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Slurp your Noodles & Don’t Get into a Bath if You’re Dirty: Do’s & Don’ts in Japan

This summer’s big comedy release was People Just Do Nothing: Big in Japan, which saw the boys of UK garage collective Kurupt FM take on Japan after they learn that one of their records is being used on a popular game show. Along the way the boys are confronted with a series of unusual situations and resulting mishaps – so here’s a quick guide on how to avoid them (unless of course you too are a member of a hit garage collective).

General etiquette

In general, Japanese people are less prone to body contact during everyday interactions. This goes for kisses, hugs and handshakes used as greetings, as well as other public displays of affection. In most situations, a polite bow will work as an appropriate greeting. A gentle nod of thanks will go a long way.

In the vast majority of Japanese homes, it is expected that you will take off your shoes at the entrance for hygiene reasons – similarly there are many Japanese-style restaurants, temples, hot springs etc. with no-shoe policies as well, so always be careful to wear suitable socks, check what the rule is, and choose footwear that is easy to take on and off

When travelling around pay attention to signage and ask for help if you need it. Japan has lots of helpful staff, and English on display. Train stations will even have unique jingles to help you identify them. While talking in soft voices on the train is certainly acceptable, speaking at any volume on your phone is generally frowned upon while riding trains and buses.  Watch out for diagrams on platforms, too – these will tell you things like where you need to queue for each carriage, and where to start waiting for the train after the next.

Table manners

Japanese table etiquette is originally based on the guests showing appreciation for the efforts taken by the hosts.

Two essential phrases for dining in Japan are “itadakimasu” — said before eating and meaning something like “I am glad to receive this meal” — and “gochisosama desu,” said after finishing a meal, loosely translated as “thanks for the food.”

Some things to keep in mind are that leaving leftover food is frowned upon, and asking to take home your leftovers is generally not accepted.

Unlike food, it is perfectly acceptable to not finish your drink. An empty glass is a glass that needs refilling, so if you’re not looking for refills, just leave your glass full.

Tipping is also not customary in Japan (your patronage is enough) so don’t be surprised if your waiter chases you down to return your change.

Do’s and don’ts

  • Do feel free to slurp noodles
  • Do try your best to finish all your meal
  • Do bring the serving dishes to your mouth, not vice-versa.
  • Do break food into manageable pieces before bringing it to your mouth.
  • Don’t  leave your chopsticks directly on the table or standing upright in a bowl of food
  • Don’t put your elbows on the table.
  • Don’t eat directly from the communal platter (first take some and put it on your own smaller plate, then enjoy)
  • DO ask for a knife and fork if you’re struggling with chopsticks – most restaurants will have them on hand

Bathing etiquette

A trip to Japan isn’t complete without a proper Japanese bath, and whether you plan to visit a sento (public bath) or an onsen (hot spring), there is some bathing etiquette you need to know.

Most facilities have separate baths for male and female guests. In these facilities, remove all clothing before entering.

A few facilities will have shared baths, and in these places, a swimsuit is required.

If any part of the process makes you uncomfortable, remember there are often private baths available by reservation, too. Regardless, always take a shower before entering the baths.

If you are at a hot spring, shampoo, body wash and towels will be provided, but if you are at a public bath, you need to rent or bring your own.

Each shower has a stool and bucket. Take a seat, and pour hot water over yourself using the bucket. Make sure to turn off the water when not in use, and be mindful not to splash others.

Once you’re clean, you can enter the baths. Do not put your towel or other items in the water, instead put it to the side.

You should also tie up your hair. Remember that the baths are for bathing and not swimming.

The water in the baths has all sorts of health benefits but may be very hot. Dip a toe in to acclimatise and make sure to take frequent breaks.



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