11 Examples of Japanese Etiquette That Would Drive Us Crazy

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Japan is famous for its incredibly complicated laws on etiquette. Making simple acts into rituals may seem excessive, but this definitely does not offend anyone in Japan.

11. Addressing people

In Japan, calling people by name is not enough. And the iceberg’s respectful name”-san” is just the tip. In addition, there are more honorary suffixes to address or refer to people:

  • “-Kun” — a less formal honorific than the neutral “-san.” General use of “-Kun” approximately means “friend.”
  • “-chan” — a diminutive suffix, primarily used for children, female family members, lovers, and close friends.
  • “-Sama” — the most respectful version (“lord,” “honorable”). It was used to refer to lords and deities. Nowadays, it’s sometimes used to express sarcasm.
  • “-senpai” — for addressing one’s elder colleagues or schoolmates.
  • “-kōhai” — the opposite of “senpai.”
  • “-sensei” — for addressing teachers, doctors, scientists, politicians, and other authority figures.
  • “-shi” — for formal writing.

10. Exchanging business cards

It’s a whole ritual. Here’s what you need to do:

  • Make sure your card’s front side is facing your counterpart.
  • Offer it with both hands.
  • If your rank is lower than your partner’s, hold the card lower than they do.
  • If you were given a business card, put it on a cardholder, and take a few seconds to look at it.
  • Don’t forget to bow.
  • If you haven’t got a cardholder, it’s a disaster.

It’s a far cry from what we have — just putting business cards in our pocket!

9. In an elevator

It turns out there are informal but clear rules even here. If you’re the first to enter an empty elevator, you’re the captain of the elevator and you’re supposed to stand near the control panel. You will have to keep the door open until everyone gets into the elevator. Repeat this for every floor the elevator stops at. You also have to be the last one to leave, and you have to do it all very quickly.

If you’re a Japanese tourist, we recommend that you’re not the first to reach an elevator!

8. Subways

There are some stringent laws on the subway that the Japanese are expected to follow: talking is not allowed (also on the phone) and staring at others is unpolitical.

It’s not uncommon for old people to give up their seats, even if they can barely walk. For them as well as for disabled people and pregnant women, there are special seats marked with a sign. If you do not belong to these categories, these seats will not be occupied.