From bowing, to how to hold chopsticks, to how much money to give at weddings or funerals, to the way you treat your juniors or superiors–Japan has hundreds of rules of etiquette that are to be followed. Thus, it comes off as no surprise that this may cause foreigners to feel a little restricted in the nation.
Though worry not, for there are actually several quite surprising things that are not considered to be rude in Japan that would be in many other nations:
1. Yelling in a Restaurant
When you need a waiter/waitress or bartender in Japan you can yell 「すみません」(“sumimasen”/excuse me) from wherever you may be seated. This is a perfectly acceptable thing to do. Someone shall immediately flash over to help you, regardless if they were at the table next to you or on the opposite side of the hall.
2. Pushing on a Train
Trains and subways in Japan, especially in larger cities, are far too crowded to apologise each and every time you need to gently push to get on or off the train/subway—for it will happen almost every time you need to board/depart, trust me. It’s only practical, especially since in the morning or night it is usually people rushing off to work and cannot be late.
3. Not Tipping
It may be confusing at first for foreigners when they arrive in Japan, however, once you become accustomed to this you may find it refreshing. The politics of tipping can be stressful for customer and host alike. Without tipping in the equation the service environment is more relaxed. So, when in the nation, remember not to leave some extra change for your driver or waitress
4. Not Holding Doors
I am quite lucky actually, for most people have held doors open for me if I am right behind them or am walking out the door and they are going in/vice versa. Haha. 😛
5. Avoiding the Question
Usually, if someone really wants to say “no” to something, they may soften it to “maybe” or “it’s alright.” In the case of being sick or having a personal issue, most people will smile and brush it off when asked about it as to not ‘burden’ those around them with ‘negative’ emotions.
The Japanese are also prone to flattery. Most common case for gaijin would be people will tell you that your Japanese language skills are great when your Japanese is completely broken.
Many foreigners may possibly take such things to heart and face value, only to later be subjected to feelings of insult.This is the source of much cultural misunderstandings. In Japan, it can be considered rude to be direct with people. In many Western cultures, it can be rude not to be straight to the point.
So, while in Japan do not be afraid of being vague at times or uncertain. If someone passes by and greets you with a “how are you?”, a simple 「元気です」 (“genki desu”/Good), regardless of how you actually are, will typically do and you may be on your way, for an actual conversation is most likely not being started.
6. Eating Sushi with Your Hands
It is generally quite challenging for many foreigners to become comfortable to this.