Why is bowing so important in Japan

The Japan etiquette - 11 important rules of etiquette for Japan

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This is the best way to behave in Japan without making a mistake

The further you get away from Europe, the more different are the customs and traditions. Depending on the country, this is more or less strict. If you are planning a trip to Japan soon, then it makes perfect sense that you familiarize yourself with the customs there. Much of what we perceive to be impolite is absolutely normal in Japan or even part of good manners. The same also applies vice versa.

In this little Japan etiquette we would like to give you a few rules of conduct to help you avoid the usual faux pas. But we can reassure you at this point. The Japanese are well aware that they have very different rules of conduct for the Western world. Tourists are of course easily forgiven for mistakes. Still, it certainly can't hurt to have a few tips with you.

Have fun while reading. Let us know about your experiences in Japan in the comments at the end of the article.


Shaking hands welcoming? In Japan Please do not. In fact, physical contact in public is generally unusual. For this, bowing is part of social life. It is not only used to greet you, but also to thank you, say goodbye or as a signal to leave.

Depending on the depth and length of the bow, the status of the person bowing and the person before whom bowing is made becomes clear. Basically, the rule applies: the lower rank bows longer. Thus, the respect is given to the counterpart.

A medium bow is usually accepted for Westerners. As a rule of thumb, you can use roughly one Angle of 30-45 degrees apply, the bow is held for 3 seconds. It is only important that you only go down with your upper body. The legs remain straight and the bottom is not stretched backwards.

In other parts of Asia, hands are also clasped when bowing. That doesn't apply to Japan, here they are Hands on thighs filed and then bowed.

You don't have to say a bow from the service staff, that's part of good service. A smile or a nod as approval is sufficient here.


Favors have a long tradition in Japan. Should you have a private invitation get it is It is customary to bring a present. Gifts are also appropriate at some business lunches. There are also some rules to be observed here in order not to get embarrassed.

Usually something edible in lavish packaging is given away as a guest gift. This is considered a sign of appreciation. Especially Fruit is very popular as a gift for guests. However, this is also a bit more expensive than we know it from Germany, after all, only the most beautiful and perfect fruit comes onto the market.

Incidentally, Europeans do not have to adhere to the rules for gifts as strictly, or they are not expected to do so. If you bring something traditional from home with you, you're doing everything right. Just don't be disappointed if the recipient doesn't open the gift in your presence. So you want to avoid looking disappointed and embarrassing the giver.


In Japan people traditionally eat with chopsticks. Putting the sushi into your mouth flawlessly with them alone is an art in itself. But what you should always avoid is the following:

  • Hand over food with chopsticks
  • Play with chopsticks, knock / drum on the table
  • Touching food together with chopsticks that have already touched your mouth
  • Stick the chopsticks vertically in rice
  • Pull the bowls towards you with the chopsticks

In addition, burping and blowing your nose at the table is an absolute rule break. The Slurping of soup though welcome or heard, that is a sign that it tastes good and serves to fully develop the taste on the palate.

Drink and alcohol together

There is nothing like an evening in an izakaya in Japan. We had our nicest bar / izakaya evening in Nara. If you want to know more about it, you should definitely read the article: XYZ.

But here, too, there are a few tips to ensure that everything runs according to the rules there too. When you are in company, the rule is that you do not refill yourself. Your company will take care of that, including you yourself with your counterpart. So be careful, if you don't want to drink anymore, don't drink your glass empty. Otherwise it's an endless loop.

Incidentally, if you ask yourself why the Japanese get drunk so often: they lack an enzyme that is responsible for the breakdown of alcohol. So you can "almost" not help it.

Tips and bargaining

Giving Tip is in Japan not common. It is even considered rude. Service staff and taxis are also not typed. Apparently there have even been situations where taxi drivers ran after their passengers to give them their change back.

If you want to express your appreciation for good service, submit normal thank you and Nod or bow. For us Europeans this is often unfamiliar, but in itself it is a nice change not to have to reckon with.

Ride the train

We should be familiar with many of the rules in Japan regarding train travel. It is not eaten on trains, except for the Shinkansen, you do not put your feet on the seat. If you sit on a seat that is intended for pregnant women or the elderly, then this should be vacated when they are needed.

One experience that we have, however, which is clearly different from Europe, is the queuing and jostling. Jostling is considered extremely rude and at every train station there are markings on the floor that guide you where to stand.

And if the track is full, don't push it in with full force. As a rule, the next one comes only a few minutes later and then you can safely ride along.

Toilet visit

In Hakone in our guesthouse we have contact with for the first time Toilet slippers made. In principle, houses in Japan are not entered with shoes. At the entrance, the shoes are taken off and you either receive guest slippers or continue walking in socks. As a little tip: make sure that your socks are always in order. You never know when others will see them.

By the way, toilets are not entered with socks. That's what the toilet slippers are for. These do not leave the toilet room either, so be sure to take them off exactly at the entrance. It is also proper to position the slippers in such a way that the next one can slip into them without any problems.


For many, a visit to an onsen, a Japanese bath, is a must-do on a trip to Japan. But here, too, there are some rules that you should follow.

In many onsen it is clear from the door "No tattoos" allowed. This is still related to the Japanese past, where mainly members of the Japanese mafia, the yakuza, were tattooed. If you find a notice at the entrance of the onsen, this is binding. This also applies to every tattoo, no matter how small. The size is not critical. If you have tattoos, you should find out about the rules of the onsen of your choice beforehand. Otherwise there is also the possibility to book a private onsen, e.g. B. in a guesthouse. There you can sweat in peace with body art.

Traditionally, male and female are also separated in the onsen. These baths are for relaxation, not fun. Be calm and considerate both in and out of the water. Photos are prohibited, as are loud conversations or jumping around.

Before bathing in the onsen is Showering is an absolute must. There you clean yourself in order not to pollute the onsen water. If you see small stools in the shower rooms, these should be used. Getting up is considered impolite in such cases. Depending on the furnishings, you will find shower heads or large bowls with cold and warm water. The small towel, Tenugui, is used to lather and wipe off sweat while visiting the onsen. However, this towel does not come into contact with the onsen water. It is worn on the head while sitting in the water. If you feel insecure, just watch the Japanese and do the same.


In Japan, many restaurants and bars still smoke. In the meantime, many bars have given up this habit, but you will still find more smoking bars in Japan than z. B. In Germany. However, smoking in public is frowned upon. Smoking while walking is an absolute faux pas.

If you are a smoker, be sure to use the designated smoking areas. These are clearly marked and are mostly offset from the sidewalk behind glass walls to protect other people.

Since there are hardly any public garbage cans in Japan, it makes sense to bring your own pocket ashtray. It is forbidden to dispose of the stubs on the street.

In the temple

Japan is the land of temples and shrines. In every city you will find a variety of temples that you can visit. These are unbelievable The rules of conduct are also relatively strict here.

Of course you should be here keep quiet, the Cell phones should silent and in front of every temple there are signs with the rules that apply there.

One experience that we made ourselves, however, was the consumption of beverages. This is fundamentally forbidden in many temples. This includes drinking water. So take another big sip before entering a temple complex.

In historical facilities without a stone floor, you often have to take off your shoes and put on rental slippers or be out and about in socks. Either your shoes are kept on a shelf or you get an extra bag for them. To save your nerves, we recommend that you wear shoes that you can put on and take off quickly. We'd have to take our shoes on and off again, believe it or not, 5 times during a temple tour.

The word no

The word “No” is considered very rude in Japan. After all, it expresses rejection and the Japanese generally avoid that. After all, you don't want to make your counterpart feel bad.
For this reason, the pure “no” is actually not used in everyday language. You tend to withdraw through subtle statements. The sandwich method is particularly popular. The refusal is wrapped between courtesies. Example: "I would love to have dinner with you, but ...".

The statement “This is difficult” is also popular instead of a clear no. So here it is also important to read between the lines. But you can also leave the direct no in your suitcase yourself.


We hope this little guide will help you prepare for Japan. It gives you a little more security as to how you should behave without getting into too many unpleasant situations. Don't worry too much about who is polite and who will be treated as considerate. After all, Japan is known for it.

Do you still have experience or funny stories from Japan? Then write to us in the comments.

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