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Japanese Customs

Japan has a number of customs that, while natural for a native Japanese person, might not come across as readily obvious to an outside observer. Nevertheless, customs such as bowing when you meet someone or taking your shoes off before entering someone’s home are very important to people in Japan. While one certainly won’t be punished for making a mistake, it’s best to check ahead of time so as to avoid any unnecessary social faux pas.

Bowing (O-jigi)

Description Bowing is an essential part of Japanese society. Japanese people bow when saying hello, goodbye, expressing condolences, apologizing, or sometimes just instinctively. Bowing is so ingrained into Japanese society that you can even see people bowing while talking on the phone sometimes. Bows can be as small as short dips of the head and shoulders or as big as full, 90 degree bends, depending on situation. It’s polite to give small bows in most of the situations above, though you should watch your conversation partner for specifics.


Description In Japan, it is customary to take off your shoes before you enter someone’s house. Leaving your shoes on in someone’s house is terribly disrespectful, so you must never forget to take them off. There will always be a space at the entrance to the house where you can remove and leave your shoes. The host will usually provide you with slippers, though people with large feet might find the Japanese size slipper a bit too small. It is also necessary to take off your shoes at schools and certain businesses.


Description Bathing and keeping clean are, of course, expected in Japan, especially since you spend so much time around other people on trains and walking down the street. There are two ways to bathe: in your house or at a public bathhouse. These days, the vast majority of people opt for the former, only visiting bath houses on occasion. Most Japanese residences have a shower room. Many Japanese people shower while sitting down, so the shower head can be a little low for Western standards sometimes.

Toilets(Washiki Yoshiki)

Description There are two basic types of toilets in Japan: the Western style sitting toilet, and a Japanese style squatting toilet. The squatting toilet is low to the ground with a hood protruding from one end. The proper way to use the Japanese style toilet is to squat facing the hood. Be careful not to lose your balance or you could fall in. Western toilets are more common nowadays, with a number of newer toilets having niceties such as warmed seats and a bidet.