While it’s well known by most Westerners that the customs and rituals of Japan are different to those back home, there are some customs which even the most open-minded traveler finds bizarre.
For a start, in Japan, the number four is avoided as it sounds very similar to the Japanese word for death, similar to the superstition surrounding the number 13 in America and Europe.
But in Japan, one would avoid doing things in fours, such as buying gifts, as it is considered not be a good omen.
Then there’s blowing one’s nose in public, a practice totally frowned upon in Japan as rude and disgusting. As such, locals will generally just sniffle quietly until they find somewhere private to clear their nose.
Whereas tipping is common practice in America, it is considered rude in Japan, so travelers be warned! don’t leave a tip at a restaurant or with a cab driver as it’s simply not the done thing.
Another no-no on the streets of Japan’s cities is walking and eating. For the Japanese, food is eaten sitting down and not while strolling, with the unique exception of ice cream which, when eaten in a cone can be eaten while walking.
For tourists travelling the subway in Japan the whole experience can be a culture shock as Japan employs special workers called “Oshiya” or “pushers” who literally cram commuters onto packed trains physically to ensure they don’t get stuck in the doors.
If you are riding the train in Japan, don’t be surprised if the person sitting next to you rests their head on your shoulder to catch a quick forty winks between stops. This is common practice in Japan, born from the long hours many Japanese workers keep.
As Sandra Barron told CNN, “There is a tolerance that if the person next to you falls asleep and their head kind of lands on your shoulder, people just put up with it. That happens a lot.”
When entering a toilet in Japan, special slippers are provided, known as “toilet slippers” which people are expected to wear when peeing.
If you have been invited to a Japanese person’s house for dinner, it is always customary to bring an elaborate gift for the host, preferably one wrapped with lots of ribbons.
Pouring one’s own drink is also not customary in Japan, as it its etiquette there for people to pour drinks for each other, while serving the other person before drinking yourself.
While slurping food in the West is considered uncouth, in Japan, to slurp one’s noodles is considered to be normal and even a compliment, as the slurping suggests a good appetite for the food.
Finally, Japan has capsule hotel rooms for busy workers, which is a room not much bigger than a coffin with space to sleep, some pillows and a flat screen TV on the wall.
If you are travelling to Japan it may be worth bookmarking this article so you don’t fall a cropper when it comes to the unique cultural differences between Japan and the West.