While in Japan, observe your surroundings and show respect. // © 2015 Thinkstock
My memories of a winter trip to Japan are vivid, freezing and, of course, filled with moments of embarrassed confusion, from when to remove my shoes to how to respond when five or more staffers at the Muji store greeted me with a loud “Irasshaimase!” (The answer? Just smile and go about your shopping.) BOUTIQUE JAPAN founder and travel agent Andres Zuleta had similar experiences when he first visited Japan, but living in the country for several years taught him how to navigate the waters with grace and good humor. Following are his pro tips.
Read the air.
“If there’s one etiquette hack to learn, it’s to observe your surroundings. If there’s a pile of shoes at the door, take yours off, too. Americans are prone to overthink things, or to believe they have to do everything perfectly. But if you make a mistake, it’ll just be funny.”
Mind your manners.
“Americans — especially Californians — tend to have many unique dietary restrictions, but it’s considered impolite to show up at a restaurant in Japan and ask for something beyond what’s being served. As long as you respect that not everyone can meet requests, you’ll be fine.”
Respect personal space.
“Personal space is a big thing in Japan — I’m always a little shocked by handshaking when I return to the U.S. In Japan, a bow at the end of any business transaction is a symbol of thanks and respect, but a tourist isn’t expected to do the same. Even at 7-11 in Tokyo, the cashier will bow after you’ve completed your purchase. I’ve seen tourists bow back. There’s nothing wrong with that — it’s kind of comical.”
“In general, etiquette is an ever-changing thing, and as a tourist, you’re not being judged by the same standards as Japanese people. The No. 1 rule is to be respectful.”