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How to Follow Japanese Etiquette

Knowing a few things about Japanese polite society can spare you a lot of embarrassment.


  • Step 1: Know how and when to bow Know how and when to bow: A slight dip of the neck and shoulders is sufficient for a casual hello to friends; a 30-degree bow from the waist is standard upon meeting a business associate or being introduced to someone; a 45-degree bent-over bow is only used if you're meeting someone important, showing gratitude, or apologizing.
  • TIP: Japanese men bow with their arms at their sides, palms against their legs; women bow with their arms straight in front of them, fingers clasped.
  • Step 2: Observe dining etiquette Observe dining etiquette. Eat nigiri sushi with your fingers and sashimi with chopsticks. Cleanse your palate between bites with ginger; don't use it as a topping. For soup, use your chopsticks to pick out the solid food and then drink the liquid directly from the bowl. Feel free to slurp noodle soup -- loudly. Tipping is not only unnecessary, but insulting.
  • TIP: Use condiments like soy sauce and wasabi sparingly; to do otherwise implies that the chef didn't season the food properly.
  • Step 3: Follow chopstick etiquette Know chopstick etiquette: In a nice restaurant, don't rub them together to smooth down splinters; it's unnecessary, and sends the signal that you think the restaurant is a dive. Don't point them at anyone or jab them into your food.
  • Step 4: Bring some gifts Give a modest, impersonal gift to a Japanese business associate; specialties from your hometown are ideal. If you're visiting someone's home, bring something that can be shared, like alcohol or a cake, rather than flowers.
  • Step 5: Show respect for business cards Offer business cards with both hands, information facing the recipient, and take theirs with either your right hand or both. Spend at least 15 seconds reading their card or you'll appear disrespectful.
  • TIP: Don't shove a business card in your back pocket and sit on it -- that's considered the height of rudeness.
  • Step 6: Follow business meeting etiquette If you're at a business meeting, always wait to be seated by your host; where you sit is predetermined by your status. If you're served tea or coffee, accept it as is, which may or may not be with milk and sugar. Take a few sips even if you don't want it.
  • Step 7: Don't blow your nose; do pick your teeth Never blow your nose in public, or eat or drink while walking; such behaviors are viewed with disgust. But it's perfectly acceptable to use the toothpicks provided by restaurants to clean your teeth at the table. Sayonara!
  • FACT: Young people in Japan consider it rude to phone someone without texting them first to see if they're available.

You Will Need

  • Bowing know-how
  • Dining rules
  • Gift
  • Business decorum

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