japanese etiquette

Japanese Etiquette: How to Be a Polite House Guest

japanese etiquette

Every culture has its own set of social graces, and following rules and minding your manners can prevent awkward encounters. So whether you’re taking Japanese lessons or you’re just interested in other cultures, learn essential Japanese etiquette with Montgomery, TX teacher Emily G…

There are some specific cultural rules you should keep in mind when you visit a Japanese person’s home. Japanese etiquette is incredibly important, unfortunately it’s not always as intuitive as you might think.

I learned about etiquette from my sensei who taught me Japanese. At the end of each semester, he would host a party and ask us to pretend it was a house visit. We weren’t permitted to enter the room and join the party until we performed every aspect of etiquette.

To help you get your house-call manners just right, here’s a quick run-down of the two most important things you should know when you visit a Japanese home.

The Way of the Genkan

The genkan is a small area just inside the front door. Sometimes it’s clearly defined because it’s lower than the floor in the rest of the house, which makes a person step to enter the house, but this is not always the case. Assume that the area immediately inside the door is the genkan, even if it doesn’t look different from the rest of the house. Leave all of your outdoor gear like your coat, umbrella, and shoes here. These items do not belong in the house.
Japanese people are very particular about keeping the genkan orderly. When you take off your shoes, keep them together and place them soles down. Remember, outdoor shoes are dirty. The genkan, by extension, is also considered dirty no matter how clean it may look, so face the interior of the house when you remove your shoes. This way, you can step out of your shoes and into the house without your clean feet or socks ever touching the dirty genkan. Your host or hostess may even give you house slippers to wear inside. Don’t worry if they don’t fit, they rarely do, you can simply shuffle around in them.

Finally, place your shoes to the side of the genkan area, to prevent people from tripping. When you move your shoes, only touch the inside and the top (the cleaner parts) and turn them to point toward the door. If you do this right, your host will not have to touch your shoes. When you’re ready to leave, simply step into your shoes.

The Way of the Omiyage

An omiyage is a type of gift or souvenir you bring to friends or family after a trip. When it comes to house visits, however, you should also bring an omiyage because you never want to show up empty handed.

You can bring a small snack or some drinks. Keep in mind that whatever you bring should be easy for people to share. Follow these three steps when you give your omiyage to your host or hostess:

  1. Hold your omiyage with both hands. The Japanese consider it lazy and improper to hand someone something with just one hand.
  2. Bow as you offer your omiyage to your host or hostess. When you bow, don’t look at the host, turn your face down toward the floor. You will look silly (like a turtle) if you continue to stare at the host as you bow.
  3. As you present your omiyage, offer a short, humble phrase. For example, my sensei taught me this phrase: “tsumaranai mono desu ga…” The sentence trails off, as many humble Japanese sentences do, and means something like, “this is just a boring little thing, but…..”. Your host or hostess should take your gift with both hands, bow, thank you for the item, and invite you in to his or her home.

Now that you know about the genkan and omiyage you’re ready to enjoy a house visit with a Japanese family. If you really want to impress your hosts, learn some Japanese mealtime etiquette. Armed with the basics, you can relax and enjoy some good food and good company!

Emily GPost Author:
 Emily G.
Emily G. teaches Japanese, Latin, and Greek lessons in Montgomery, TX. She earned her Bachelor’s degree in Classics from Texas A&M University and later went on to receive her Master’s Degree in Ancient History from the University of Nottingham. She has been teaching since 2009. Learn more about Emily here!

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