As everybody knows, each country has different culture and rules. Things that are considered bad manner in the Western culture are not necessarily bad in Japan, so I’m going to show you some examples.
Even if they sound annoying or offensive, I hope you understand that these are the Japanese culture and you accept them once you are in Japan. When in Rome, do as Romans do.
Sniffing runny nose hard
If a Japanese has a cold, he would sniff his nose at his full power. It’s not acceptable in the West, but there is no problem at all in Japan. On the other hand, you are not supposed to blow your nose in front of others in Japan. Interesting, isn’t it?
Slurping noodles, soups and everything
I think this is already very well known throughout the world, but Japanese people make slurping sounds when they eat food in general, especially noodles and soups.
You don’t have to make slurping sounds, but if a Japanese next to you does, don’t frown on him when you are in Japan.
Blowing on hot food
What would you do if your food is boiling hot? I think Westerners just wait until it gets colder, but in Japan you are allowed to blow on your food.
No, it not you are “allowed,” but you “should” because the Japanese have been taught to blow on food since they were kids. Most Japanese don’t even know that you shouldn’t blow on your food in the West, so don’t blame the Japanese. Visitors cannot force the locals to follow their rules, but it’s the visitors who should follow the local rules.
Talking about physical features or even making fun of them
This might be annoying to the Westerners, but in Japan talking about people’s physical features is a daily stuff.
For example, if you, a guy, go to a gym and have nice muscles, a Japanese guy might say “wow, you have such a masculine and attractive body.” Don’t get it wrong, he might not necessarily be interested in men but he is just trying to praise you. Another example. A Japanese woman might say to you, a woman, “wow, you have such a nice figure! Look at your waist, it’s so slender!” –Again, don’t get it wrong, this is just a common compliment in Japan.
These examples are still acceptable because they are praising you after all. But many Japanese don’t feel it wrong to use very straightforward expressions to describe somebody else’s physical traits in negative ways, and sometimes they even make fun of those among close friends. I’m not going to give you actual examples, but sometimes it’s the amount of your hair, your body fat or facial features. You can imagine how it would sound like especially when you have an inferiority complex against that trait…
This is one of the customs in Japan that I don’t like. For this particular one, I don’t think you should do as Romans (Japanese) do.
Pick up bowls while eating
In the West, you shouldn’t pick up dishes or bowls but should bend your body instead, right? But in Japan it’s totally the opposite. You should (not “you may”) pick up your rice/miso soup bowls (not at the same time) and never bend your body as it’s called “dog eating.” Note that they never mean to offend the Western culture, but that’s the manner in Japan.
Also, looking at the above picture, you might have also noticed that the guy is drinking the soup directly from the bowl. Yes, that also is the proper manner in Japan. Only kids use a spoon to drink miso soup.
Smoking in public
There has been a movement to prohibit smoking in public in the recent years, but it’s still widely accepted to smoke in public.
In fact, as the above picture taken at a bar in Japan shows, you are allowed to smoke in many restaurants or izakaya (Japanese style bars). The Japanese government has recently banned smoking inside larger restaurants and bars as a preparation for Tokyo Olympics 2020 (or 2021), but you are still allowed to smoke at smaller bars or restaurants.
Not only in restaurants or bars, many people smoke on the street even though it’s not allowed in most cities in Japan, and unfortunately the police doesn’t crack down on them. No matter how the Japanese smoke on the street, don’t do the same and try to find a smoking area if you want to smoke in Japan. There should be a smoking area in most train stations and shopping centers.
Your lips can touch chopsticks or fork
As it’s considered ill-mannered to touch the fork with your lips when eating Western food, Westerners try not to touch chopsticks with their lips when they eat Japanese food.
Such a way of eating isn’t considered ill-mannered in Japan, but it looks a bit weird because no Japanese eats like that: Holding chopsticks with your lips is the proper way of eating Japanese food. Licking chopsticks too much is a bad manner (called “neburi-bashi” meaning licking chopsticks), but holding them between your lips is totally fine. If you want to eat like the Japanese do, try to hold chopsticks between your lips.
I hope this was helpful. I know that Japan is full of surprises, but if you understand that it’s just the cultural difference and respect the local culture, it shouldn’t be too difficult to accept them. At least don’t ever criticize the Japanese culture only because it’s different from that of where you are from. I have seen so many Westerners frown on how the Japanese act or eat in Japan, but when you are in Japan, you are a visitor and you can’t force the locals to follow your customs.