5 Tips for Visiting a Japanese Home
Yes, there are unsaid etiquette rules when staying in a Japanese home, for instance, don’t push that button!
It’s an honor being a Western traveler in Japan and invited into a Japanese home. While the Japanese are forgiving of a foreigner’s faux pas, the following tips will help travelers make the most of their cultural experience.
1 Gift Giving
Gift giving is an important part of Japanese culture and when visiting a Japanese home, a gift shows gratitude for the host’s hospitality. Something representative of the traveler’s native country is appropriate, such as specialty foods, gourmet candies and wine. Whatever given, make sure souvenirs aren’t stamped with “made in China” or “made in Japan.”
Gifts should be beautifully wrapped in conservative wrapping paper or in a gift bag. They should be given shortly after arriving at the home and presented with both hands modestly. The host may refuse it but insist they receive it. The host will most likely reciprocate.
When receiving, accept the gift with both hands, only open it when asked by the presenter and praise it. Do not give gifts in quantities of four as this symbolizes death and do not wrap the gift in red, black or white, which is for funerals.
Guests entering a Japanese home must remove their shoes. Shoes should be placed with toes pointed out making it easier to slip on when leaving. Socks should be worn and house slippers for guests are provided. It’s appropriate to wear the slippers throughout the home except in the bathroom (explained in Tip #3) and the tatami room (socks or bare feet are acceptable).
3 Using the Toilet
Using a Japanese bathroom and toilet can be an intimidating experience. Before entering the bathroom, house slippers must be removed and special toilet slippers must be slipped on. These usually rest just outside the washroom door. The trick is swapping slippers while balancing the body so the feet don’t touch the floor and the toilet slippers don’t touch the floor beyond the washroom.
Most washrooms are lined with manga, Japanese comic books, enjoyed by everyone in the family. The toilet will look like a Western-style toilet outfitted with gadgets such as a heated toilet seat and buttons for the bidet.
Visitors unfamiliar with the button’s functions should not press them. Doing so may cause an unwanted shower. Some Japanese toilets have a water reserve above the toilet tank so when it’s flushed, guests can rinse their hands. When leaving the toilet room, be sure to swap slippers.
Bathing is an evening ritual with guests first followed by children, the female head of household and the male head of household. In the morning, the bathing area is usually used by the female for laundry (remember, most Japanese homes are small and every centimeter of space is utilized). Sneaking a morning shower may throw off her day.
Japanese bathing is two-part:
- First is the shower to thoroughly cleanse the body. Japanese shower by sitting on a stool, using a bowl for washing and showerhead for rinsing. [Note: Since no one is watching, it’s acceptable to just use the showerhead to shower].
- Second is soaking in the bathtub. No bubbles here, just pure hot water to sweat out the day’s stresses and worries. When finished bathing, leave the water in the tub for the next person. Since most Westerners feel awkward about soaking in water used by someone else, the Japanese host usually lets the guest bathe first. [Note: Again, since no one is watching, it’s acceptable to skip this portion].
5 Learn to Communicate
Communication goes beyond verbal language, it’s body language and tone. Learn a few basic words in Japanese, especially for “thank you,” “please,” and “no thank you.” Taking the effort to do so is appreciated.
Most Japanese spend six years learning English and while they may not be comfortable speaking it, they probably understand what is being said. Importantly, when being a guest in a Japanese home, relax and enjoy the experience.