The etiquette in Japan is one of the most complex and important to understand. Japan is not only very different from Western cultures but it is governed by a fine set of rules and standards that could potentially disrupt business negotiations or partnerships if the foreign party is not aware. While there can be entire handbooks written on proper business card manners, I will focus on other cultural rules here.
Rules of the Etiquette in Japan
Take your shoes off before entering someone’s home. It is considered bad luck and extremely rude to wear shoes inside.
Bring a gift. If you are meeting new clients, partners, or anyone in Japan for the first time or visiting them for a second or third, make sure to bring a nice gift. Food or locals goods from your home country are always a good choice. Also bring a gift if you are invited to dine at someone’s home.
Do not blow your nose in public, in meetings, or in the office. It is very rude. Excuse yourself to the restroom instead.
Avoid the number 4. It is bad luck in most Asian cultures. Some buildings will not mark the 4th floor. Gifts or items will not be given or arranged in 4s either.
Do not mix up Asian countries. There is a long, long history of tension, war, and dislike between the different Asian countries and mixing up China and Japan or Korea and Japan would be highly insulting.
Bowing. While there are more intricate rules to bowing, foreigners aren’t expected to know them all. Simply know that a bow is proper meeting, saying goodbye, and saying thank you. If a handshake is offered instead, do that. But a simple bow in response to a bow will show respect.
Chopsticks. Once you’ve mastered the use of chopsticks (if you still don’t know, look this Huffington post), keep in mind that you should not leave them standing up in a bowl of rice (unless you want your newborn child to have dimples, as my Japanese grandmother would say) or play with them, sand them down, or gesture with them.
Drinking. Do not fill your glass. Traditionally you should fill others glasses at the table and wait for someone else to fill yours.
Slurping. If you are at a noodle restaurant you may be surprised to find many people loudly slurping their noodle soup. This is a way of showing the chef that the noodles are delicious.
Enjoy the rich, dynamic, and civilized world of Japan! It is an amazing culture with lots to share.