11 Examples of Japanese Etiquette That Would Drive Us Crazy
Japan is famous for its incredibly complex etiquette rules. It may seem unnecessary to turn simple actions into ceremonies, but in Japan, for sure, no one is offended by this.
We at Bright Side have collected for you some rules of courtesy from Japan.
11. Addressing people
To address people by name is not enough in Japan. And the respectful title “-san“ is only the tip of the iceberg. There are actually more honorific suffixes for addressing or referring to people:
- ”-kun“ — a less formal honorific than the neutral “-san.” General use of ”-kun“ approximately means ”friend.“
- “-chan” — a diminutive suffix, primarily used for children, female family members, lovers, and close friends.
- “-sama“ — the most respectful version (”lord,” “honorable”). It was used to refer to lords and deities. Nowadays, it’s sometimes used to express sarcasm.
- ”-senpai“ — for addressing one’s elder colleagues or schoolmates.
- ”-kōhai“ — the opposite of “senpai.”
- ”-sensei“ — for addressing teachers, doctors, scientists, politicians, and other authority figures.
- ”-shi" — for formal writing.
10. Exchanging business cards
It’s a whole ritual. Here’s what you need to do:
- Make sure your card’s front side is facing your counterpart.
- Offer it with both hands.
- If your rank is lower than your partner’s, hold the card lower than they do.
- If you were given a business card, put it on a cardholder, and take a few seconds to look at it.
- Don’t forget to bow.
- If you haven’t got a cardholder, it’s a disaster.
It’s a far cry from what we have — just putting business cards in our pocket!
9. In an elevator
It turns out that even here there are informal but clear rules. If you are the first to enter an empty elevator, you become the elevator captain, and you should stand close to the control panel. You’ll need to hold the door open until everyone has entered the elevator. Repeat so for each floor at which the elevator stops. You must also be the last to leave, and you need to do everything very quickly.
If you are a tourist in Japan, we advise you not to be the first to enter an elevator!
On the subway, there are some restrictive rules that the Japanese are expected to follow: talking is not allowed (on the phone as well), and it’s impolite to stare at others.
It’s not customary to give up your seat for old people, even if they can barely stand. There are special seats marked with a sign for them as well as for disabled people and pregnant women. These seats are not to be occupied if you don’t belong to these categories.
In Japan, it’s rude to look people in the eyes, let alone touch them. This country is not very large, so every Japanese person respects the personal space of others. If you visit Japan, don’t touch people.
Kissing in public is also frowned upon here. Before 1945, it was considered a violation of public order.
6. Alcoholic drinks
When the Japanese drink, the social hierarchy totally breaks down. And they drink really heavily. A local professor can drink with his students, and then they will drag him home. An exemplary clerk who bows to his business partner during the day can get drunk at a karaoke bar and vomit on his suit. And this is normal.
Interestingly enough, when they all sober up, they will behave just as if nothing happened. In Japan, what happens in a boozy session stays in a boozy session.
The Japanese have a strange attitude toward money: for some reason, they are embarrassed to show it in public. Therefore, money envelopes decorated in a traditional manner are very popular here. And if you haven’t got such an envelope, you’ll have to wrap the money in a piece of paper before giving it to anyone.
Of course, you don’t need to do so at supermarkets, but you still have to consider this rule: you can’t hand your money to the cashier, only put it in the cash tray. And it’s all for the sake of the protection of personal space.
4. The art of sitting properly
To sit by folding one’s legs underneath one’s thighs is called "seiza," and the Japanese sit on the floor only in this way. They feel comfortable sitting seiza-style, as if in an armchair. But since Europeans are not accustomed to it, their feet become numb within a couple of minutes.
If you are a tourist or a senior and spread out your legs, you’ll certainly get away with it, and no one will say anything. But it would be unimaginably inappropriate for a Japanese person to sit so.
In Japan, the culture of giving gifts is very strong, and there are 2 special gift-giving seasons each year: o-chugen (in summer) and o-seibo (in winter).
In many countries, it is customary to open a gift at once. In Japan, it’s a sign of greed and impatience. Besides, what if the gift giver is embarrassed about their modest gift and notices a shade of discontent coming over your face, like a wind in the reeds?
The art of bowing is so important in this country that children learn it at an early age. There are many different ways to bow in Japan: standing, sitting, and female and male variants. Here are some of them:
- The greeting bow (“eshaku“) of 15° is for people of equal business or social rank.
- The respectful bow (”keirei“) of 30° is a bow for a teacher or a boss.
- The deeply reverent bow (“saikeirei”) of 45° should be used if you apologize or see the emperor.
- The ”begging for your life" bow is probably only used nowadays if you have done something really terrible.
Of course, foreigners are not expected to bow, but the Japanese will be pleased if you return a bow.
1. Taking leave
In Japan, a customer or business partner is almost a god and is treated with incredible respect. When they leave, the whole company follows them to the door or elevator and keeps bowing until the doors are closed.
It’s very inconvenient if this happens in a business center with several such delegations crowding at elevators at the same time. Besides, foreign customers can be embarrassed. The Japanese of the new generation believe that this is a little bit too much and often ignore this ritual. We wonder what fate awaits the traditional Japanese etiquette in the coming centuries.