Skip Navigation

A Course in Proper Manners for When You’ve Been Invited to Your Japanese Friend’s House

If you’re studying the Japanese language, you’re learning about the culture, too. Today, let’s look at the proper etiquette for visiting a Japanese friend’s house. As you may know, Japan has a lot of rules about manners. If you can follow them, your Japanese friends are sure to be impressed. Well then, let’s consider what you might need to be careful of once you’ve been invited over to your friend’s house!

First, let’s think about clothing. Your clothing and personal appearance are important—they’re some of the keys to have a smooth and comfortable visit to your friends house. If there isn’t a formal or official event, wear something you’d usually wear to relax in as you chat with your friend. Traditionally, Japan has a culture of sitting on the floor, unlike the tables and chairs you might find in the West. Because of this, you might not be able to relax if you come dressed in a mini skirt or a tube top.

When you’re picking out an oufit, choose something you like that’s easy to move in. Styles like jeans with dragging hems, however, are not seen much in Japan, though, so that might be something to pay attention to.
Once you’ve selected your favorite outfit, you head out to your friend’s home. The next thing you’ll want to prepare is…a gift! In Japan, it’s a good idea to bring a gift (or “omiyage”) of food that might please your hosts when you go to visit a friend or acquaintance’s home for the first time (however, this is often not necessary when you’re visiting the home of a student who lives alone). Some kind of sweet treat that everyone can enjoy together is best. This may be common practice in your home country, too. Another thing to remember? Do your best to be on time, even if you’re invited quite suddenly.

When you arrive at your friend’s house, take your shoes off at the genkan, or entryway. Once you’ve taken them off, it’s the Japanese way to line your shoes up with the toes pointing towards the door.

There’s an interesting theory about the Japanese culture of removing one’s shoes indoors: that only the dead wear shoes indoors. In Japan, when someone dies, they are dressed in a white kimono and special shoes, or “waraji,” to prepare them for their journey and send them off. The theory is that it’s from this tradition that the culture of not wearing even clean, brand-new shoes inside the house.

When you step into the house, your friend may offer you a pair of slippers, but these are especially for wooden (or linoleum) floors! Don’t forget to take off your slippers when you step into a Japanese-style room with tatami flooring. There’s also a bit of a strange custom of wearing “toilet slippers” in Japanese houses. Before you slip into the toilet room, don’t forget to take off your inside slippers and change into the toilet slippers, and once again when you step back out!

If you’re invited to eat, be sure to follow proper table manners. There are a lot of rules about eating, but let’s take a look at a few things you shouldn’t do with chopsticks. First, never leave your chopsticks stuck upright in your food (“tokki-bashi” or “tate-bashi”). Also, be sure not to pull plates or bowls to yourself with your chopsticks (“yose-bashi”). In addition, don’t pass food from one person’s chopsticks to another person’s chopsticks (“awase-bashi”), or hover your chopsticks over various plates as you decide what to eat (“mayoi-bashi”). Instead, move your chopsticks once you’ve decided what to eat. Use your chopsticks well and your friend is sure to compliment you!

Next, though it may not happen as frequently, you might be invited to spend the night at your friend’s house. If you spend the night, you may be invited to take a bath. The bath is another area with unique Japanese customs. In Japan, it’s customary to fill a bathtub with hot water and soak in it. Before entering the tub, sit outside it in on the small bath chair to wash your body first. It is, after all, a sitting culture! 🙂

After you’ve washed your whole body, you can enter the bathtub, but be careful to keep your towel out of the water! This is the same as onsen rules. When you get out of the tub, be sure to leave the water for the next person. Draining the tub water is the final bather’s job.

Finally, you only have to enjoy your time with your friend, and then head home. When you leave, don’t forget to thank your hosts for their hospitality and the wonderful food.

That’s it for today’s examination of important manners in Japan. What Japanese customs seem strange to you?