Unraveling Japanese Customs: 65 Key Practices and How to Share Them with the World

Mayumi Folio
Mayumi Folio

Japanese customs can be seen in various aspects of daily life.

Japanese customs and manners vary from country to country and culture to culture.

Japanese customs are common knowledge in Japanese society and do not need to be explained.

The unspoken rules created by these customs and customs are unique to the country and can be seen as a sense of beauty and sincerity toward others.

However, there are sometimes things that are surprising or difficult for foreigners to understand.

When a foreigner asks, “Why in Japan? it would be wonderful if you could explain about Japanese customs and manners with a few English phrases.

It would be a kind and gentle gesture to tell your foreign guests about special Japanese customs and traditions to suit the situation so that they don’t have to worry.

This time, we will focus on Japanese customs.

– 20 example sentences and phrases you can use when explaining Japanese customs to a foreigner.

– 25 English explanations of chopstick etiquette

– What is special about Japanese customs and manners for foreigners?

In this article, we will introduce the above!

What is Japanese customs?

Japanese customs are historically and culturally rooted in Japan.

Since these customs have existed since ancient times, they have naturally become the rules of the game.

In everyday life, there are also Japanese customs regarding greetings, meals, bathing, toileting, and other manners.

Japanese people naturally consider Japanese customs as a matter of course, since they have naturally accepted them since birth.

Foreigners, however, have their own customs in their own countries, and it is a fact that it is often difficult to convey Japanese customs and manners to foreigners.

In this issue, we have prepared a way of saying things that is as easy to convey as possible from the point of view of the communicator.

Differences between Japanese customs and manners

As mentioned above, Japanese customs are historically and culturally rooted.

Therefore, the term “Japanese customs” is unique to Japan, but every country has its own customs.

However, when it comes to manners, the situation is a little different.

Manners are derived from the West and include rules of etiquette common to all countries.

In the larger sense, it is common-sense human behavior.

The minimum you should know about rules is not to cause trouble and to show respect to everyone.

For example, littering is not tolerated anywhere in the world.

Also, when entertaining guests, it is good manners to behave respectfully and not be rude.

In particular, Japanese people need to pay special attention to “ladies first” manners.

It is important to recognize that manners and customs (Japanese customs) are slightly different in some respects.

If you would like to know more about Japanese courtesy from a foreigner’s point of view, we recommend this article.

Reference article: [Japanese Manners that can be proud of in the world ! What do foreigners think of Japanese courtesy?

I will now explain how Japanese customs have originated and taken root in Japan.

Japanese customs, cultural background and examples

Japanese customs are strongly rooted in the traditional clothing, food, and shelter.

For clothing, the kimono is a traditional garment.

When wearing a kimono, there are various Japanese customs, and it is polite to know and observe them.

In the area of food, there are customs related to eating oseki-ryori on festive occasions, chopsticks and Japanese tableware, and the uniquely Japanese customs of eating noodles and other foods with noise.

The same is true for the entrance to the house, where people remove their shoes at the entrance, sit on tatami mats, and sleep on futon mattresses.

These Japanese customs have been developed over a long period of time as unique historical Japanese customs, including religious customs and the way of greeting people in the days of the samurai.

Typical among them is bowing.

As a result of the development of the samurai’s etiquette, the deeply bent-back bow was born.

Even today, the angle of the bow has a different meaning of apology, and whether the bowing expresses or accepts the heart of the recipient is a uniquely Japanese custom.

Japanese customs are also very evident at weddings, funerals, and other ceremonial occasions.

Many Japanese customs are also found in annual events.

For example, the following are some examples of Japanese customs.

– Sending New Year’s greeting cards

– Eating Osechi food

– Going to Hatsumode (New Year’s visit to a shrine)

– Eat Shichikusa porridge

– Do Mamemaki (bean-throwing ceremony)

– Hinamatsuri (Girls’ Day)

– Cherry blossom viewing

– Bon dance

– Giving year-end gifts

– A Year-End Party

– Eating New Year’s Eve Soba

The New Year’s events are filled with Japanese customs, ranging from special customs to those that are found in everyday life.

For more detailed articles on New Year’s events, please refer to this page.

Reference article: Japanese traditional annual events to introduce to foreigners with English example sentences

20 phrases for explaining Japanese customs and traditions


Taking off one’s shoes at the entrance is often cited as a special Japanese custom.

It is so natural to us that it is unthinkable not to take off our shoes indoors.

Here are some phrases that can be used in such situations.

• Take off your shoes at the entrance. Shoes are not worn inside

• Shoes that have been taken off should be lined up.

• This is because the Japanese do not want to contaminate the floor with dirt, sand, or dust from their shoes.

• Instead, shoes are removed in the vestibule, and often replaced with slippers.

In Japanese houses, there are Japanese-style rooms with tatami mats.

Japanese-style rooms have different Japanese customs from Western-style rooms, so it may be a good idea to give a brief explanation for those who are new to Japanese-style rooms.

• Walk so as avoiding to step on the edges of the tatami mats.

• Please sit on the cushion.

• If you find it hard to sit upright, please collapse your legs.

• We will provide you a futon after the meal.


It is no exaggeration to say that bathing in a warm bathtub is one of the best cultural experiences in Japan, where one can refresh both body and soul.

However, the Japanese bath culture is also filled with customs that are thoroughly original from the perspective of foreign countries.

• First of all, you take off all your clothes.

• The body must be cleaned and washed before entering the baths.

• Baths are for relaxing, not cleaning the body.

Some foreigners say they did not go to the open-air baths because they did not know if they could go outside naked.

• Sometime there are open-air baths that you are free to use as well.

• You can go naked in the open-air bath.


The Japanese way of thanking all the living creatures who share their lives with us and all the people involved in the meal before us is called “Itadakimasu” and “Gochisosama.

The heart of Japan is found in the ordinary things we do in everyday life.

Here, we have prepared phrases that can be used to explain such Japanese customs related to food to foreigners.

• Meals in Japan traditionally begin with the word itadakimasu.

• Itadakimasu expresses gratitude for all who played a role in providing the food and acknowledges that living organisms have given their lives to human beings

• Upon finishing a meal, Japanese people use the polite phrase gochisōsama-deshita.

It is a word that we would like foreigners to know in Japanese customs.

About Tea

There are many foreigners who are not accustomed to drinking green tea straight.

The mainstream demand for green tea in Europe and the United States is for flavored teas, so some people are surprised to learn that they can enjoy the taste of green tea straight.

• The Japanese green tea is meant to be enjoyed as it is offered to you. 

• Therefore, you don’t have to add sugar or cream.

I often hear Westerners who come to Japan say, “It’s so unusual that there is no sugar in bottled tea!” I often hear Westerners who come to Japan say, “It’s so unusual that there is no sugar in bottled tea!

• Tea in Japan is often associated with the tea ceremony, but Japanese people also drink tea frequently in their daily lives.

• The teas that are consumed daily in Japan include green tea, black tea, oolong tea, barley tea, hojicha, herbal tea, and many others.

25 Japanese customs for chopsticks

There are various Japanese customs regarding the use of chopsticks when eating.

These are called “kiraibashi” or “abhorrence chopsticks.

• There are various manners related to the use of chopsticks, known as “KIRAI BASHI/ bad chopsticks “.

• Watashi bashi :

Placing chopsticks on a plate, not on a chopstick rest. It would mean no more food.

• Saguri bashi : 

Using one’s chopsticks to find a food one likes by rummaging in one’s dish or pot.

• Thuki bashi, Sashi hashi :

To stab food with chopsticks.

• Jika bashi :

Using your own chopsticks rather than serving chopsticks when taking food from a shared plate.

• Mogi bashi :

Removing grains of rice from the chopsticks by sucking with your mouth.

• Kasane bashi : 

Continue to eat only the same dishes in a row.

• Hashiwahashi : 

Passing food from chopstick to chopstick.

• Tataki bashi : 

Tapping bowls and other tableware with chopsticks.

• Kami Bashi : 

Biting the Chopsticks

• Tate bashi : 

To stick chopsticks in the middle of the rice.

• Chigiri bashi: 

Eating with chopsticks, one in the right hand and one in the left hand, while tearing up the food.

• Sora bashi: 

Taking food with chopsticks in order to eat it, but not eating it and putting it back.

• Nigiri bashi :

The way to hold chopsticks by gripping them.

•  Futari bashi: 

The two of us together on the dishes, pinching the food between us.

• Sashi bashi: 

Pointing at a person with chopsticks while eating

• Mayoi bashi: 

Hovering one’s chopsticks back and forth over side dishes, when trying to choose which one to take.

• Utsuri bashi: 

Starting to pick up one dish but then suddenly switching to something else.

• Namida bashi: 

Letting soup or sauce to drip like tears from chopsticks.

• Chigai bashi:

Use a pair of dissimilar chopsticks

• Kaki bashi: 

Scratch the head and other parts of the body with chopsticks.

• Kakikomi bashi:

Put the bowl to your mouth and eat inside with chopsticks.

• Yose bashi:

Pull the dishes toward you with your chopsticks.

• Soroe bashi: 

Aligning one’s chopsticks by tapping them on the table, a dish.

• Oshikomi bashi: 

Pushing food into the back of the mouth with chopsticks.

• Furiage basi: 

Waving chopsticks around while talking during a meal.

Reference site Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries website:

20 phrases that can be used to explain distinctive Japanese customs


It is said that learning Japanese bowing is not easy even if you have lived in Japan for a long time.

Here are some phrases you can use when you want to explain such Japanese bowing to foreigners.

• Bowing is probably the feature of Japanese etiquette that is best known outside Japan.

• Basic bowing are performed by bending from the waist with the back and neck straight, and the eyes looking down.

• The etiquette surrounding bowing, including the length, depth, and appropriate response, is exceedingly complex.

How to explain the angle and meaning of bowing in English?

Now, let me introduce the actual meaning of the angle of bowing.

• nodding angle is 15°

Use it when passing someone you know. slow your pace, make eye contact, straighten your back, smile lightly, and bow lightly.

• salute angle is 30°

It is performed when greeting or seeing off someone at the first meeting. Generally, when we say “bow”, we are referring to this “salute”.

• a respectful bow angle is from 45° to 90°

It is used for apologies and when responding to complaints.

The angle at which the upper body is bowed ranges from 45° to 90°, but it can be adjusted according to the situation, such as bowing deeply to 90° to show sincere apology.

The Beauty of Japanese Humility

There is a Japanese customs in which it is considered a virtue to humble oneself.

Since the entire society expects people to express themselves and their relatives in a lowly and humble manner, foreigners wonder why they underestimate themselves and their loved ones. They do not wonder why.

This is why there is an unspoken Japanese customs to give a gift while saying, “It’s just a little something,” or “It’s a trifle, but….

• It is a small thing, but please take it as a sign of how well we get along.

Why would anyone bother to give me something so boring?” I have heard that many people feel “Why do they bother to give me such a trivial thing?

This is another Japanese custom that is difficult for foreigners to understand, so it would be interesting to explain it to them.

• In Japan, it is customary to give gifts with humility.

• Japanese people have a habit of speaking about themselves and their relatives in an underestimated way, but they do not always mean what they really think.

• This is because the Japanese think of humility as a virtue.

• Japanese people’s modesty is to respect others and to be modest about oneself.

• Humility in Japan means to behave modestly and not to boast about one’s abilities.

Religious views

When talking with foreigners, religious views often come up in conversation.

When living abroad, there are many situations in which people are asked to explain their philosophy on why they do not have a religion.

Here are some English phrases that can be used when you want to explain the typical religious views of Japanese people.

• Shinto is as old as the Japanese culture, while Buddhism was imported from the mainland in the 6th century.

• Religion does not play a big role in the everyday life of most Japanese people today.

• The average Japanese person typically follows the religious rituals at ceremonies like births, weddings and funerals.

• They may visit a shrine or a temple at New Year and participate to local festivals, most of which have a religious background.

• It is said that there are 8 million gods in Japan. In Japan, gods dwell in all things in the forest and are revered.

• Ancestral worship is also important, and most Japanese cherish their ancestors.


It is said that many Japanese customs and traditions are surprising to foreigners.

Even if they do not seem unusual enough for us to explain, they seem to be very fresh.

Since you have come to Japan, we would like you to experience Japanese customs.

And, there may be times when you are troubled by the lack of knowledge of customs and Japanese customs.

We hope that our small words can be of some help.