Visiting a Japanese Home: Useful Terms and How to Behave | Guidable

Visiting a Japanese Home: Useful Terms and How to Behave

By Karen Y Dec 14, 2018

1. 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 in 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.

2. How to Greet the Family

It all starts right away you enter the house and what I can tell you is that there are at least three rules just for the genkan (玄関, entrance). First of all, the apparent greetings in Japanese would be “Konnichiwaこんにちは(Hello)” and “Ohayo Gozaimasu おはようございます(Good morning).” Can we not just use those? When going to someone else’s house, we have to add one more greeting. We must say “Ojyama Shimasu(お邪魔します).” This means “sorry for disturbing you,” but we use this word to greet when entering someone else’s house. Now you know the word, but there’s a tricky part about this greeting. If invited to a house of a big family, you might not meet everyone all at once at the door. Probably someone will come meet you half an hour later or maybe more. So what do we say? Do we use “Ojyama Shimasu” again as explained above? Actually, not this time. Did you know that this greeting is polite only in the beginning? We can use “Ojyama Shimasu” a limit of 5 to 10 minutes after you enter the house. If we keep on using that the whole day, it is a bit too much and can be annoying, so after a while, standard greetings like “Konnichiwa” is appropriate.

Second of all, 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 home meals and buy snacks/sweets just for you. Because they are happy to welcome you to their home and they want to give you the best hospitality. So always remember that the host will do their best to make your stay a better place. Now, is there something we as visitors can do for them? Yes, there is. It is highly recommended to bring them a small gift. In Japanese we call this “Temiyage (手土産).” But don’t bring an ornament as a gift or something that cannot be consumed, because they might be troubled if there’s nowhere for it to go. So something edible will be 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 it, department stores sell many edible gifts wrapped beautifully so a trip is in store! Now you have your “temiyage” and are ready to give them, but when is the best time? It is always good to present your gift right after you greet them at the door. However, sometimes we might miss our chance, but don’t worry, there’s always a second chance. It’s okay to give your gift when guided to the couch or table.

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” of taking off your shoes. Simple but complicated. First of all, taking shoes off with your back to the host is a big no-no. And multi-tasking taking off the shoes while facing the host, balancing to make sure you reach the inside of the house safely without accidentally stepping on other shoes or the genkan floor,  all while attempting to line your shoes neatly is a bit of a juggle. But that’s okay, all we have to do is line them up after we are safely inside the house and make sure they are facing the door, ready to slip your feet back in on exit.

3. Manners at the Meal

After a small fun chat, you might be invited to stay over to eat. Picture a traditional Japanese home meal all set at 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 blinking 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)” when we start eating which means “I gratefully receive” and when we finish the meal we say “Gochisosama deshita (ごちそうさまでした)” which expresses gratitude. In other words, it’s like a Japanese way of “saying grace,” or a thank you before eating the meal. Short and simple, isn’t? And if you are not very familiar with chopsticks, maybe it’s better to practice before you visit your friend’s house. Well, it will not be much of a problem to use forks and knives instead, they will understand. But you will probably be eating Japanese dishes, which might be easier to eat with chopsticks rather than western style.

Speaking of Western, interesting facts about table manners in Japan is that some are very opposed to the western style. For example, when eating noodles, you will notice that people around you are making a slurping sound. People from different cultures might think “how rude!” But here in Japan, it’s normal. In fact, slurping noodles are considered to be a sign you are enjoying your meal. Other than this, holding plates or bowls 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 chopsticks in the other hand is the right way of eating rice. Even miso soup as well. To be honest, there are many different table manners in Japan as it differs to 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 in 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 when you get in inside the house and when starting and finish eating the meal. Is there anything else you should know? But the question here is then what should you say if you don’t know the language? It’s all about your feelings towards the host and what you can do for them. 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 the delicious meal made by the host, the least we can do is offer to tidy the tables together. However, since you are the guest, they probably won’t let you, but they will surely be grateful that you asked. And second, 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 you enjoyed it. Soon, you’ll see lots of smiles from the host.

5. What You Should Not 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, maybe not. Best not to come up to their door 30 minutes too early as they may be still tidying the house or preparing food and not expecting you yet. On the other hand, being late will be very rude to the host, and they may think you are not respecting them at all. 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. And always 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 is very disrespectful to the host. No matter they know the person itself, never invite others without the host’s permission. If you want to bring someone along, at least ask them before inviting them, although it is still not a very good idea. Many Japanese might feel unable to refuse the request. Even though they do not like the idea, they may unwillingly say okay. Always remember that you are the one who was invited.

Maybe you are one 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? We are in someone else’s house with an opportunity that may not arise often. So let’s leave our phone in our pockets, maybe take a few pictures and then put the phone safely away. If there is a text you need to send urgently, then just ask the people around you that you need to be excused for a short time, they will understand for sure. Otherwise, the hosts will worry that you may be bored and make them feel ungracious.

The next rule applies to visiting in most countries but just as a reminder! If you are guided to the couch, it’s important to sit properly. You may be spending most of your time on the chair, so it is important to show your respect while sitting. If it is a tatami floor, don’t lounge around, always put in mind that you are in someone else’s house.


6. Be Careful of Manners When You Visiting a Japanese Home!

Japanese are very polite and it is important to behave well especially if you are going to visit their house. Even if the customs are similar to your county, don’t forget that you will be 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 to learn about the culture so it is a precious opportunity indeed. It may seem like a mission with so many rules, but let’s not think too much. Relaxing and enjoying is the most important 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, share a little bit about your country so they can know more about you. The most important thing is to enjoy and have a pleasant time at your visit.

To find out more about Japanese dining etiquette, follow the link below to our article!

Basic Japanese Dining Etiquette Every Tourist Must Know