Chopsticks Faux Pas and Other Cultural Land Mines in Japan
Travel Blog • Terry Ward • 07.11.07 | 12:47 PM ET
I try to be sensitive to cultural customs while traveling abroad but inevitably find my American-ness shining through. I can only imagine what cultural land mines await me in a traditional country like Japan. An insightful piece in the International Herald Tribune looks at the country’s subtle etiquette code from the viewpoint of a Japanese woman readjusting to her country’s norms after spending many years abroad. From “faux pas chopstick maneuvers” to dealing with her runny nose on a crowded train (in Japan, blowing your nose in public is the epitome of bad manners), Kumiko Makihara often finds herself overcompensating in an attempt to avoid offense.
She writes: “From the proper degree of a bow (15 to 45 degrees depending on occasion) to how a lady eats a rice cracker (broken by hand into bite size pieces with handkerchief on lap), a complex and subtle etiquette code dictates the proper way to do everything in Japan.”
Chopsticks are another matter altogether:
On several occasions I’ve seen foreigners striking wooden chopsticks against each other, smug that they know how to smooth off any splinters. That’s actually a crass gesture. These people probably don’t know that there are more than 30 faux pas chopsticks maneuvers each with their proper term like sucking and wandering.
Kumiko’s piece called to mind the book “Japanland” by Karen Muller, which I reviewed for World Hum back in 2005.
Armed with both women’s insights, I can feel at least a little better prepared if I’m lucky enough to find myself in Japan one of these days.