it were a cup and fish out the solid stuff with the chopsticks.
That’s also true for eating noodle soups (e.g. Udon, Ramen).
… Sushi (Nigiri, Maki):
•Give some soy sauce into a special little plate. The correct way of dipping nigiri sushi is to dip it up side down with the fish part into the sauce. Only a few kinds of nigiri sushi should be eaten without being dipped. Hands or chopsticks can be used for eating .