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Etiquette in Japan. How much do you know?

①Taking off shoes before entering a room.

This does not happen everywhere but if you are invited to a Japanese house, remember to take your shoes off before entering a room. There are different reasons for this, but it is mostly because Japanese used to live in tatami rooms, so it’s easier for them to stay there without their shoes on. This rule is also applied to school dormitories. The first time I came to Japan as an exchange student, I was guided around by a student from the dormitory which I was going to live in. When she showed me my new room, I just walked in with my shoes on and realized nothing until she politely told me to take off my shoes. This was a little embarrassing. Sometimes, in some “izakaya”(Japanese bar) and restaurants, you have to take your shoes off as well. Actually it’s easy to tell when you need to take your shoes off after having stayed in Japan for a while. For places where you need to take off your shoes, there is always a step near the entrance. Taking off your shoes before the step or just asking your friend if you need to do it is the best choice.

②Don’t take your own food or drinks to restaurants.

In other countries, taking food or drinks to restaurants can be normal. This can be considered as bad manners in Japan. There are mostly 2 reasons for this. One is because of use the space without paying equally, the other is that there are cases where customers get food poisoning and it’s hard to tell whether the reason is the restaurant or the food brought by the customer. Therefore, in order to avoid situations mentioned above, restaurants do not allow customers to bring their own food or drinks. If you take out your own food or drinks at restaurants, waiters or waitress may come and ask you to put them away.

③Say “いただきます(itadaki masu)” before meal and “ごちそうさまでした(gochisosama deshita)” after meal.

If you have watched Japanese dramas or variety shows, you may have noticed them saying these words. Even if they eat alone, they may say it sometimes. What’s the meaning behind “itadaki masu”? The literal meaning is “I’m going to have it”. It’s a way of showing grateful attitude towards people who serve food and also everyone involved in the process of food making from planting seeds, growing and cooking. The other saying is that it’s also a religious thinking of expressing gratitude to “kami(Japanese god)”. However, this way of thinking is not that prevalent nowadays. Besides showing grateful attitude towards people involved, it also shows grateful attitude towards all other lives involved. To make food, lots of lives such as fish, cows and plants are killed. Saying “itadaki masu” towards food is saying thanks to those lives for letting us live with their lives. What about “gochisosama deshita”? “Gochisosama” writing in Japanese character is “ご馳走様”. Here, “ご” and “様” is a way of showing respectfulness and both “馳”and “走” means “walking”. Why is walking important here?It’s easy for us to get food materials nowadays but people used to walk around a lot of places to get food materials. Also, in order to make food, many people have to use their time. Therefore, saying “gochisosama deshita” shows your gratitude towards people who have spent time and energy in making your food .

④Don’t take food from other person’s chopsticks.

When someone picks up your food on the table, you may tend to take it with your chopsticks. This is definitely NG in Japan. As, in a Japanese funeral, after the cremation two people will use chopsticks to pick up remains simultaneously. Therefore, taking food from someone’s chopsticks on the table may have a big chance of making the Japanese associate it with the situation mentioned above. So when someone passes you food with chopsticks, just let them put it on your plate.

⑤Don’t talk on phones in trains.

This may be hard to understand because while talking is allowed in trains, talking on phones is considered to be a bad manner. Compared to other places I’ve been to, I find more people in Japan tend to read books in trains, therefore they may be more likely to try to keep quiet on the train and leave spaces for each other. However, this is just personal thinking. In order to find reasons, I searched t\on lots of websites. Some say electromagnetic waves from phones may cause bad influence on pacemakers. However, this was tested by the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications in Japan and the result showed that electromagnetic waves from phones had nothing to do with pacemakers. Some say that when having conversations on trains, there’s a person reacting to the one who’s speaking. However, when talking on phones, we can’t hear the person who is reacting, therefore everyone seems to be involved in the conversation and this makes it annoying. There’s also people saying that psychology research shows people get stressed when they don’t understand what other people are saying. When two people are having a conversation in some space in front of you, it’s easy for you to understand what’s going on. But when someone talks on phone in front of you, you may get annoyed easily as you have no clue what he/she is talking about. As various reasons are listed on different websites, there’s no definite reason showing why you can’t talk on the phone on the train. However, as the saying goes, “When in Rome, do as the Romans do”. As far as there’s no necessity for us to break the rules, the best choice would be to respect the local way of acting.