#10 - Blowing your nose in public
In a crowded public place like a train car, emptying the contents of your nostrils into a tissue, or worse, a handkerchief, is a big no-no in Japan. You’re better off doing what many others do -- sniffing a lot. Every train car has its sniffers and, occasionally, some snorters too. If you must honk into your hanky, just do it as discreetly as you possibly can and try not to spend too much time gawking at the fruits of your labor once the job is done.
#9 - Pointing with your forefinger
It may not be the worst faux pas you can make, but pointing with your forefinger at the person you're talking to may cause them to feel a little uncomfortable -- even threatened. It's the kind of thing you might do without realizing, although the troubled look on the other person's face -- as if you've just pulled a loaded revolver on them -- should alert you to the fact that something's not quite right. If you must point, try clenching your fist, using your thumb as the pointy bit.
#8 - Pouring your own beer when out with friends
Serving others is big in Japan, even when you're three sheets to the wind with your drinking buddies down your local izakaya. If you're drinking beer that’s being poured from bottles, then impress your fellow diners by topping them up. They'll surely reciprocate. If you try to pour your own, you'll be set upon by a flock of flapping hands, at which point you can humbly relinquish the bottle and allow someone to pour for you. Following this, it’s a good move to top up other people’s drinks if you spot any half-full glasses.
#7 - Wearing the toilet slippers back to your seat
This is a slippery one. Whether it's in someone's home or in a restaurant, when nature calls, there'll likely be a pair slippers waiting for you at the entrance to the bathroom. Slip out of your other slippers into the toilet slippers, do your business and then be sure to slip out of the toilet slippers and back into your original slippers. Don't worry, you won't be the first person (nor the last) to wear the toilet slippers back to your seat, but it will be noticed. The question is: Will anyone point it out to you? Or perhaps you'll suddenly notice before slipping discreetly back to the bathroom to slip back into your original slippers in an effort to cover up your slightly embarrassing slipup.
#6 - Giving gifts in multiples of four
As in many other cultures, there are quite a few social indiscretions connected with death. In the Japanese language, the sound of the word for “four” is the same as the word for “death,” therefore, it comes as little surprise that four is regarded as an unlucky number. As a result, if you've been invited to someone's home, giving four of something as a gift will likely make the recipient feel a little awkward; so, you’re best to stick with a safer number -- like five.
#5 - In a public bath, failing to wash first
Public baths are a great place to scrub up before taking a long relaxing soak. Just make sure you do it in that order. Entering the bathing area and making a beeline for the bath before you've polished your privates (as well as the rest of your body) is not going to put you in the best light. As you enter the main bathing area from the changing room, you'll see an area close by where you can sit on a little stool and scrub up, with all the necessary accoutrements at your fingertips. Don't forget that the bath is for soaking and you should smell of roses before you join your fellow bathers in the communal water.
#4 - Passing food from your chopsticks to someone else's
The only acceptable time to pass something between two people using chopsticks is at a funeral: Following the cremation, the remaining bones of the deceased are picked up by a relative using special chopsticks and passed to the chopsticks held by another relative who then places the bones into the urn. So keep that in mind when you're having dinner in a restaurant and you're thinking of passing your leftovers to a friend. Better to place it directly onto their plate rather than remind someone in your dining party of the passing of a loved one.
#3 - Sticking your chopsticks upright in a bowl of rice
This is also connected with Japanese funeral rites. If you're in a restaurant or eating at home, the sight of a pair of chopsticks sticking up out of a bowl of rice is something no one will be pleased to see. It may even cause an audible gasp. At Buddhist funerals in Japan, this is how rice is offered to the dead and so, as with passing food between chopsticks, it could conjure up sad memories for others, or simply make some people feel uncomfortable. When you're not using them, place your chopsticks together on the rests and you'll save yourself a red face.
#2 - Mishandling someone's business card
It's not only in formal business situations that someone might offer you their card. It could happen whenever and wherever you strike up a conversation with a Japanese person, whether it's in a bar or down at the local park. Being a non-Japanese, you won't be expected to observe all of the intricate rules of a business card exchange, though you can still get brownie points by giving it the respect it deserves. Taking it with both hands looks good, and spending a little time showing an interest in it is a real plus, during which the giver will probably confirm his/her name if you're not sure of it already. Whatever you do, don't write on it, fold it or stuff it in your back pocket. Simply place it carefully in your wallet or card holder.
#1 - Wearing your shoes into someone's home
As noted in the introduction, the Japanese are generally pretty forgiving when it comes to visitors making a mess of things in the etiquette department. There's one thing, however, that may literally be a step too far. Crossing over the threshold of someone's home wearing your soiled shoes or boots instead of discarding them in the genkan (entranceway) may, to put it mildly, place something of a strain on your relationship with the proud homeowner. If you really want to ingratiate yourself, as you enter, say “ojama shimasu” (“sorry to disturb you”) and then be sure to remove your footwear. There'll most likely be a pair of slippers waiting for you, which incidentally also act as a useful prompt for you to take off your shoes. Oh, and be sure to wear socks that aren't riddled with holes!