Japan is known for being a land of contrasts.
Attracted by this fact, more than 2 million tourists arrive in this country every year, using one of the that offer flights to Japan. If you are planning a trip to this
fascinating country soon, it might be useful to be familiar with some of the most unusual customs you may be faced
Removing your shoes as you enter a house
Most people are familiar with the Japanese custom that involves taking one’s shoes off as they enter a house.
However, there is more to this tradition than just that.
It is believed that this custom is a way of avoiding bringing dirt, mud, and dust from the streets into a home, so taking
your shoes off shows respect for your host or the owner of the house. Japanese homes have a dedicated space by the
entrance where shoes must be left and where you must change into slippers. Now, here’s what not every Westerner
knows about this tradition: if a house’s floor is raised approximately 6 inches, this means shoes must be removed and
guests should change into slippers. However, if once inside the house you notice that the floors are covered with a
tatami mat or raised 1 or 2 inches, you should also take off your slippers. Moreover, as explained in this site , you must change into a different set of slippers when
using the house’s bathroom.
Bowing when meeting someone
While in Western countries a handshake is considered a common way of greeting someone, the Japanese custom requires that you bow before
someone when you meet them. This may seem a bit awkward to Westerners, especially as there are different types of
bows that have to be performed in different situations. There are different positions for the hands depending on
whether you are male or female, but eye contact should never be maintained while bowing. Generally speaking, the
wider the angle of the bow, the more respectful or formal it is. There are greeting bows, apology bows, goodbye bows,
respect bows, and even telephone bows.
Don’t worry if you can’t get it right from the beginning, as even Japanese employees are sometimes sent to
It is a custom in Japan that all members of a household use the same water to bathe. The Japanese consider that
using any soap in the bath tub will actually make the water dirty and this would be a signal of disrespect towards the
next person to use the bath. It is for this reason that Japanese bathrooms consist of three separate rooms: one where
the toilet is, another where you undress, and the actual bathroom, which has a shower (where soap can be used) and
a bath tub, which is exclusively used for soaking. Also, to some Westerners it may be shocking to find out that nudity
is accepted and even expected in Japanese public baths.
More information on Japanese
bathroom etiquette can be found here
When napkins are not napkins
Do not be tempted to use the small cloth you will find on your table at Japanese restaurants or bars as if it was a
napkin. This cloth (called oshibori) is only meant to be used to clean your hands prior to eating. Once your hands are
clean, the oshibori should be carefully folded and not used again. Westerners often find it odd that there are no actual
napkins at Japanese restaurants, so always carry your own tissues.