Manners in Japan : How to be Polite (pt.2)
Updated: Feb 7, 2019
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こんにちは, everyone! Welcome back to Teach Me Japanese.
Today’s lesson is part 2 in our series on Japanese manners and etiquette. This was a
requested lesson, so if you have any requests of your own for future lessons make sure
to let us know! You can comment here, visit our contact page, or head over to our
Facebook page to contact us.
Without further ado, let’s get into part 2! (ﾉ≧ڡ≦)
Business is an integral part of Japanese culture. People work really hard for their
companies, and work often continues even after they leave the office. You can’t get
by in the Japanese business world if you don’t know proper business etiquette, so
make sure to memorize the following customs if you plan on working in Japan.
This one might seem counter-intuitive, but paying the bill at a business dinner when
you are low on the totem pole is considered very offensive. Usually the person of the
highest position at the dinner will pick up the tab, but one thing you should do is
pretend to want to pay it. Not objecting at all can also be considered rude.
If you are out to eat with someone that you are trying to sell a product to, that is a
case where you will foot the bill. Failure to do so will usually result in you not getting
The foreigner card will only get you so far in terms of business in Japan. If you are
trying to move up the corporate ladder (or even really get a job in the first place, you
need to be familiar with keigo. Keigo is basically the catch-all term for polite and
formal Japanese. There are different levels, and almost all are necessary when you
want to do business.
Knowing keigo and actually using keigo are two different things. Keigo can be
exhausting to use, but that doesn’t make it optional. Failing to use keigo may not get
you fired, but it sure will rub people the wrong way, and it will be difficult to be
successful at your job. We will be making lessons on keigo later, so don’t worry.
We’ve got you covered.
Handshakes, or 握手（あくしゅ） are commonly used in the Japanese business
world, so unless you are familiar with and comfortable with bowing, a handshake
will do just fine. Attempting to bow and shake hands at the same time just makes
you look awkward, so it’s best to pick one and stick to it.
In business meetings, there is a specific place for both host and guest to sit. Someone,
such as an assistant, will usually gesture to you on where to sit. If not, don’t be afraid
to ask, as it’s better than looking rude or sloppy.
Business Cards, or 名刺(めいし), are taken quite seriously in Japan and can be
considered an extension of the person themselves. With that in mind, it makes sense
that there are some rules of etiquette surrounding the handling of business cards.
When both receiving and giving 名刺, it is important to use both hands. If you are
sitting down at a meeting, make sure to place the business card on the table directly in
front of you for the length of the meeting. Most business man carry their own “business
card holders”, but if you don’t have one of these, gingerly placing the business card
in your wallet at the end of the meeting should suffice.
While not inherently rude, choosing to wear revealing clothing in Japan may earn
you some eyebrow raises from the locals, especially the elderly. Most of Japanese
women’s fashion is focused on being cute and modest. However, It stands to argue
that Japan is slowly coming around to the idea of more revealing clothing, as many
young girls can be spotted these days wearing short skirts and mimicking idol’s
Tattoos still don’t have a very good image in Japan, and are still heavily associated
with the Yakuza. While some regular Japanese people still get tattoos, the stigma
of them causes them to be considered unacceptable at many business. Most people
with tattoos on their arms wear clothing or special sleeves in order to conceal them
when they go out in public, and many beaches and public baths will simply turn you
away if you have tattoos.
As a foreigner, you might have more luck, but Japanese people with tattoos even have
a hard time finding and keeping employment. If you get found out for having tattoos
(as a Japanese at least), you could get fired!
As many of us know, wearing shoes indoors is a big no-no in Japan. There is a special
place at the entrance of a building, known as 玄関(げんかん), where you can take your
shoes off before entering. 玄関 are a step below the rest of the inside, so when you
take of your shoes you have to “step up” into the building and, if provided, step into
Restrooms are a separate entity from the rest of a building, and are treated as such. It is
safe to assume that bathroom floors are unsanitary, so special bathroom slippers are
supposed to be worn at all times when in one. Sometimes there are bathroom 玄関 with
a step up into the bathroom where you can switch slippers, but sometimes you may
need to take off your house slippers outside of the bathroom door before entering and
putting on bathroom slippers. That being said, most public buildings don’t have toilet
Lastly, slippers shouldn’t be worn on tatami mats, and there are usually 玄関 type
entrances in rooms where there are tatami.
Pointing in Japan is considered rude and should be avoided. Pointing will draw
attention to you and is very much frowned upon to point at people.
A major aspect of Japanese etiquette is avoiding conflict. Being very direct about
your opinions or feelings on a topic could cause turmoil and rub people the wrong
In many cultures it’s common to hug, and even kiss, your friends and acquaintances.
Japan does not share this aspect, in fact, physical contact in general is avoided, even
among good friends. Lovers, of course, get physical, but never in public. At most, you
might see some hand holding.
Unless you are good friends with someone, you should use さん after their name.
This is usually done with the last name, but there are some exceptions. Calling
someone by their first name (esp. Without さん) when you are not close friends can
be considered disrespectful. If you aren’t sure what to call someone, it never hurts
That wraps it up for this lesson! Leave any questions in the comments
below, or you can head to the forum and ask your fellow Japanese learners! And if you're
still looking for more good resources for studying Japanese, check out
our resources tab.
As always, がんばってね！