Growing up in Japan and being half Japanese, I've come across a lot of embarrassing things foreigners tend to do when they are in Japan. Some people tend to be offended by these mishaps, but to me it's not offensive because I don't think it's intentional. I'm sure I have done plenty of awkward things in other countries that I didn't know about.
Over the years, these top five embarrassing things have repeatedly come up among conversations with my Japanese friends. Right before I decided to write this, I emailed my Japanese friends out of curiosity to see if there was anything new that wasn't already in my top five. To my surprise, everything is still the same. I find it interesting that these bad habits haven't died down. Without further ado, here are the top five things you should probably avoid doing when you are visiting Japan.
#1 Bowing and Clasping Your Hands Together
Japanese people bow and we bow a lot, but we don't bow and clasp our hands together. I'm not sure where the clasping came from, but rest assured this is not a custom in Japan. I have never done it and my friends and family have never done it. There are different degrees of bowing in Japan (this can be a whole other topic in itself), but remember that clasping your hands together is not necessary.
#2 Talking Loud on Trains or in Public
This may seem a bit strange, but it's kind of like a personal space type of thing to the Japanese. We don't talk very loud in public and it's to the point where they don't even want you to talk on the phone when you are on public transportation. It's very common to see signs in trains that ask you to not talk on your phone and to put your phone on silent mode. Of course people talk on trains, but usually in a soft tone. If you're loud, and especially a foreigner being loud, you might get some unpleasant looks.
#3 Ordering a Sake Bomb
Sake bombs are not Japanese drinks. I've never even heard of it until I moved to the United States. It's quite popular in Japanese restaurants in the U.S., but I wouldn't attempt to order this in Japan. One, the person taking your order would have no clue what it is. Two, if you decide to do this in a Japanese restaurant you may get kicked out. I'm slightly joking about getting kicked out, but I'm sure the people running the restaurant wouldn't appreciate the banging and dropping sake cups into beer glasses. I've never seen anyone do this at a restaurant in Japan, but I have seen a group of people do this at a very traditional Japanese restaurant in New York. Most of the customers at the restaurant were Japanese and the table that did the sake bomb was so loud that everyone started staring. Let me just say that they weren't staring in amazement, the majority of the facial expressions looked like they were annoyed.
#4 Mixing Wasabi with Soy Sauce When Eating Sushi
While we are on the subject of restaurants, if you eat at an upscale sushi restaurant in Japan, do not mix the wasabi in the soy sauce. I know a lot of people do this in the United States (I do it myself), but it is not a common thing to do in Japan if you go to a nice sushi place. The sushi chef has prepared the sushi the way he wants you to eat it, so making your own wasabi soy dip is kind of telling the chef that you don't like what he has prepared for you. You can learn more about sushi etiquette here.
#5 Showing Cleavage
Wearing deep V-necks and showing a little bit of cleavage isn't really a big deal in the U.S. Go to Japan, and it's a different story. If you walk into a women's clothing store, it will be pretty tough to find a low cut shirt. There are plenty of products you can buy to help you cover your cleavage, if you happen to own a top that shows too much. Walking around Tokyo, you will see a lot of interesting fashion, but you won't see any type of fashion that exposes a lot of cleavage. Growing up in Japan, I was never taught that cleavage was bad, but it was also rarely seen. When I went back to Japan for a visit, I was wearing one of my low cut shirts and I definitely got some stares. It didn't really bother me too much, but if you don't like getting stared at, I wouldn't pack those low cut shirts.
Is there something on your list that deserves a spot in the top five? We would love to hear about them!