I experienced a culture of friendliness throughout Japan. The customer service in the hotels and restaurants were among the best ever (especially Westin Miyako Kyoto – wow!) and by the way tipping is typically not expected and may sometimes be considered an insult as it is their job to provide the outstanding service. There were several times where I may have looked a bit lost and someone would stop and ask if I needed help. They rarely spoke English, but we were able to understand each other with just a few words and using our hands to show where something may be located.
The 3 most important Japanese words to memorize (that’s it, just 3!):
1. Konichiwa – Hello
2. Sumimasen – Excuse me
3. Arigato Go-zai-mas – Thank you very much
The 10 Japanese etiquette tips:
1. Do not walk and eat at the same time. If you purchase a take away item, plan to eat it at your destination and not along the way.
2. Shoes are often removed before going indoors at a home or restaurants. Be prepared by wearing clean socks and slip on shoes.
3. Do not pour your own drink. Rather pour the drink for your guest and then they will pour a drink for you. When someone is pouring a drink for you, help them by tilting the glass.
4. Handshakes and hugs are replaced with bowing. A typical casual bow would be slight 10-15 degrees with the head and neck. Formal bowing may be deep all the way to the waist.
5. Paying for meals is typically done at the cash register rather than leaving your money on the table. Do not hand the money to the employee, rather use the bowl or plate next to the register to place your cash or card down. The employee will then hand the change to you in your hand.
6. Slurping is acceptable and a gesture to the cook that you are enjoying their soup or noodles. Spoons are often not used for soup, rather lift the bowl with 2 hands and drink.
7. Tattoos are not common in Japan and are often associated with criminal gangs. When visiting onsens or public pools, tattoos are not permitted. If you have tattoos, you can cover them up with tape and that would be acceptable.
8. Inside the home and in public places you will notice bathroom slippers. Put these on when going to the bathroom and then take them off when you leave.
9. Chopsticks should not be placed straight up in our bowl of rice. Rather use the chopstick holder or place them down flat near your plate.
10. You will see many wearing surgical masks. There are 2 reasons for this – first, they may have a cold/flu and wear the mask to prevent their germs to be spread to others and second, allergies.