Interesting Japanese customs guide for foreigners

Whether you love it or hate it, you have to admit one thing – Japanese culture is really unique. And for a foreigner relocating to Japan, Japanese customs can often be frightening. You are never too sure if you did something that might insult someone, or whether there are certain customs and rules that apply to any given situation. This is why Kokusai Express decided to help you take a look at some of the most common and interesting Japanese customs. After reading this guide, you will be more at ease when moving to Japan, and it will be easier for you to adjust to your new way of life.

Avoid number four

Numbers - a lot of Japanese customs revolve around them.
Pay attention to numbers in Japan.

Do not let it take you by surprise to see number four omitted in Japan. Whether it’s to mark a place in line, in the streets or house numberings, Japanese people often avoid using this ominous number. The reason is quite simple – the word four sounds similar to the word for death in Japanese. This is why there is a lot of superstition about this number – similar to the number 13 in the Western world. This fear is called Tetraphobia, and it can be quite common in some parts of Asia – especially in East Asia and Southeast Asia.

So, you may find elevators simply skipping the number 4 – or building going from the third to the fifth floor. In some more extreme cases, people might skip numbers from 40 to 49, too! What’s important to note is to evade giving people gifts in fours. When gifting in bulk, make sure you have three or five items. Otherwise, it can be read as an ominous or even a threatening sign.

Japanese customs that see you as sloppy and rude

Just like there are some Japanese customs that seem weird to Western cultures, there are also things that in the United State may be seen as usual and in Japan – they are considered rude and sloppy:

  • Blowing your nose in public;
  • Walking and eating at the same time;
  • Tipping the waiters is not one of Japanese customs.

Don’t blow your nose in public

For example, avoid blowing your nose in public. Even if it’s the allergy season, doing this in Japan is considered disgusting and rude. This is why you will see people simply sniffling until they find a private place. Handkerchiefs often disgust Japanese too. However, if you really need to do it, you should do it as discreetly and quietly as possible.

Do not eat and walk

A bowl of noodles - which you can eat at a counter.
There are a couple of exceptions to the eating rule.

Walking and eating at the same time is accepted as a necessity in the Western countries. Sometimes, you just do not have the time to sit down and have a proper meal, so you take one on the go. However, in Japan, this is often rude. Moreso, you should avoid eating in public completely. For example, don’t eat on trains or in a park. The reasoning for this is simple – Japanese customs dictate you sit down to eat.

However, there are some foods that are okay to eat in public. For example, you can eat at a counter – like when buying ramen. Ice cream is another exceptions – and you can eat it anywhere. A helpful hint is to look around and see what and how most of the people eat and just simulate that.

Tipping is not one of Japanese customs

Another one of Japanese customs that people who do international relocation and travel find surprising is that you should not tip your waiter. You will end up looking rude and degrading. Not only that, but people will often run after you to give you back your money. If the service was exceptionally satisfying, however, you can consider leaving a small present for the waiter instead.

Riding the subway

People at a subway
Remember the subway etiquette

If you decide to travel to work by subway, there are a couple of Japanese customs you should keep in mind. One of the things that people find most surprising is the oshiya. These so-called “pushers” literally push people onto the subway car during the rush hour. They are paid to make sure no one gets caught by the door because the rush hours can get quite hectic in Japan. You will recognize them by their uniform with a hat and white gloves.

Another thing to know is that people often fall asleep on the train. Japanese work long hours, and their train rides can take some time as well, so they end up falling asleep quite regularly. If during that their heads land on your shoulder, you should tolerate it. Although it may seem weird and off-putting to Western cultures, this is how they do it in Japan.

Japanese customs to keep in mind when visiting a friend

There are many Japanese customs that you should know when a friend invites you over to their house. One of the most important things to note is to always take your shoes off when entering someone’s house. This is something Japanese will not let go even though you are a foreigner. Also, keep in mind that some establishments do this as well. However, the hosts will usually give you a pair of slippers in the hallway. If there are slippers for the toilets, make sure you use those instead of the ones you get when entering a house.

When coming to a Japanese family house, you should bring a small gift. This doesn’t need to be anything expensive – it is usually some food or a souvenir. If you just came to Japan, it can even be easier and better if you bring something from your own country.


Hopefully, this helped you learn a little about Japanese customs. There is much more interesting information you can find online. You can also talk to your reliable movers about advice and tips they can give you when moving to Japan. Informing yourself well about these can help you adjust faster to your life in Japan. Another thing you can do is simply be observant. Figure out what most Japanese do, and you will fit right in.

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