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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 sale.

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

some slippers.

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

to ask.


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!


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