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The Land of the Rising Sun – Japanese Culture for Beginners

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Going to another country can be a vastly different experience to that of your own home country. Different peoples have had different histories, especially if they are continents apart. That is why one should be familiarized with a specific culture before going to their country, in order to avoid any and all problems regarding culture negligence or misunderstanding. 

Japan is a very different country to that of the rest of the world. Their culture is very specific and it takes some getting used to. Here is what you should know about Japan before going to visit for the first time.

The Bow – A Gesture of Meeting and Respect

Unlike in the West, people in Japan bow when greeting one another. Bowing is a traditional way of greeting someone. A simple nod of the head is enough for most people. When meeting people who you respect, elders or those in high positions, people bow at the waist. When bowing, take note that your spine should be straight, if you are bowing from the waist. Foreigners are expected to bow with the head, simply because most of them are expected not to know enough about the culture. Take note that in business, shaking hands is often expected, rather than bowing. If one knows the customs, they should bow. Just make sure to be clear, whether you’re bowing or shaking hands. Doing both at the same time is going to give the person you’re meeting with a chuckle.

Eating – A Very Different Experience

In Japan, eating is very sacred. Well, it is sacred to everyone, given that we need food to survive, but Japan has a special view of food. Going indoors, even, requires you to take off your shoes, or rather, footwear. It should be placed near the entrance area, the toes pointing towards the exit, rather than the indoors. Eating can be done on chairs or on pillows which are situated on the floor. Chopsticks are often used as the main utensil, meaning that one needs to know how to use it. Eating should be done in a seated position, almost never while standing.

Bathing – Cleanliness Before Leisure

Taking a bath in Japan is considered to be a leisure activity, rather than one where you clean your body. Visiting public baths and hot springs is a trip of its own. People almost always clean their bodies with soap and water before entering the bath. It is customary to take a shower before taking a bath. One should not soil the bath water with their unclean body. A small towel can be carried to the bath, but must not enter the water.

Among these couple of things, you should note that chopsticks aren’t toys and should be used for eating only. Business cards are called meishi and should be respected, always. Eating while standing or moving is considered an offence. Learn to kneel, or seiza, as that will help you in many Japanese traditional situations. There is plenty more to learn about Japan, but these tips should suffice for the first visit.