Japanese Customs and Manners
Update: 23 February 2017
Japan is known for being a very polite country with a lot of customs and manners, from the perfect way of lining up for a train, however crowded it might be, to the correct way to bow. Let's take a look at a variety of these customs which you're likely to encounter in Japanese day to day life!
Avoid staring at and pointing directly at others
Pointing your finger at people is regarded as rather rude - Japan isn't the only country with a rule like that. Also, Japanese people are not accustomed to looking at people in the eye for a long periods of time while talking to them, so breaking eye contact from time to time isn't rude in the least but generally helps the other person feel more comfortable.
Group Over Individual
It is often said that Japanese people have a strong "sense of peace", considering an orderly community, harmony and stability more important than individuality and freedom. This isn't only palpable in Japanese company culture or at school but also when taking a look around you; everyone seems to wear a suit and, apart from fashion and subculture strongholds such as Harajuku or Shibuya, you might have a rather hard time finding someone who makes an effort to stand out.
Don't Smoke on the Street
Smoking and littering on the street aren't just very bad manners but you might actually be fined for such behavior, depending on the local laws. There are designated smoking areas all over the city which are free to be used at any time. Restaurants and other places have started to implement separate smoking and non-smoking areas in the last decade as well, so choose your seat accordingly.
You might find yourself wandering through Tokyo or any other city in Japan, looking for a trash bin. For various reasons, those can be rather scarce - if there are absolutely no trash bins around, bag up your trash and carry it with you either until you find the next trash can or can dispose of it properly. Japan also emphasises proper recycling and you can find bins for "burnable waste" which include paper products, "non-burnable waste" for plastics and the like, and bins for plastic bottles and cans which thrown away separatedly.
Don't be Noisy in Public Places
As already mentioned, Japan is a very considerate country, so when taking in the sights of the bustling city, make sure to avoid being too loud in public places. Talking to your friends, laughing and joking around is perfectly alright, however unnecessarily raising your voice or yelling can draw negative attention and is generally regarded as a nuisance. Be aware however, that speaking loudly on the phone is especially frowned upon. Especially in trains, where talking on the phone is a big no-go.
About Ceremonial Occasions
On occasions such as childbirth, first day at school, marriage, promotion, or the loss of a loved one, Japanese people give money as a gift by putting it inside a noshibukuro, an envelope for gift money, or express their feelings via telegram. You need to use a noshibukuro carefully since there are different types of envelopes for celebrations and condolences. Writing the purpose on the envelope, such as "congratulations" for happy occasions, is generally a good idea though. Before you present the envelope to a person, you use a silk wrapping cloth called fukusa to wrap the envelope, and just before you pass it to the recipient, you take it out of the fukusa. Traditions of ceremonial occasions vary slightly depending on the area of Japan.
One of the most exciting things during a trip to another country is to experience cultural and social customs different from those that you are used to - if you're informed beforehand, you'll have no problem taking part in all of them, thus able to enjoy a very authentic Japanese way of life!
*This information is from the time of this article's publication.