5 tips for living in Japan: Japanese cultural practices

Before you embark on your overseas teaching adventure, it is important to have a good understanding of the cultural practices and traditions unique to your new home. Doing your cultural research will help ensure you enjoy your experience while making new friends and avoiding accidentally offending the locals in your country of choice.

Japan is a country home to a distinct set of cultural practices. Here is a list of social rules foreign teachers in Japan will find very helpful for their time abroad.

1. Slurp your food

Making slurping noises while eating your dinner is perfectly acceptable. In fact, a slurp can be viewed as polite way to share that you are enjoying your meal. Slurping tends to accompany a meal of noodles, or ramen, served piping hot.

2. Do not tip

When travelling, whether or not to tip service people is always an important piece of information to have in your back pocket. This is vital when visiting Japan because not only is tipping an uncommon practice, it may also be viewed as rude or insulting.

Refrain from tipping, the price is the price. (If your service is significantly noteworthy, a gift might be an appropriate replacement for a tip).

3. Cheers!

Drink etiquette is strict. You might be familiar with the concept of serving yourself last in Western culture, but in Japan this social rule goes a step further: never serve yourself.

Once your glass has been filled by another guest, don’t forget to share a cheers with your group. In Japanese, “cheers” translates to “kanpai”.

4. Footwear etiquette

Different spaces call for different footwear. When you arrive at the entryway to someone’s home, remember to remove your shoes and if available, put on a pair of guest slippers to wear indoors. Hosts may also provide another pair of guest slippers to be worn in the bathroom only. 

5. Fear the number 4

The Japanese word for “four” sounds a lot like the word for “death”. For this reason, it is commonplace in Japanese culture to avoid using the number 4. This fear is known as tetraphobia.

When teaching in Japan, do your best to avoid giving or sharing things in groups of four or using it in day-to-day to speech. You’ll be reminded of tetraphobia when your elevator skips the fourth floor.  


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