Travelling in Japan: Etiquette Tips and Customs for a Successful Stay

Adopt the codes: A practical and cultural guide

Visiting Japan means immersing yourself in a rich new culture. For a complete and respectful immersion, and to ensure quality interactions with the locals, it's important to familiarize yourself with the country's customs and social codes: here are a few tips to follow to be a good traveler in Japan.

6. Onsens

When visiting an onsen, it's important to observe certain manners to ensure a pleasant experience for all.

  • Before entering the baths, be sure to wash and rinse yourself in the shower area. It's important to be completely clean before plunging into the communal baths.
     
  • Tattoos may be frowned upon in some onsen, so find out in advance about the establishment's policy.  In some establishments, a special patch is provided to hide tattoos. 
     
  • Once in the bath, avoid making too much noise or swimming.
     
  • It's also forbidden to bring towels or personal items into the water. In sento baths, it is sometimes possible to rent towels on site. In hotel onsen, however, towels are always provided.
     
  • What's more, it's forbidden to enter in a bathing suit.
     
  • Respect other people's space and enjoy the calm environment of the onsen.

An onsen offers much more than a simple bathing experience: it's a sanctuary of relaxation where respect for the rules and tranquility are paramount for everyone.

Japonais allant à l'onsen de Kinosaki

Japonais allant à l'onsen de Kinosaki.

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7. Eating habits

  • Meals in Japan are often accompanied by a few traditional cultural practices:
    • It's courteous to say “itadakimasu” (thank you for the meal) before starting to eat
       
    • and “gochisousama deshita” (it was a feast) as you leave the restaurant. 
      These expressions show your gratitude to those who prepared the meal.
       
  • It goes without saying to wash your hands before meals:
    • The oshibori (wet towels), usually given, will be of great help. They are also used to clean one's own table before leaving, a gesture that attracts the sympathy of the Japanese as it is so uncommon among tourists
       
  • Try to sample every dish you are served, even if it's only a small bite. This demonstrates your open-mindedness and respect for the local cuisine. 
     
  • It's perfectly acceptable to make noise while eating ramen, for example, as noodles are often served hot and expected to be eaten before cooling down. 
     
  • Certain gestures, however, are frowned upon and show disrespect for local customs:
    • Sticking chopsticks vertically into the rice
    • Pointing at someone with chopsticks
    • Passing food to each other from set of chopsticks to chopsticks
    • Rubbing wooden chopsticks together after separating them
    • Pulling and pushing bowls and plates to and from oneself using chopsticks
Restaurant-bar Japonais

Restaurant-bar Japonais

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