Ah! Gomen! A Post About Japanese Social Etiquettes

Everytime I visit Japan, I have a certain pressure of doing the wrong things at the wrong time and at the wrong place. For example, when I get on an escalator, I’ll constantly remind myself to stand on the left to avoid hoggin those who are in a hurry and clear my table after a meal at a fast food restaurant or cafe. Something which we Malaysians are not really accustomed to. Come on, honestly, how many of you clear your table after a meal at McDonalds? Most will just wipe that ketchup smudge off and throw the serviette onto the pile of mess created earlier while gouging down a BigMac and fries. Admit it, we simply expect that cleaning up is part of the service we paid for.

This trip, I broke quite a couple of social etiquettes while going about in Tokyo. Though un-intentional, I still felt that I should’ve done otherwise. Case one, it is a very bad thing to dunk your towel in an Onsen (hot spring bath). Let’s face it, we Malaysians are not as comfortable being naked in public as with folks in Japan simply because going to the Onsen is a way of life and enjoyment, even with the entire family. I’ve seen little girls with her dad enjoying a hot dip in public baths amongst a group of naked grown men. Though it was at nite and I was half submerged, I gotta admit – I was pretty uncomfortable having witness such – closeness.

Though I’ve been to Japan many times, I still can’t help but to feel some of the etiquettes are a little of an overkill. For example, when you are in a bar and someone is hoggin the mic howling away – it is considered rude to stand up half way through the song and head for the gents. Instead, one should wait till he or she is done torturing you with the bad singing and then clap, before moving your bud away and head to the loo. I am sorry, but isn’t that a little repressive? And talking about sorry, I found out recently that the Japanese Anniversary Association has approved December 10th as “Gomenne No Hi” ( I’m Sorry Day ) in Japan. The day was created in response to the results of a national poll on apologizing that showed that most people didn’t like apologizing. The idea is that if everyone says sorry on the same day, the act of apologizing will become more lighthearted. No kidding. Google it.

Personally, I think the word Gomen (Sorry) is the 2nd most uttered word in the Japanese language. At numero uno would be the expression “Ah” which would normally followed by Gomen. During my first ever trip to Japan many years ago, I thought employees at Family Mart (equivalent to 7-Eleven) were so polite. They will utter a long speech to thank you for your patronage while handing you your change. After a couple more visits, I realized they were not really polite but robotic. They say it because they have to and not because they meant to. On many occasions, I noticed they didn’t even looked at me while saying it.

Anyway, even with all these quirkiness, Tokyo remain my favorite city in the world after New York. Every single time, when I am at Narita airport for my flight home, there’s a sense of sadness. If you see the video for this trip, I ended it with a song by BEGIN entitled ユガフ島 (Yugahu Island). The melody encapsulates my emotions.

In the spirit of this post, I would like to say, Gomen ne, for being an stupid Gaijin (foreigner) who suxs at Japanese Social Etiquettes.


4 Responses to “Ah! Gomen! A Post About Japanese Social Etiquettes”

  1. 1 zzeed January 15, 2010 at 7:37 pm


    Do we give tips in Japan?

    Gomen in malaysia is also the most frequently-spoken & controversial word – government.

    • 2 BigMacky January 17, 2010 at 9:14 am


      In short, no, Japanese culture is not a tipping culture. It can be seen as offensive at times.

      Haha, yeah, Gomen in Malaysia is kinda popular too. Shhhh, jangan cakap banyak-banyak lagi. Nanti kena call for investigation.

  2. 3 seebee0509 January 18, 2010 at 8:13 pm

    come to think of it, Japan is one of the most healthy country in the world.

    • 4 BigMacky January 19, 2010 at 6:27 am


      I guess. But the pressure of working and living there – can’t be doing much good for mental health. 🙂

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