Long viewed as a unique travel destination, Japan has seen an immense uptick in U.S. visitors in the past 4 years. The 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo is expected to push these numbers even higher.
However, some travelers are deterred by the long flight time. Additionally, people are reluctant to plan a trip to Japan because of the significant differences in culture, food and etiquette. A quick peek online is enough to deter even some of the more adventuresome explorers with the long lists of ‘do this’ and ‘don’t do that.’
As anyone who has visited the country can tell you, the one rule and the only thing you need to remember is to navigate good manners in both business and fun. Show respect for others and be prepared to have respect shown to you. Below are some of the etiquette tips I can offer.
Japanese show their respect with more formality and less familiarity than we use in the U.S.
The Japanese bow rather than shake hands at business meetings. They bow at varying depths depending on the seniority of those they are meeting, but they don’t expect westerners to get it perfectly, therefore a small bow is acceptable.
In business settings, show respect for business cards. Cards are passed to out in order of seniority and with both hands. When you receive a card, inspect it and put it away. Do not leave anyone’s card behind.
The Japanese speak softly at all times and do not gesticulate wildly, or at all.
They do not like to say no – and will go to great grammatical gymnastics to avoid doing so.
They use your name a lot, but not your first name. Last names are used until they have known you for a long time. Typically, if they do use your first name, they will add the honorific “-san” afterward.
They never throw money or credit cards around. Put your payment in a tray and your card or change are handed back to you with both hands and a bow.
Small gifts, always wrapped, are given and received in business settings but never opened right away. Fortunately, even in casual stores, your purchases will be meticulously wrapped.
Before meals, hand towels are offered, including at fast food eateries.
What is comforting and the one crucial way they show respect is by being forgiving of ignorance of their customs; and the gentle way they will assist visitors in learning them. Simple things like a passing traveler advising on how to navigate a line, or a business colleague not recoiling in horror at an incorrect bow make all the difference.