Japanese etiquette: a form of place essentialism

A common myth regarding Japanese culture revolves around its strict etiquettes, as politeness is frequently considered to be an essential aspect of Japanese culture. You’ll often find various etiquette tips on travel guides that can help you fit into their “disciplined society”.

Some commonly mentioned etiquettes include:

  • Not speaking while on public transport
  • Removing shoes indoors
  • Correctly using chopsticks
  • Not walking and eating on the streets

Reminders for noise consideration on trains. Photo by Thomas Raucher

Unfortunately, these behaviours are often portrayed unintentionally as “rules” or “strict guidelines” through media such as anime, and has become a permanent “essence” of modern Japanese culture.

For example, the well-known いただきます “Itadakimasu” is portrayed as a required saying before EVERY meal, where in fact it is only really used during group outings, as it is impolite to start eating while someone in the group is waiting.

Rin’s cooking in Blue Exorcist, A-1 pictures.

In reality, being thoughtful and considerate is often enough, as politeness is highly valued in Japan. As long as you apologise, most unknowing “mistakes” you make will be forgiven.

The issue with place essentialism is that it assigns a form of permanence, a false notion that all Japanese etiquettes are unchanging. This stereotype is then further reinforced when a traveller is misinformed about certain notions of respect, causing greater confusion and conflict between tourists and locals.

Challenging this form of place essentialism

A few ways to challenge misinformation regarding Japanese etiquette can entail:

  • Providing more detailed explanations on what is appropriate and inappropriate throughout different regions of Japan in travel guides
  • Spreading awareness online on various acceptable behaviours through anecdotal travel blogs to remove generalisations

Remember, you don’t hurt a country’s identity by being unaware to unique mannerisms. However, being observative and to attempt blending in is a respectable act, no matter where you visit.

Sources:

Featured image: https://www.worldfirst.com/app/uploads/2020/01/Japan-business_blog-956×628.jpg

One thought on “Japanese etiquette: a form of place essentialism

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  1. First of all, I really liked this blog because I was personally interested in this content before. I was really happy to have an opportunity to fix my misunderstood knowledge and earn some new ones too. The structure of this blog was really easy to read well-planned. Also, challenge misinformation part was really impressing for me. The reason is that it was pretty persuasive enough to be a better essentialism in terms of manners of Japan. The pictures and photos are also appropriate enough to explain your writings. It helped for me to understand the article better. However, it would be nicer if you edit and refine your article a little more. Aside that, your blog was perfect and I really loved it. Nice work!
    -YoungJun Cho (1075878 Unimelb)-

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