Business manners

What is considered as rude in Japan: 12 rules

Are you planning a business trip to Japan for the first time? You might already know something about Japanese culture or work style, but do you know what is considered rude in Japan? We’d like to introduce twelve things you should know before going to Japan which will definitely help you make your trip successful.

If you want to know what Japanese find annoying about foreigner, read this article, then you’ll find out 7 things about it.

Arriving in Japan and checking in the hotel

Prioritize passengers to disembark the train

It is considered rude if you break the rules of public transportation. When you want to get on a train, let the last passengers get off first. There is no exception. Getting on the train before the passengers leave it would be like picking up booger during a date.


Never jump in line

You may know that Japanese people are pros in queuing when waiting for a train. But they don’t like queuing as well as people in any other country, so they’d just hate it if someone jumped in line in front of them. Please follow the rule “treat the others the way you want to be treated”. If you jump in line, Japanese will easily get angry and hiss at you.

Don’t talk on the phone in public transport

Talking on your mobile phone in public transport is forbidden in Japan. If you do this, someone will come to you and tell you to stop it. Even if a business partner calls you, you may not pick up. But you can explain later that you were on a train. It is regarded as an official reason to not pick up the phone.

Don’t talk loudly in public transport

Of course, you can talk to someone else who’s on the train with you, but never do this loudly. Talking and laughing loudly is widely disliked. If you don’t know which level of loudness is considered too much, just look at other Japanese people talking and learn from them.

Don’t get in a “Women-only passenger car” during rush hour (if you’re a man).

In Japan some subway cars are dedicated only for women. They usually appear during rush hour between 6 pm and 8 pm, but in every company it is different. Men shouldn’t get on these cars. The signs informing about the dedicated cars can be found on the front doors or on the platform.

When meeting your Japanese partner

Wear a mask when you cough or have a slight cold

It is very common to wear a mask in Japan if you have a slight cold or even a little cough. People in such condition shouldn’t go out in the first place. However, there are many meetings such as important business trips that you don’t want to cancel just because of a slight cold. For example, a fever of 37.2 degree Celsius is not a reason for a Japanese to take a sick day from work. So, if you come to the meeting even though you don’t feel well, it is highly appreciated, as long as it is not the flu.

But there is one rule you should absolutely follow – in such situations always wear a mask. Wearing a mask is normal in Japan. Many women also wear it just because they don’t have their makeup on and want to hide their face.


Don’t blow your nose

Blowing your nose in public is considered rude. You’ll see Japanese people who have stuffy noses frequently sniffing on trains, but not blowing their nose. So, it is better to avoid it during a meeting.

Hide tattoos

Tattoos are considered a taboo in Japan. It is better not to show it if possible. For example, you should wear a long sleeve shirt if you have a tattoo on your arm. If a Japanese business partner asks you, why do you wear a long-sleeve in summer and isn’t it too hot, you should answer something like “I heard, tattoos are considered a taboo in Japan and I have one on my arm. So, I thought I’d better hide it.” Japanese people will then see your effort to understand their culture, and even tell you “that’s ok, you can wear a short-sleeve.”

When having dinner with/without Japanese business partners

Take off your shoes even in restaurants

In some Japanese style restaurants called “Izakaya” taking off your shoes will be required.

Don’t stick your chopsticks upright into foods

Sticking chopsticks upright into something is impolite in Japan. This is so, because they do the same action when they serve the dead at a funeral ceremony in order to hold a service for a departed soul. There are more rules for using chopsticks, but Japanese people know that it is difficult for you to use it the same way they do. So, just the knowledge of basic rules is enough at the first stage. Below you will see three basic things you shouldn’t do.


Don’t pour your drink by yourself

It is an honor for Japanese people to pour a drink for you when your glass is empty. This way they show their hospitality and respect for the person they are drinking with. If your glass is empty, you can wait until someone fills in it with beer or sake. Also, if the glass of your partner is empty, you can pour it. The best would be doing it with both hands like in the picture below.


Don’t give tips

Tips are not necessary in Japan, so forget about them. Even if you think it is only positive to give it, the waiters will be confused, because they won’t know what to do with it.


Yuki Nagahori
BA in German / Japan Country Manager at editorial company → Sales → currently sales planner based in Hamburg, Germany