Why is it only okay to slurp noodles in Japan?

not rice, soup, spaghetti, etc…

The most common explanation is that slurping makes noodles taste better because you can eat them hotter, the oyaji (older men) who slurp their soup, coffee and rice would probably say the same about those things. Slurping noodles also seems to help with no getting whiplash and hence stains all over your shirt (or even your neighbour), so I’d suggest that this is more of a reason than the taste thing.

From my new Japanese table manners explained page.


Why aren’t the Japanese good at giving up seats on trains?

I don’t think this is the main reason, but one of my students had the interesting explanation that they don’t like drawing attention to themselves, something ironically made worse by the effusive thanks (often again when they get off the train too) that you get when you do so. Something that does match with this is that people who give up seats often stand up far away from their original seat after doing so.


Why are you supposed to cross out “sama” next to your name when sending something back?

It is the more respectful version of “san”, so leaving it in would be even more big-headed than referring to yourself as “Smith-san”.

Why do you have to be so careful with business cards?

Although I’ve never heard this explanation, I am convinced that this, like taking of your shoes, is based on an almost lost superstition rather than any practical or social factors. In Korea, anything that someone has written their name on has to be treated with the same care as a business card in Japan. I caused a scandal by writing an error correction on the back of a piece of paper that someone not in the class on that day had used as a name tag the week before.

Why is kissing in public still taboo?

As two people’s reactions in an article in the Japan Times two weeks ago suggest, more than a general thing of not showing your feelings it is that it stirs up jealousy- by far the deadliest emotion in Japan!

Why do some Japanese parcel delivery men actually open your door?

 This one is similar to my greatest irritation in Japan, knocking on clearly locked toilet doors, in that there is a traditional justification for it’s mainly just the pushiest, rudest or oldest who do it now. In this case, the traditional element is that even now in small villages the (often large) genkan entrance hall is considered a public area rather than a private one.
Another possible influence on its modern use is the number of old people who have almost daily mail order products arriving but have trouble getting to the door in a hurry

Why do the Japanese still bow?

Bowing seems to be a universal human gesture, as by making yourself lower than the person you are bowing to and making yourself vulnerable to attack by lowering your head and not looking at them you show respect in an unmistakable way. Similar gestures exist in other animals. However, in most European societies bowing has almost died out, remaining only for kings and queens and possibly from servants to masters, and I think these vestiges give a clue to why it still exists in Japan more generally.

Politeness in Japan is fundamentally different from politeness in modern Britain, to take an example of another country that is famous for its manners. For example, in a shop in the UK the shopkeeper and customer will say please and thank you an approximately equal number of times, and the body language and tone of voice will also convey the illusion that both sides are equal. In Japan, the customer is king, and the king will often show that with a lack of the bowing, polite language, avoiding eye contact etc that the server will use, and in a convenience store will often not say a word during the whole interaction. The language and body language of interactions with bosses, sempai etc. often work the same way. Therefore, politeness in Japan is still a way of showing distinctions in status between people, whereas most politeness in the UK is now to pretend that those differences don’t exist.

More on bowing (not including my theory!) on the Wikipedia page here, including the interesting theory that the “scraping” in “bowing and scraping” comes from the foot moving backwards in a Elizabethan bow.

The big list of my Japanese faux pas

Giving the impression I thought the UK was safer than Japan
I think I mentioned no earthquakes, tsunami or bears, and therefore squashed the great national myth about Safe Japan Read the rest of this entry »

Why do the Japanese knock on the toilet door? Third attempt

“in Japan it is wrong to leave the toilet door open when you are not in there, so they genuinely have no idea if someone is in the cubicle or not….
Apparently this is all about Japanese people seeing toilets as ‘unclean’ areas and so hiding them away” Read the rest of this entry »

Why is it rude to blow your nose in public in Japan?

One theory is that in Asia the most common diseases could be passed on through handkerchiefs etc, while those in Europe were more likely to be passed on through spitting- hence the fact that spitting didn’t start to die out in Japan until the Meiji authorities decided it wasn’t something seemly to do in front of foreigners.

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