Picture of a traditional style Japanese house
You’ve been lucky enough to get invited to a Japanese friend’s house, so now what?
Visiting the house of a Japanese person, unless they’re very close to you, can be quite intimidating. Like most things in Japan, there are a lot of subtle rules and interpretations of body language that go down in house calls, but the good thing is that they at least make sense. Americans wearing shoes inside their houses, on the other hand, makes no sense at all. Now let’s talk about the manners associated with visiting someone’s house in Japan.
Step 1: Before you even walk up to the door
I could say “wear something nice”, but that’s obvious no matter what culture you live in, so I’ll move on to the next less obvious one, but still pretty obvious. You must buy some sort of gift to bring. It doesn’t have to be too fancy, and I 100% recommend bringing a food item. If it’s going to be a small dinner party with you and your boss and his family, then don’t bring ice cream or a bag of chocolate Pocky just because I said bring a food item. Instead, pick out a decent 1000-1500 yen bottle of liquor, like sake or whiskey. Being half Japanese myself, I can safely say that we’re all alcoholics. Cake is also a great way to win anyone over.
Step 2 You’re at the door, with the Cerberus of Japanese manners guarding it
You’ve made it to the door with your wrapped gift (supermarkets will wrap gifts for you if you buy them there. At the register just say “Tsutsunde moraemasuka?”) and are ready to either ring the doorbell, or knock on the door twice (In Japan you knock twice, not thrice). However, before you do this, you have to do two things.
1. Make sure your jacket or coat is already off and over your arm. My guess is so that you aren’t bustling around trying to get your shoes off and your jacket AND hand over your gift at the same time while inside their house.
2. Check your watch, and make sure you’re just about 5 minutes LATE. I know this may seem strange, but it’s a pretty standard rule when visiting houses. It’s to make sure any last minute preparations for your arrival get completed. Being any later than 5 minutes though will be considered rude.
Once both of these conditions are completed, go ahead and ring the doorbell or knock on the door.
An instructional video on how to visit a house (this is way overboard though, and should be used for basic reference only)
Step 3 Once inside the genkan (foyer)
You now must introduce yourself to whoever answered the door if you don’t know them, which is a high probability considering your boss’s husband or wife won’t often come to your work. You can find out how to do that here. Now, if you brought a gift that needs to be refrigerated, or if it’s something like flowers that need to go in a vase, you need to hand that over in the genkan, while saying “Kore, tsumaranai mono desuga, douzo” (This isn’t anything special, but please accept it). If it’s just a bottle of fine gin, wait until you’ve been shown to the room. NOW, you take off your shoes when they say something like “Douzo Oagari kudasai” (Please come in) and while stepping up say “Ojyama itashimasu” (Literally: I’m going to be in the way). Upon doing all this, you’ve made it inside safely, and you can say the hardest part is over.
Manners and Mischief: Gender, Power, and Etiquette in Japan
Amazon Price: $19.89
List Price: $24.95
A Smart Girl’s Guide to Manners (American Girl) (American Girl Library)
Amazon Price: $4.88
List Price: $9.95
#1. Always buy a gift to bring, and make sure it’s wrapped. It doesn’t have to be too fancy.
#2. Arrive at just about 5 minutes later than the planned time, and have your coat off before you ring the doorbell or knock.
#3. Introduce yourself to whoever you don’t know in the genkan (foyer) with the methods here, and then hand over your gift if it’s perishable while saying “Kore, tsumaranai mono desuga, douzo” (In essence “Please accept this boring gift”). After they tell you to come in, say “Ojyama itashimasu” (I’m going to be in the way) and step up after taking off your shoes. More often than not there’ll be slippers for you to wear, and no matter how silly they are, you MUST wear them.
In part 2 (here), I will go over what to do once you’ve passed over the threshold. However, half the battle is already over, and you’ll find that when invited to a Japanese person’s house, they can really be quite hospitable. I strongly encourage any comments or questions and look forward to any critiques! Sore de wa…