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Etiquette Reviews

Toonsarah Toonsarah
566 reviews
Etiquette: bowing and queuing Oct 04, 2013
Appearances matter in Japan, and how you behave and how you treat other people is all part of that. The most visible sign of this is perhaps the ubiquitous bowing, and almost inevitably you will find yourself doing it a bit too, mirroring what locals do in their interactions with you. A bow can mean many things, according to circumstances and the way it is performed – hello, goodbye, please, thank you, you are welcome, I am sorry ... And one bow is rarely enough. I have a particular memory of watching a group of business men in Odawara station bobbing together as they met up, introduced colleagues, chatted and then went their separate ways. On a train you will see the various staff members bowing to customers as they go about their duties. The ticket inspector will bow to the carriage as a whole when he first enters and announce his purpose there, bow to each passenger as he takes the ticket and then again as he returns it, and finally again to the whole carriage as he leaves. The refreshment seller will do the same.

There are innumerable subtleties to the depth and angle of your bow, depending on circumstance and your relationship with the person to whom you bow – subtleties that only a Japanese person, or maybe someone who has lived here for many years, can hope to get right. One factor is age – a younger person should be more respectful towards an older one. Another is company hierarchy. So if your boss is younger than you are, each of you should accord the other greater respect!

No one will expect a visitor to do any of this, but I found that a gentle nod goes a long way to showing something of the same level of courtesy while not risking you getting things wrong.

Another important aspect of etiquette is getting your queuing behaviour right. Not for the Japanese the mad scramble and free for all that an arriving bus or train triggers in the UK for instance. Platforms are clearly marked with lines to indicate the proper place to queue, and everyone obeys these. If you have a reserved seat (e.g. for a bullet train journey) you queue by the correct door and even on the subway the stopping points are marked and you queue accordingly. In Osaka we noticed that some lines were labelled ‘women only’ at certain times of day (morning rush hour) as some carriages are reserved for female travellers at those times.

When the train or bus arrives, the queue stands aside to let people off, then moves forwards in an orderly manner. If there isn't room for everyone, those left behind remain on the platform in their queue and will be first in line for the next one. In London they would be more likely to scramble over each other rather than be left behind! I was very impressed to see this focus on a behaviour which makes living in a crowded city much pleasanter for all concerned.
The owner of our guesthouse in Hak…
In Kyoto
Station guard
Queuing at Osaka station (with apo…
7 / 7 TravBuddies found this review helpful/trustworthy
Toonsarah says:
Thanks Sylvia - and I'm sure your visitor appreciated the efforts you went to!
Posted on: Jan 15, 2018
starship1 says:
Nice review about Japanese etiquette and good to know too. I worked with a Japanese exchange scholar for a couple years here -- made a slight bow on his arrival & learned the appropriate Japanese greeting for a first meeting with someone of higher status. God only knows what he thought, LOL!!

Congrats on having today's featured review!
Posted on: Jan 14, 2018
Toonsarah says:
Thank you all :-)
Posted on: Jan 14, 2018
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Toonsarah Toonsarah
566 reviews
Etiquette: the right footwear Oct 04, 2013
Something that may concern you when planning a visit to Japan could be, what to wear on your feet! It is generally known that it's the done thing to take your shoes off when entering a room but in practice it isn't quite as cut and dried as that. If you are going into a Western style building there is no need to do any differently from at home - you can (and should) keep your shoes on. But in a traditional building it is mandatory to take your shoes off before stepping on to a raised wooden floor and to remove even slippers before stepping on to the any tatami matting. The general rule is, if you have to step up on to the main floor area, you must take your shoes off before doing so. And although some tolerance is shown towards ignorant visitors, this only extends as far as rushing to stop you committing the faux pas, not to allowing you to get away with it. Apparently this rule of etiquette has a very practical origin, as shoes will quickly ruin expensive tatami matting. But it is now ingrained in the culture too, and to try to ignore it deliberately will only give offence. But don't worry – after a few days in the country it will become second nature to pause on any threshold and consider whether your shoes should come off.

If you are staying in a traditional ryokan, slippers for indoor use will be provided and you will leave your outdoor shoes by the front door, usually on specially provided shelves or in a cabinet.

Just to add to the complications however, you will need to use special toilet slippers in the bathroom. These must always be left in there – it is as much of a social solecism to wear toilet slippers anywhere other than in the toilet as it is to wear shoes in the wrong place. But with a little bit of thinking about what you are doing you should be fine – and it's all part of experiencing the culture of your host country. Just one tip: take shoes that you can easily slip on and off as you’ll need to do so several times a day and could find yourself teetering on one foot in a busy restaurant doorway, for instance, while trying to untangle stubborn laces!
Selection of slippers at a ryokan
General slippers
Toilet slippers
Storage for outdoor shoes
2 / 2 TravBuddies found this review helpful/trustworthy
Toonsarah says:
Thanks for all the comments and smiles Victor :-)
Posted on: Jan 09, 2018
vicIII says:
Live and learn! Thanks for your advice, Sarah!:)
Posted on: Jan 08, 2018
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