Learning about the etiquette and mannerisms of a society is part of learning about a culture. But how much do you know about Japanese home-visiting etiquette?
Have You Visited a Japanese Family Before?
If you’re living in Japan it is natural for you to make friends with the locals. And one day, you might get invited to your Japanese friend’s home. Imagine it’s your first time to be invited to a real Japanese home. You may be excited about your first visit but have you not missed anything? Are you sure you’re ready to go?
For now, you may be thinking ‘what’s the big deal?’. But did you know that there are ways to behave when going to someone’s house i
n Japan, especially if you’re meeting their families? Now you might be feeling a bit nervous, but don’t worry. After you read this article, you’ll get to know how to behave at someone’s house and understand a little bit more about Japanese culture.
1. How to Greet the Family
It all starts right away you enter the house. ts here are at least three rules just for the genkan (玄関 entrance). The obvious greetings in Japanese would be konnichiwa (こんにちは hello), ohayo gozaimasu (おはようございます good morning) or konbanwa (こんばんは good evening) depending on the time of day.
Can’t I just use one of those? When going to someone else’s house, you should add one more greeting: ojama shimasu (お邪魔します). This means ‘sorry for disturbing you’, but we use this phrase to greet those inside when entering someone else’s house. Now you know the word, but there’s a tricky part about this greeting.
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If invited to a house of a big family, you might not meet everyone all at once at the door. It’s likely that you will meet others later on after you’ve already been welcomed in. What do we say in this situation? Do we use ojama shimasu again as explained above? Not this time. This greeting is polite only before you’ve been welcomed in.
We can use ojama shimasu a limit of 5 to 10 minutes after you enter the house. If you keep on using this phrase the whole day, it may become a bit too much and so after a while, standard greetings like konnichiwa (or hajimemashite if you’re meeting them for the first time) are more appropriate.
In Japan, bringing a guest home is not a casual thing. Most Japanese hosts will not just casually greet you with an ‘oh hey, just help yourself’. Instead, they will tidy the house, make a home-cooked meal and buy snacks/sweets just for you. This is because most people are happy to welcome you to their home and they want to show you their hospitality.
2. Etiquette When Entering the House
Conversely, is there something we as visitors can do for them? Yes, there is. I strongly suggest you bring them a small gift. In Japanese, this is called this temiyage (手土産). It’s best not to bring an ornament or something that cannot be consumed, because it might be an inconvenience if they have no place or use for it. Something edible is a perfect gift. And it is always a plus if you ask your host what they like!
Moreover, if you do not know where to buy a gift, department stores will usually sell many edible gifts wrapped beautifully that are sure to impress your hosts! Now, you have your temiyage and are ready to give it to your host, but when is the best time? It is always good to present your gift right after you greet them at the door. Sometimes we might miss our chance, but don’t worry, there are always other chances. It’s also okay to give your gift when you are being shown to the living room.
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Taking shoes off before entering the house is a custom widely known by all, so this third rule may sound like a walk in the park! But here’s the thing. There are “ways” to take off your shoes. Simple, but complicated. First of all, taking your shoes off with your back to the host is a big no-no.
Multi-tasking taking off your shoes while facing the host, whilst balancing to make sure you step inside of the house without accidentally stepping on other shoes or the inside floor, all while attempting to line your shoes neatly is a bit of a struggle. But that’s okay, to make it easier, just line them up after you are safely inside the house and make sure they are facing the door, ready to slip your feet back in when you leave!
3. Meal-Time Manners
After some small talk, you might be invited to the dinner table. Picture a traditional Japanese home-cooked meal set out the table, looking delicious. You’re sitting at the table, mouth-watering, you grab your chopsticks to eat, and next thing you notice, all the people at the table are staring at you.
So, before this happens, here are a few tips. For those of us who have been living in Japan for some time, this will be second nature. For those who don’t know, we say itadakimasu (いただきます) before eating which loosely means ‘I gratefully receive this meal’. When we finish the meal we say gochisousama deshita (ごちそうさまでした) which expresses gratitude after the meal is finished.
In other words, it’s almost like a Japanese way of ‘saying grace’, or saying thank you to the chef before eating the meal. Short and simple, isn’t it? If you are not very familiar with chopsticks, maybe it’s better to practice before you visit your friend’s house. If using chopsticks isn’t among one of your skill sets, it’s usually not much of a problem to ask for a fork and knife instead, they will understand. But you will probably be eating Japanese dishes, which might be easier to eat with chopsticks rather than western cutlery.
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Something to watch out for is that table manners in Japan are completely different to the West at times. For example, when eating noodles, you will notice that people around you may be slurping their noodles. People from other cultures might think ‘how rude!’, but here in Japan, it’s normal. In fact, slurping noodles is considered to be a sign you are enjoying your meal.
Similarly, holding your plate or bowl in your hand while eating rather than eating from them from the table can also be thought of as terrible manners, but here in Japan, it is the opposite. Bringing the bowl to yourself with one hand and using chopsticks with the other is the right way to eat rice here. Miso soup as well!
There are many different table manners in Japan that may differ depending on what food you will be eating. You can check out this article here to learn more about table etiquette in Japan! But remember, the most important thing about eating meals together is to enjoy the food and have a fun conversation over the table!
4. What should You Say?
So far you know what to say when you enter the house and when starting and finishing a meal. But the question here then, is then what should you say if you don’t know the language? Visiting a home in Japan is all about demonstrating your feelings towards the host and showing what you can do for them as their guest.
It is very possible to find a way to converse even through a language barrier if you put your heart into it! First, a recommendation is to offer to help your host. After enjoying the delicious meal made by the host, the least we can do is offer to tidy the table together. Since you are the guest, they probably won’t let you, but they will surely be grateful that you asked.
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Secondly, it’s always a great idea to compliment things you appreciate around the house or about the food. Compliment the pretty vase or tasteful plates. If you like the food, express how much you enjoyed it. You’ll soon see lots of smiling from the host.
5. What Not To Do at Japanese Home
Arriving on time is essential in Japan. Especially if you are being invited to someone’s house, this is a must. Sometimes, it is thought arriving early can give a good impression, but if you’re visiting someone else’s house, this may not be the case. It is best not to come too early as they may be still tidying the house or preparing food, not expecting you yet.
On the other hand, being late will be seen as being very rude to the host, and they may think you do not respect them. However, if your train is delayed or you happen to have another problem, being 5 to 15 minutes late is still forgivable, but no later than that. Always remember to text or call them to let them know, so they don’t need to worry! But nothing is better than arriving on time.
In some countries, it’s okay to bring along other people who are not expected. If you do this in Japan, it will be seen as very disrespectful to the host. No matter if they know the person themselves, never invite others without the host’s permission. If you want to bring someone along, you should at least ask the host before inviting them, although it’s not a very good idea to invite an uninvited guest. Especially, since many Japanese people may feel unable to refuse the request. Even if they do not like the idea, they may unwillingly say okay. Always remember that you were the one who was invited.
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The next rule applies to visiting in most countries but just as a reminder! Perhaps you are a member of the “smartphone addicts” club. We often want to text our friends or maybe upload a story to Instagram (especially that picture of the amazing food spread!), but does it have to be now? You are in someone else’s house, which is an opportunity that may not arise often.
So you should aim to leave your phone in your pocket; take a few pictures if you want to and then put your phone safely away. If there is a text you need to send urgently, then just tell the people around you that you need to be excused for a short time and they will understand. Otherwise, the hosts will worry that you may be bored, making them feel like bad hosts.
Lastly, if you are shown to the couch, it’s important to sit properly. You may be spending most of your time on a chair, so it is important to show your respect even while sitting. If it is a tatami floor, don’t lounge around, don’t spread out your legs and take up space and always keep in mind that you are in someone else’s house.
6. Be Careful of House-Visiting Etiquette When Visiting a Japanese Home!
Japanese people are usually very polite and it is important to behave well especially if you are going to visit someone’s home. Even if the customs are similar to your county, don’t forget that you are still in a totally different environment and have to respect the host’s culture.
Visiting a Japanese home is the best way to get a feel of and learn about the culture so it is a precious opportunity. It may seem like a struggle considering there are so many rules, but it’s best not to overthink and react to the environment. Relaxing and enjoying your time is the most important thing of all!
And of course, the host will be feeling the same as well. They will do their best to make your stay as comfortable and pleasant as possible. If there is something you don’t know just ask them, they will be happy to answer and help you. If Japanese culture is very different to yours, share a little bit about your country so they can learn more about you.
The most important thing here is to enjoy and have a pleasant time during your visit!
For More Related Articles:
- The History of Bowing and Other Japanese Customs
- Ramen Etiquete to Keep in Mind
- Manners and Etiquette at Japanese Shinto Shrines
This article was originally posted on Dec 14, 2018 and has been edited and reposted on Jan 07, 2022.