Japan has a great culture of tradition and respect, with many beliefs that you may not want to cross when visiting this wonderful country. Here are just a few ways to earn respect from the locals, and to not stand out like the foreigner in the land.
Bowing (ejigi) – a few days in Japan and you will find yourself bowing to everyone, unless you’re anything like me then you’ll end up curtsying. Japanese people bow to one another in shops, in business and in everyday meetings. The lower the bow, the more respect and thanks you are showing, however a simple shoulder dip should just about do it. The Japanese love the tradition of bowing and often when two old friends or two business people meet they are constantly bowing after every other sentence. Join in the bowing, if anything just to work the ab muscles.
Slippers – the Japanese love their slippers! And I’m not exactly talking about the Ugg boot style slippers which I fashion at home. When entering someone’s home, office or more importantly a temple, then take off your shoes at the door and don some slippers. The Japanese slippers usually have a hard sole so that they remain more waterproof, they are also moccasin style, which makes it difficult to walk up stairs safely (can I sue?). Don’t expect to take off your shoes in shops, bars and some restaurants, but be prepared for Japanese homes, authentic Japanese restaurants and temples.
Slurping – slurp away in Japan! When eating noodles or soup you are expected to slurp to show your satisfaction of the meal! Slurping is considered polite so don't feel odd when you're creating a heck of a noise. It may seem a bit forced at first but you’ll get used to it pretty quickly and forget how to eat soup and noodles without making a noise.
Accepting something – when accepting things like food, drinks, money and especially gifts, then accept with two hands. Not a big deal if you’re in a bar and just getting a beer, but if in a shop or something with more tradition like a temple or a Japanese home, then accept things with two hands. Not really sure why but this is the thing to do.
Speaking Japanese – before coming to Japan I heard that the Japanese will not speak English to me or even speak to me, whoever told me that clearly hasn't been to Japan. My first few days in Japan I spoke a little Japanese and it was received very well. I’ve found since that the Japanese love the fact you are making an effort to learn their language, and therefore respecting their culture. Obviously no one expects you to be fluent but the odd words of arigatou (thank you), konnichi wa (hello) and kudasai (please), will go a really long way and earn you respect from Japanese people.
Pouring drinks – when with others, even if you're just with friends or family, it is considered rude to pour yourself a drink and no one else. I guess this is the same in most countries, for example if you were in a restaurant you wouldn’t just pour wine for yourself, you would pour for the whole table. However in Japan pour for others and not yourself, this is left to another person at the table.
Tipping – thankfully the Japanese don’t accept tipping, and as I’m cheap in restaurants that works out well for me. They believe tipping is fairly impolite, as if to say ‘I know what to charge for the service, why would you give me anymore?” if you want to go out of your way to really thank someone for business or service it is then more accepted to give a gift rather than a tip.
Chopsticks – I say embrace chopsticks. Learn how to use them and make the most of eating your food a bit differently. They may take some getting used to at first, but before you know it you’ll be a natural. A big bit of advice is don’t stab your food with chopsticks to pick it up, it’s considered as a symbol of stabbing the dead. Also, don’t pass your food from one chopstick to another as it is a symbol of passing the bones of dead bodies.