Understanding Japanese Etiquette: How It’s Viewed Globally and What to Know

Mayumi Folio
Mayumi Folio

The post-match trash pickup by Japanese supporters at the World Cup has become a worldwide topic of conversation every time.

From a foreigner’s point of view, Japanese manners may seem to be a bit too much, but on the other hand, there is also a sense of “Japanese manners are the best in the world! On the other hand, there are various opinions such as “Japanese manners are the best in the world! There are various opinions such as “Japanese manners are the best in the world!

Japanese people have a good impression of politeness and good manners, but such Japanese manners and politeness seem to be very unique from the viewpoint of foreign countries.

Therefore, this article introduces Japanese manners and etiquette as seen from the rest of the world.

– Why are Japanese people so polite?

– I want to know about Japanese manners.

– I want to teach Japanese manners to foreigners!

– What kind of Japanese manners do foreigners often have trouble with?

This information is useful for those who have questions and concerns such as “Why is Japan so polite?

If you read to the end, you will be able to understand how Japanese manners are different from those in other countries and how foreigners are troubled by them.

Please read to the end and learn more about Japanese manners and etiquette.

What is Japanese etiquette? About etiquette, history, and culture

What are Japanese manners and etiquette?

The basics of Japanese manners and etiquette refer to the common-sense behavior toward others that we Japanese have been taught since childhood.

・Use honorifics for people you meet for the first time.
・Greet people properly by looking them in the eye
・When someone is kind to you, thank them for their kindness.

In other words, etiquette is the expression of one’s mindset through one’s actions and behavior.

This is why Japanese manners and etiquette are characterized not only by actions but also by feelings toward others.

So, what is the actual philosophy underlying Japanese manners and etiquette?

Typical examples are a mind that values and respects others, a considerate heart that is always mindful of others, and a humble mind that modestly modesty oneself.

These ways of expressing the spirit of courtesy have been formalized into the Japanese manners and etiquette of today.

Japanese etiquette: Respect for the shinrabansho(universe) and the 99 gods

Although etiquette and protocol manners are generally thought of as acts performed toward other people, in Japan, they are essentially applied to all matters that concern one’s own self.

In Japan, however, etiquette and protocol manners are generally considered to be acts performed toward other people, but in Japan, they are essentially applied to all matters with which one interacts.

Japanese people are polite not only to people, but also to gods and Buddha, tools, water and air, and to the place and the time.

It is a Shinto etiquette to walk along the side of the approach to a shrine out of discretion rather than in the center, and it is a sign of respect and consideration for tools to not drag lacquered vessels.

On a hot summer day, sprinkling water in the evening is a way to cool the air in the city, and oshibori (hand towels) and chilled drinks are services that originated from consideration for the temperature that people feel.

There are also courtesies for the situation of the person in mourning, such as not inviting the person in mourning to a festive or festive occasion.

Although etiquette may seem complicated, the root of it is “sincerity,” and you will naturally find the opportunity to do so when you think of others on a regular basis.

Recommended related article: You can’t hide your surprise! A Foreigner’s Perspective on Japan’s Unique Lifestyle and Culture

History of etiquette

In the Seventeen-Article Constitution of Prince Shotoku, he wrote about morals and attitudes toward the aristocracy of his time.

This is the first document on manners and etiquette in Japan.

Later, the Ogasawara school of etiquette was developed by the Ogasawara family, a family of master bowsmiths who were regarded as role models for the courtly manners of the samurai class.

The Ogasawara school of etiquette was trusted by the Kamakura shogunate and became a manual for the samurai community, and by the Muromachi period (1336-1573), various schools of etiquette emerged, mainly the Ogasawara, Ise, and Imagawa schools.

Among these, Ogasawara-system was widely practiced even by the common people, but the Edo shogunate issued a decree forbidding the use of Ogasawara-system except by the shogun’s family.

However, Mizushima Toya spread the Ogasawara etiquette in Edo by adding some originality to it, which was necessary for the common people, and the etiquette spread to the general public.

Later, the Meiji government, wishing to promote modernization, began to teach etiquette to all Japanese citizens through school education.

Of course, etiquette was passed on from parents to their children in each household.

This is the basis of the basic Japanese manners and etiquette that we have today.

Reference site: Ogasawara-system etiquette official

Japanese Manners and Etiquette from a Foreigner’s Perspective

Japanese politeness from a foreign perspective

As with the topic of trash pickup during the World Cup, Japanese people appear very polite to foreigners.

The politeness of Japanese people is one of the things that surprises foreigners, and foreigners visiting Japan spread it daily by word of mouth and SNS as an amazing experience in Japan.

For example, it is a common manner for Japanese people to stand in line when boarding a train and not to interrupt.

On a daily basis, trains are very quiet and clean.

You rarely see people making a big fuss unless there is something going on, and people getting on and off the trains line up with an unspoken understanding.

In the hospitality industry at hotels, inns, restaurants, department stores, etc., you will be treated with great politeness by all people, which you will feel as a sense of politeness that you do not have in your own country.

The attitude of treating guests as guests in hotels of any level may be a common sight in Japan, but it is rarely seen in other countries.

The way they thank you when you check in, the way they greet you when showing you to your room, and the way they treat you in most restaurants are all examples of how they treat you with the utmost courtesy and respect.

Moreover, these are based on social customs that come from the natural behavior that Japanese people have historically cultivated.

Foreigners who see many Japanese people behaving with good manners during their daily stay in Japan feel that Japanese people are very polite.

Manners in Public Spaces in Japan

In public spaces in Japan, people basically stay quiet.

It can be said that people are expected to behave in such a way as not to bother others as much as possible, and this is also the space where unspoken agreements are most often made.

For example, people are expected to be quiet on the train, choose a place where they will not disturb others, avoid talking on their phones while riding, and be careful not to let music leak out.

It is not a miracle that so many people use the train every day without any accidents, but it is due to the customs of the Japanese people.

Also, garbage must be taken out of the train, and smoking is only allowed in limited spaces.

Japanese Dining Manners

Foreign visitors to Japan these days are also quite accustomed to the way chopsticks are held by the Japanese food that is spreading around the world, and everyone uses them beautifully once they get used to them.

However, what foreigners are often surprised to learn about Japanese dining etiquette is the detailed manner in which chopsticks are used.

Since there is almost no learning of detailed chopstick etiquette in other countries, there are few foreigners who know chopstick etiquette.

The fact that it is acceptable to make noise when eating soup is also a surprise.

Especially in Europe and the United States, it is against manners to make noise while eating, so some foreigners visiting Japan actually want to witness the scene at Japanese ramen or soba noodle restaurants.

What is often puzzling is the manner of pouring sake.

It is said that the Japanese manner of pouring a glass of sake, which is used as a greeting or to pour into an empty glass, is quite complicated for foreigners.

This is not a problem for people from Asian countries such as China and Korea, but it is a particular problem for Westerners.

So, don’t force yourself to pour into the glass of someone who seems to have already been drinking quite a bit.

Japanese Business Manners

Manners in business situations exist in foreign countries, of course.

However, for foreigners visiting Japan on business, there are many foreigners who are quite confused here as well, since they should learn it.

There are many unspoken business rules unique to Japan, starting from how to exchange business cards to how to socialize after-five, right?

Typical examples are the exchange of business cards at business meetings, the order of seating according to rank, the norm of being on time 10 minutes before, the use of certain phrases in e-mails, and the use of ambiguous messages when it is difficult to say what you want to say.

Some people think that these are so unique to Japan that it is difficult to understand them.

Even Japanese people learn these manners by learning from their seniors when they enter the workforce, so it can be said that these customs are quite challenging for foreigners who are suddenly introduced to the Japanese way of doing things.

Recommended related article: [What is Shikitori?] 65 Japanese Rules and Customs and How to Communicate Them to Foreigners with English Examples

Things about Japanese manners that are difficult for foreigners to understand

Japanese Manners and Etiquette and Foreigners

Various manners and etiquette in Japanese society facilitate smooth and pleasant communication among Japanese people.

Sometimes, these manners and etiquette are based on mutual common sense, and are slightly different from those in other countries where people do not live by the same customs.

Of course, there are universal expressions of feelings such as greetings and thank-you notes, but the details differ from country to country.

Therefore, it is not in the best interest of foreigners who are unfamiliar with Japanese society to bemoan the fact that Japanese manners and common sense of etiquette do not reach their counterparts.

That would be a big departure from the spirit of courtesy and sincerity that is considerate of others.

Even if you encounter a foreigner who is not well versed in manners, you should still treat him or her as a Japanese person, remembering the sincerity of the Japanese people.

However, it is important to communicate with them, so if you have a foreigner close to you who is having trouble with Japanese manners, gently tell him or her about it, and he or she will be glad to hear it.

Recommended related article: [Things that make it difficult for foreigners] 10 examples of Japanese customs, manners, and culture that are unique to Japan and difficult to understand.

Apologizing is better or not?

Japanese who apologize for the time being. Foreigners never apologize.

There is a big gap between Japan and other countries in terms of values when it comes to apologies.

In Japan, there is a tendency to say, “Apologize for the time being,” to the extent that there is a saying, “Apologize but win! In Japan, there is a tendency to say, “I’m sorry.

Words of apology such as “I am sorry” and “I apologize for the trouble I have caused you” are often used by everyone in daily life, aren’t they?

This attitude is said to be very strange to foreigners.

Most countries are based on the concept that “admitting wrongdoing is a loss,” so being apologized or apologized for something so easily is like being looked over one’s shoulder.

At apology conferences, you often see politicians and corporate executives bowing and apologizing.

In everyday life, salespeople and restaurant clerks also say “I apologize” to the extent that foreigners are surprised.

Such an attitude is almost unheard of in other countries, and foreigners wonder if it is acceptable for a person in such a position to apologize so easily. They wonder who in the world they are apologizing to.

The reason why this mannerism permeates Japanese society is that in Japan, it is considered important to express apologies and gratitude in a proper manner as a form of “courtesy” to show one’s “dignity” to the society.

In Japan, where there is a tendency to “respect others and lower oneself,” apologies exist as a way of expressing this.

If a foreigner wonders, “Why do Japanese people apologize so much? you may want to tell them that it is a form of expressing humility that is unique to Japan.

Japanese custom of “sensing” is difficult for foreigners to understand

One of the most difficult aspects of Japanese manners that foreigners find most difficult is to “sense the other person’s feelings,” which is the basis of Japanese manners and politeness.

“Oh, I wonder if they really want to say something like this.”

“Perhaps this is what he/she wants me to do?”

It is an important skill to live in Japan to always be able to guess the other person’s feelings through conversation, behavior, and the other person’s situation.

However, this act of sensing is quite difficult for people from other countries.

Ambiguity in Japanese

The unique grammatical structure of the Japanese language also has an impact.

In Japanese, depending on the content of the conversation, the subject can be conveyed to the other party without stating the subject each time, and it is sufficient to state what you want to say at the end of the conversation while speaking.

However, in English and most other foreign languages, it is impossible to communicate in such ambiguous sentences.

Every sentence must have a subject, and the subject of the sentence appears at the beginning.

Therefore, even if you have a feeling that the other person will understand what you are saying, he or she is unlikely to understand it, and ambiguous expressions can cause trouble.

It is easy to get into trouble when people do not understand each other’s courtesy and manners through language, and this is something to be aware of.

It is better to convey important matters sincerely and directly to each other.

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Japanese cultural experience to learn Japanese manners and etiquette

Teachings of Courtesy in The Way

Among these, manners and etiquette are concentrated in the Japanese culture, which is named “Do”.

Many of the etiquette forms, such as Sado (Tea ceremony) and Budo (Martial arts), have been handed down from generation to generation as a way of expressing one’s heart and mind to others.

This complex process is not easy to master, as it requires time and environment to learn it with the intention to master it.

Knowing these “Do” aspects of traditional Japanese culture is deeply related to understanding Japanese etiquette, and is therefore attracting a lot of attention from foreigners.

For foreigners visiting Japan for a short period of time, actually experiencing the Japanese “Do” through a Japanese cultural experience is also a way to experience the spirit of Japanese courtesy.

This may be one of the reasons why Sado (Tea ceremony), Budo, and other Japanese cultural experiences are so popular among foreign visitors to Japan.

Even if it is difficult to learn Japanese culture in detail, they would like to try it once! The number of foreigners visiting Japan who want to experience budo is increasing rapidly year by year.

Many foreigners want to feel the spirit of Japanese courtesy by actually experiencing the world of Michi in Japan, and the appeal of experiencing Japanese culture is endless.

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Training and team building for foreigners and Japanese etiquette and manners

An increasing number of foreign companies are choosing Japanese manners and etiquette learning experiences for training and team building for their foreign employees.

The idea is that this will help educate their own employees as they learn about Japan’s high quality service operations.

Japanese service is said to be the best in the world.

From the perspective of the service provider, this means that “all employees provide uniform manners and courtesy at all times.

Many people from overseas study in Japan to learn about Japanese hospitality, which shows the high sensitivity to Japanese courtesy and hospitality from a professional’s point of view.

In addition to learning manners and customer service know-how as part of practical training, there is also a trend to incorporate Japanese cultural experiences into team building.

This is an attempt to deepen teamwork by learning respect for others and the spirit of courtesy found in Japanese Budo such as Karate and Sumo.

Sado (Tea ceremony) and Kado (flower arrangement) are also popular team-building activities, where participants learn to reflect on themselves and learn to be considerate of others through the study of etiquette.

In this way, more and more foreign visitors to Japan are thinking, “I want to learn Japanese manners and etiquette through a Japanese cultural experience! It is important to understand the motives behind this trend.

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In Japan, there is a spirit of propriety that “the spirit of propriety permeates daily life, and one acts with righteousness.

The reason why the spirit of courtesy continues to this day is because we have come to believe that it is very important to be courteous to others in any age.

The spirit of courtesy.

It has reached beyond time to the present day, and now the world is paying attention to the wonderful Japanese sense of courtesy beyond national borders.

Just as the people of the past passed it down to us today, it is our turn to pass it on to the people of the world.

I hope that the harmony of sincerity will spread from Japan to the world.