U.S. State Department Geographic Bureaus: East Asia and Pacific Bureau

Japanese Etiquette

Fact sheet released by the Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs,
U.S. Department of State, July 31, 1997.

Blue Bar rule

Japanese attach much importance to proper behavior and etiquette, which have developed in order to allow relationships to be as smooth and free of tension as possible. Tradition, form and protocol are highly valued.


Japanese customarily bow to each other rather than shake hands upon meeting. However, most Japanese accustomed to dealing with foreigners expect to shake hands with them and are rarely embarrassed when a foreigner offers his hand. A frequently used compromise is a handshake accompanied by a slight bow. Japanese do not mind being touched in impersonal situations like a subway car, but they seldom prefer anything more than a handshake in a personal situation.


Most Japanese are addressed by their last name. The title san is attached to all names, male and female. It is a sexless combination of Mr., Mrs., and Ms. Another title you may often hear used is sensei (sen-say) used for teachers, elders, artists, politicians or others in respected positions.

Japanese are generally very soft spoken; using a quiet tone while speaking will be appreciated. Japanese are at ease with long pauses in conversation, and tend to stand rather far apart during conversation. When Japanese try to make a point, they usually start around the edges and lead into the main point carefully. Americans, on the other hand, usually state their main point first and then back it up until they feel the point is made.

Name Cards

Proper handling of name cards, or meishi, is important in Japan. When offered a name card in a meeting, accept it with both hands, examine it for a few seconds, then place it on the table or desk. The name card should be kept out for the entire meeting, for it is considered rude to ignore name cards.


Tips are rarely expected in Japan. You should not tip in taxis, restaurants or hotels; in fact, Japanese frequently refuse to accept tips even when offered. Hotel and restaurant bills generally include a 10-15 percent service charge.


You may wear your street shoes into all Western-style restaurants and office buildings. However, at traditional Japanese restaurants, private homes, and many temples and other tourist sites, you will be expected to remove your shoes before stepping inside.


The place of honor in a traditional Japanese dinner party is directly in front of the tokonoma, an elevated alcove which usually contains a scroll hanging on the wall and an ornament or flower arrangement on the floor. At the beginning of the dinner, the host will raise his cup in a toast (kampai) to all present.

Useful Phrases

Japanese is spoken almost without stress or emphasis on syllables or words.

Good Morning


Good Day


Good Evening


My name is...


What is your name?


Pleased to meet you


How are you?


Fine, thanks


Thank you


You're welcome


Good Bye


Yes ('I hear you,' not necessarily 'I agree')




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Blue Bar rule

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