University of Wisconsin–Madison

the Do’s and Don’ts of Japan

Japan has many principles and ways to behave that are not explicitly written or said, but go without saying. While they are more lenient to foreigners who do not follow the cultural norms, it goes a long way (and you will get much more respect) if you follow these basics Do’s and Don’ts.

 

Do’s Don’t’s
●     Pay with cash as much as possible (cash society)

●     Be quiet in public

●     Say arigato gouzaimous

●     Slurp soup

●     Bow everywhere

●     Wear masks when sick

●     Go to hospital even for a cold to get medicine

●     Drink alcohol (a lot more than America)

●     Sort all your trash

●     Eat or drink until everyone is ready

●     Be on your phone when walking

●     Stand chopsticks in food

●     J walk or cross a street when the light is not green for you

●     Say a direct no

●     Lock your bike

●     Make long eye contact

●     Litter (also no garbage cans though so you carry your trash)

●     Get up from a table until everyone is done

 

Many may seem obvious, but I do not write them without purpose because I have seen so many foreigners not realizing their mistakes or me making some of these mistakes myself! For example, being quiet in public might have been what your parents yelled at you about what you came back from the zoo as children, but this quiet is a whole new level of respect, from not talking on the phone in public to laughing loudly with friends on the train. Another norm you might overlook at first glance is not to J walk or cross a street when the light isn’t green. Yes, technically this is illegal in America, but no cop is about to jail someone for crossing the street when they aren’t supposed to. No cop in Japan would either (I think?), but it is a social principle to only walk along crosswalks when it is your right of way, even if there are no cars nearby. I remember the first time I crossed the street not on my right of way, and everyone else standing to wait in the light looked at my like I had just robbed an old lady in the middle of the street.

The last note I wanted to make is about clothing. I did not include anything in the list above specifying any prohibited clothing because technically there isn’t any. However, Japan (and perhaps this is true of more of Asia but it is definitely different than the Americas and Europe) has a unique fashion, very ahead of the fashion trends of the West. Japanese men dress very similarly to men in America, perhaps only decorating in more designer gear and handbags than I am used to seeing in the States. Women tend to dress more conservatively with looser fitting clothing and tights under most dresses and pants. I hate to wear tights myself so I don’t wear them in Japan, but I do try to follow suit in other regards.

If anyone is planning to come to Japan or just interested in some of the cultural norms, I hope this helps!

***Disclaimer: These are just generalized observations and by no means fit for everyone in the country.***