Keywords to have a better understanding of Japanese People

A different conception of hygiene and tidiness

Japan is a country which is extremely clean and in which hygiene problems are a national obsession. The need to clean and wash everything is constant. Public toilets are very well clean, and nearly all offer toilet paper. At the restaurant, it will be offered to you "Oshiburi" (Humid towel), to be able to clean your hands before having your meal. Also, when coming back home, the first reflex of Japanese people is to go wash their hands. You will as well be able to see Japanese people wearing Anti-bacterial masks, which are used to protect themselves against the flu and pollen epidemics (during the hay fever season per example), but they are also used to protect others in case of a contagious illness. Fussy or foresighted, have your own opinion on the matter ! Buying a baguette without touching it, is a Japanese art which could leave speechless a great number of French people, and on the contrary, the French baker catching the baguette with their fingers would easily surprise Japanese people. The Japanese way of perceiving hygiene is very different from the occidental way in general.


To be on time, even 10 minutes before any meeting, is one of the fundamental rules in Japan. Whether it's work or everyday life, make someone wait is totally unthinkable, especially is the person is of a higher hierarchical/social level. It is essential to arrive in advance and excuses will not forgive you totally for the time you have wasted. On the other side, for Europeans in general, the notion of time is much more flexible. Although difficult to apprehend in Europe, it is important to well respect the given time when meeting with Japanese.

The notion of the client always being right

Far from being only a saying, The expression saying that the customer is always right, is real in Japan. Answering a complaint about perished apples, the guilty shop will come to your home to be forgiven, will bring the double of the bought quantity and will pay back the additional costs, hoping to be forgiven. Who else than Japan would take that much care of their clients to keep them loyal.

Meeting up and speaking

The Japanese feel the need the schedule with anticipation, under penalty of feeling uncomfortable. The booking of a restaurant is done usually one week in advance. The Japanese Proverb saying that "a good preparation does not cause any worries, nor troubles" is taken literally. Whether the interest, all propositions happening after the reservation will have to nearly no chance of being remembered. They also have the tendency of keeping their promise, even if it is about projects lasting months or even years. The only exception would be the cause of the "Shiyako-Shirei", or Diplomatic Language. Europeans do not feel the need to schedule and meet-ups re often decided on the same day. They can even cancel in case of a change of plans. Nevertheless, They do not use any diplomatic language and exchanged words mean what they are supposed to mean. They do not need to be deciphered. "Come to my place" means "Come to my place".

Orei (Thanks)

Japanese people love to thank and do that for many reasons. There is notably the official seasons of gifts: the "Ochugen" in the summer and the "Oseibo" in the winter, during which each person sends gifts to people, providers and clients with which they have worked together and that they wish to thank. It is a real industry. Another example, apparently, you have to pay one month or more of rent, the "Rei-kin", as a thank-you.

Ganbaru (Make efforts/Perseverance)

Ganbaru is a word that Japanese love, which means Perseverance. Originally, it didn't only mean to do efforts but also "to invest yourself" and "to never give up to reach your goal". It is used so much today that it may have lost of its meaning and it's strength. For Japanese people, the most important is the way to reach your goal and that you have work hard all the way.


The transport system in Japan is very effective thanks to the high passage frequency of trains and buses, and their punctuality. Even in the subway, there are timetables pour trains which nevertheless pass every three minutes. Specialised websites will go up to calculate the exact time you will arrive at your destination, even if there are different changes along the lines. Nevertheless, taking the subway at rush hour is a nightmare ! Trying to stay for one hour (the usual time of Japanese people to get to work) without moving in a train with double the amount of people it should usually welcome, is close to impossible. A transit strike would be unimaginable.

Noises while eating

Despite the exasperated politeness of the Japanese, you would be surprised, even shocked, when you see them eating noodles. In a way to eating the noodles at the same time as the broth, their technique consists in sucking loudly. As a result, when Japanese find themselves in front of spaghettis, they will have the tendency to apply the same method and do the same noise. Far from being something rude, it is only a cultural difference. It is the same for soups and hot drinks, but this time, the technique helps to not burn ourselves. 

The chopsticks etiquette

In Japan, dead people are incinerated, and during the ceremony, each person takes a chopstick and with two fingers, will put them in the funeral urne. It is therefore primary to avoid taking a piece of food at the same time as your neighbour, or to be two to cut a piece of meat, as it reminds of the ceremony. This is considered very disrespectful by Japanese people. Also, sticking your chopsticks in the riz is also to be avoided; it is a ritual done during offerings to Buddha.

The excessif packaging

Here is a Japanese habit which is totale opposite with the spirit of time and ecological precautions. In Japan, everything is packed (fruits, vegetables, small objects) and the numbers of layers is astronomic! In supermarkets, the articles already plasticized under cellophane will be packed in plastic bags, then the whole will be packed in another bag, this time in paper, which could be recovered in another plastique enveloppe on rainy days. Of course, Japanese clients will rejoice at such a level of attention, and in Japan "O Kyakusama wa kamisama desu", "The client is god".

The place of babies at night time

Since the birth, the baby occupies all the space in Japanese Families. Over half of couples share their bed or futon with their baby, until they reach two years old. Priority to the baby before the couple.


Japanese women take a considerable amount of time and an incredible energy to take care of their beauty. Most of the women are very well made-up, have perfect hair and neatly dressed, whatever the occasion, even in fully packed trains in the middle of summer or just to go buy milk at the Konbini. Going out without Make-up could up unimaginable. They hold strong opinions about manicured nails, eyelash extensions, umbrellas to protect themselves against the sun and other products to keep their skin the whitest possible. Beauty requirements brings them to wear high heels at the beach, or in the mountains. An extreme way of taking care of one's self.


In Japan, it is custom to see Women take care with attention of their children and their husband. In consequence, a certain number of women have close to no time to take care of themselves after the wedding. Furthermore, once married, the Japanese Woman changes status from Well-loved to simple mother to the children. Surely another reason for these extraconjugal relations in great numbers.


Prepare yourself for a surprise when you see Japanese high-tech toilets. It is a real dashboard you will have on your right hand side with multiple buttons and functions. One per example will start a melody which will cover all disturbing noises and will spare your potential neighbours. Before having these sophisticated toilets, women were used to pull the flush to make diversion, a reflex not very ecologic and very energy consuming. After the sweet music, you could take advantage of the Bidet option, which will start a water jet, cleaning your intimate parts, followed with a drying option. Full Service ! Another function which will surprise you as much, is the toilet lid which opens up when you approach it, and will also close also automatically when get up, unleashing at the same time the flush. Another important detail, is that the toilet seat is heated, which can be inessential, until you discover that toilets and bathrooms in Japan are freezing during winter. Public toilets are also a very interesting experience. Oftenly, you will find the toilet seat recovered with a sanitary piece of paper which you can change when used, by pressing a simple button. Sink taps are also automatic, and water will come out when you approach your hands. Same functioning for the soap dispenser and the hand dryer. Japanese toilets are a special experience and all people who have spent some time in Japan will only swear by these toilets.

Iyashi (relaxation)

Stress at work, in the family, or in life in general, is so big that the need for relaxation has become primordial for Japanese people in the big cities. Thus, many, stressed physically and mentally, become the target of a booming industry specialized in products and services designed for relaxation (aromatherapy, massage, etc.)

Kazoku (the family)

Compared to Europe, family relations and duties are much stronger in Japan, but things are starting to change with the new generations, and not necessarily for the better. Indeed, a certain number of young Japanese still live with their parents, but for those who have left the family nest, contacts with their parents are extremely rare. It is so serious that this gave place to a new kind of fraud called "furikomisagi" where Malicious people will exploit forgotten parents or grand parents, by calling them up on the phone and passing themselves for the child or their grand-child and asking them for a bank transfer.


There is a phenomenal amount of onomatopoeia in the Japanese Language. A culture which loves to express itself with sounds. Each onomatopoeia catches the moment and the sound. If it rains hard, they say "za za", and when the rain becomes lighter, they say "potsu potsu". It is a very natural way of expressing one's self for Japanese people, but it will be for sure something that will surprise you, and even amuse you.

Foreign Words

Foreign words, although highly adapted, even diverted, form an integral part of the Japanese language. It would often be complicated for you to differenciate the original word, or its meaning. For example the french word "avec", meaning "with", is used in Japan as being "in a couple". For Japanese people, France has a "chic and cool" image. French is often used for names of products, brands, or shops to create this high value image. 

Sources : 旅の指さし会話帳

Rédaction : Hatto Nihongo

Traduction  Louis Toogood