Category Archives for Etiquette in Japan

The 8 Mortal Sins: Japanese Train Etiquette

Japanese Train Etiquette How ToPlease the Japanese Train Etiquette Gods by Knowing the 8 Mortal Sins of Train Travel in Japan!

There are some simple things that one should know when moving, traveling or teleporting to Japan. When you ride the train, you should be aware of some simple etiquette. If you fail to do so, you’ll not only get weird, odd and sometimes mean looking faces staring at you, but soon after getting off the train, a ninja may or may not lobe off your head… of course it all depends on what you failed to understand when it comes to etiquette on Japanese trains.

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So here are the do’s and don’ts when it comes to riding the Japanese train ways!

Or the ‘How to Ride Trains in Japan’ … or ‘How to Not SIN in Japan’

Here’s a quickie for those that may not believe in the Japanese Train Gods. This is similar to those who don’t believe in god (Christian), yet still show up to church on Christmas Eve. So take it kind of like that for those.. Not so sure about these legendary beings!

Waiting in Line at the Trains and Letting Passengers Off

Make sure you stand in the right line when getting on the train. There will be markers and writing on the ground to let you know where to stand. When the train finally arrives, it’s best to stand off to the side while the passengers depart. Just make sure you get it right…. those train gods can be hard on foreigners, but it’s only so they get it right! Just like a strict parent.

Don’t Chikan and Watch out For Women-Only Train Cars + Real Etiquette

First of all, it should be rather known, NOT to grab a bunch of butts while in a crammed train car. So I shouldn’t need to go into that, but if you are unaware, this is a major problem in Japan. It’s called Chikan, it’s where a man (mostly) will grab butts and whatever else he can while everyone is smashed in like sardines.

They do this because overall, they know they can get away with it and no one will know, except the chikan’ed (new word?). But because of this there are a growing number of all women train cars emerging. Just make sure you are a woman if you got on one, otherwise, you may get beat up.

But to finalize this section off, let me share some real train etiquette, because, honestly you should know not to be grabbing people on their who’who’s and ha’ha’s on the train.

Do not put makeup on or get dress or ready for work or school on the train, it’s considered a bad omen, and someone may just have to smack you up side your head for doing it. So keep that in mind, do all your getting ready before getting on the train.

Don’t smoke on the Train..

Now days, smoking in public places is not illegal in many parts of Japan. You will end up with an annoyance called a fine if you get ratted out, and trust me, you will. It’s so well known that you do not smoke on the train that they don’t have any signs or recordings tell you not to do it!

There are many times smoking rooms in the stations where you are allowed to smoke. I guess the best bet is… if you don’t see a go ahead and smoke sign. Don’t do it. There will be available smoking rooms and areas not only in stations, but at festivals and in public areas.

Do not eat or drink on the train

There is no eating or drinking in the cars. Wait until you leave the train to continue on munching… as stated above there are certain trains you can eat on, but for overall purpose trains, it’s not recommended… that is all 😛

When Waiting for the Train – Wait BEHIND the Yellow Line.

The yellow line is also called the ‘suicide line’. It’s basically a no go when waiting for the train, do not step over it. It’s also got bumps on it so the blind know it’s there as well. This is also on Japanese sidewalks as well.

No talkie on cell phony!

This is most likely one of the most known rules by foreigners when they hear train etiquette, but that doesn’t mean they still listen to it. It’s best to finish up your call before the train arrives, and if you get on the train while still on the phone, you have a couple more seconds to wrap it up before you literally waken the Japanese train gods and horribly upset them.

But, there are loop holes to the Japanese train gods etiquette rules on the train. You can answer a phone call long enough to let the person know that you are on the train and that you can call them back once you arrive at your station you are getting off on.

It’s best to always have your phone on silent mode. The Japanese actually call this ‘Manner Mode’. There are many message announcements in both Japanese and English that will remind you to have your phone on ‘Manner Mode’.

Trains overall are quiet. So any noise that erupts from a phone will be noticeable.

Give up your seat for Pregnant, Handicapped, Injured, Older  Individuals and People with Young Children

This is pretty simple and it comes down to giving up your seat to individuals who more so need your seat then you do. There are priority seating areas on the trains, but many times these people will not use these seats. It’s because of the politeness factor and the ‘I don’t want to be a bother’ syndrome in Japan that this happens.

But either way, there will come a time when these select few of heroes come on to the train and will need your seat. Many times you will know they want your seat by staring at you. If you ask them if they want the seat, they will pull the ‘I don’t want to be a bother card’, but don’t pay any attention to their ‘no it’s okay’s’ just give them your seat. This will make the Japanese train etiquette gods very happy and you will not be slain when you leave the train.

Instead, you’ll be allowed to live another day and you get 1 free get out of jail card which can be used when you accidentally break one of these train etiquette rules! Pretty useful for not being struck down later in your train riding career.

Being Gross and Riding the Train = 3 Public Lashings

Just because there is a lack of deodorant in Japan doesn’t mean you want to me sticking it up in a cramped train. In fact I just watched a very interesting video that explains the reasons Japan doesn’t have very much deodorant in Japan to choose from, and it basically comes down to genetics. Check it out here.

But when it comes down to it, be aware of your stinkiness. Best bet would be to carry some kind of deodorant with you while you travel about Japan especially on the trains! But overall, be sure to avoid heavy metals in your deodorants as that causes cancer. So be selective with your stink be gones, avoid cancer and please the Japanese train etiquette gods all at once.

So that’s it, you now know these very important religious rules from riding the trains in Japan. You may also want to understand the all important Chopstick Etiquette guidelines in Japan… least you be punished by the Chopstick gods.

Some of this information was gathered from this blog here.

Japanese Chopstick Etiquette + Punishments

Chopstick Etiquette and Japanese PunishmentsChopstick Etiquette for the Complete Gaijin

An over view of the Japanese chopstick etiquette guidelines set in stone by the chopstick Gods themselves.

So here it is, a basic list of etiquette when it comes to eating with chopsticks in Japan. I thought I also give you the regular punishments that happen in Japan for disobeying the chopstick gods. The punishment must be appropriate to the offense, may the Chopstick Gods have mercy on your soul!

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I hope my utter nonsensical punishments help you remember your manners when eating with chopsticks! Remember, the chopstick Gods are ALWAYS watching you, judging every move you make with your chopsticks, so pay attention, and stay alive!

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  1. Be sure to hold your chopsticks toward the ends. Eating with chopsticks using the very front, makes you
    look childish. Practice eating with chopsticks a quarter past the middle. Punishment? Wait? You don’t think looking childish in front of a bunch of people is enough :P?

  2. When not using your chopsticks place them on your chopstick placer (which is usually a piece of wood)
    or you could if it’s a disposable pair, set them resting the paper cover it came with. Make sure you lay them down
    in front of you with the tips to the left, if you place them to the right… well. Just don’t! You don’t want to know what happens.

  3. Hiroi-Bashi – Avoid at all costs of being cast into the ocean by passing food from your chopsticks to another’s. This practice is purely used at funerals which involves the bones of an ashed and cremated body.

  4. Tsukitate-Bashi – Avoid ever sticking your chopsticks straight into your food, especially into gohan/rice. This is another act done at funerals with gohan/rice that is put into an altar, doing this could get you shipped off to Pyong-yang in North Korea.

  5. If you spear your food with chopsticks, a kung-fu master will spear you.

  6. Utsuri-Bashi – If you pick a piece of food up and then decide you don’t want it and you put it back down to pick something else up.. That’s called a no-no, soon after you will start to see black and white spots in your vision from the local Shinto priest casting magical spells on you under the direct guidance from the chopstick Gods.

  7. Mayoi-Bashi – If you’re indecisive about what you want to eat from your plate or community platter, avoid hovering your chopsticks over food. This is seen as greedy, and you’ll be sleeping with the pigs that night!

  8. Sashi-Bashi – If you point with your chopsticks, your Grandmother will be sent to the disposable chopstick work camps based in Hokkaido where she will work until her end of days.

  9. Koji-Bashi – Avoid digging for that perfect water-chestnut or french onion, always pick up food from a bowl or dish that’s easy to get to (you know, the top). You’ll be headbutted by the nearest Japanese person if you do so.

  10. Waving your chopsticks in the air or playing with them will get you sent to the kiddie table.

  11. If you need to tear a piece of food apart, use your chopsticks. This takes practice! But you know you can do it. It’s acceptable to pick up larger pieces of food like tempura and take a chomp out of it.

  12. Don’t spread Koodies, if you’ve eaten food from your chopsticks, don’t pick up food from community platter or shared plates with the eating end. Turn your chopsticks around and take from the plate that way and bring it back to your plate first before eating it. You’ll not go to chopstick heaven when you die.

  13. Namida-Bashi – Dripping liquid from your chopsticks whilst in the middle of bringing food to your mouth is also a mortal Japanese sin and it will eventual lead to epic sadness throughout the world. You can prevent this by putting
    your free hand under the chopsticks while bringing it to your mouth.

  14. Yose-Bashi – If you feel frisky you can play with and move your dishes and plates around with your chopsticks. But do this with extreme caution as you will wake the Japanese fang-gore beasts and they’ll eat the cutest puppy and kitten you’ve ever seen right in front of you. (@[email protected]) You’ll need years of therapy..

  15. Neburi-Bashi – By licking the ends of your chopsticks, you will not only look like a total gaijin, you will be asked to pay the bill for your entire party and if you don’t, your Grandmothers freedom again is at risk. Don’t be licking the ends of your chopsticks! Very important to remember.

  16. Do not swirl your chopsticks in your soup. Why? Because you just don’t do such things in Japan. Be respectful, do that behind closed doors.

  17. If you cross your chopsticks when putting them on the table you evoke great wrath from all those around you. This is another touchy moment for the Japanese as it’s another symbol which is used in funeral ceremonies.

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Sake Course 101: History, Brew Process and How to Drink Sake

Learn the Basics of Japanese Sake -- NihonshuSake 101 – Understand the Sake… BE! The Sake!

So I thought today I would go through a basic run down of the history, the quality, the process of brewing and a great course on how to properly drink sake and the rituals based around this wonderful beverage. By the way, PLEASE: It’s pronounced… “SA KAY” not “SA KI” 😛 Now you know.

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Sake Basics

There are many types of sake and they are designated to a certain quality group over all. In fact the Japanese government has actually created a list of the types of sake and how they can end up using these labels when marketing. You can view that list near the bottom of this page, but it should show you how important sake is to the Japanese culture over all. English refers to sake as rice wine, but sake in Japanese (or o-sake) can also mean alcoholic beverages over all.

This alcoholic beverage is called ‘Nihonshu’ which basically means ‘Japanese Alcohol’. There are four basic ingredients in Nihonshu. Water, Rice, Koji, Yeast and at times an alcohol filler called Jozo Alcohol. (Not more then 10% in many cases can be used of Jozo)

The way sake is brewed (fermented rice) which is a grain, is more closely related to brewing beer. But it’s easily more adapted to wine then anything. Fun fact about sake is that it has the highest natural alcohol content of all alcoholic drinks. Up to around 22%, but after the brewing process, it’s watered down to about 15% to make it so that more flavors are recognizable.

Although you can purchase undiluted sake which is called Genshu.

But perhaps you are thinking, what about liquor like vodka, rum, whiskey, maotai or cognac? It’s interesting to note that before the distillation processes in these liquors, they only have an alcohol percentage of %6 to %9 percent on average.

Thusly making sake the highest naturally fermented alcoholic beverage found in the world. The sake mash has a alcohol percentage of 22% like stated before.

Sake Brewing Process

In olden times, sake brew masters would operate from autumn to spring, when it’s the easiest to control the temperature. Where as today, sake is brewed all year long because of cooling equipment.

The Process in Detail

Sake is a fermented alcoholic beverage. It contains 11-17 percentage alcohol on average when bottled. It’s viewed as a wine much because it’s created by using rice, which is a cereal grain. But, unlike wine, Nihonshu (sake) has no additives, preservatives and contains no sulfites. So from this view point, o-sake is more so a beer because the starch from the rice is transformed into sugar and the sugar is used to finally become alcohol.

The Importance of Water in Brewing Sake

The pure nectar of sake is only as good as it’s basic ingredients, so skipping out on high quality water would be a disaster. High quality water, say from places like Kumamoto-shi in Kyushu (the lower Japanese island), are prime waters to use in sake brewing.

The most suitable water for making sake is high in phosphoric acid, magnesium and potassium. It must also have low levels of manganese and iron. These minerals can cause the sake to lose flavor and can also discolor the final product.

Rice Quality in Sake Means Everything!

Since rice is the main key to the quality of the finalized product. It’s important to pick the highest quality rice so the preparations of creating the sake brew is easily adapted through the rest of the process.

Sake’s over all quality is determined by how much of the outer kernel-husk of the rice is milled off. Milling of the rice removes the fatty acids and protein, which then simply leaves the starch-inner in the center. Which then is used to ferment into sugar.

The more the rice is milled the more the sake increases in flavor and quality by giving it more of a light delicate taste in the mouth.

Koji and Yeast – The Method and Process

Once the rice has been milled / polished to whatever size the brewery is attempting, they then soak and steam the rice. This is when the water’s quality really comes in handy for premium sake. 15-25 percent is steamed and set aside to make what is called Koji. The rest is then steamed and cooled and is used for the fermentation in the sake brewing process.

Koji basically plays the same role as yeast does when brewing wine or beer. Koji is created by dusting fungi spores (aspergillis oryzae) on the steamed rice and set in a high-humidity, high-temperature location for 2 days.

Koji then is placed in water with some yeast and mixed up. The steamed rice placed aside for fermentation is then added, and at this time the yeast will then increase and multiply, this is when fermentation truly begins in the process of sake.

Soon the fermentation will start to create a mixture of solids and liquids. The liquid is removed by filtration, which then becomes sake. Once it has been extracted, it’s then pasteurized at about 62 C (or 140 F) to terminate the enzyme activity in the sake. It can also be filtered extra fine to remove the enzymes instead.

Can you Cellar or Store Sake?

Overall, no. It’s not recommended. It’s best to drink sake within a couple months (unopened) after purchased. Once it’s open it’s recommended to drink it within a couple weeks and its recommended to keep it in the refrigerator at that point.

But there are many factors when it comes to cellaring Sake for the long term. This type of sake is called Koshu. And it’s recommended to store it in sub-zero for the long term. But some brewers have some sake from the early 2000’s that they left at room temperature that they are finally cracking open and selling to their customers. Koshu sake is sort of considered a bit taboo when it comes to it’s process and drinking. But more and more people are finding that this is a brave new world when it comes to sake. I’d say do your research if you plan to personally age your sake to Koshu and perhaps buy some before attempting the long haul of cellaring it.

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Sake 101: Learn the Orgins of SakeThe History of Sake

Sake has a history of more then 2000 years and counting. The origins of sake can be tracked down to the Yangtse River Valley in China which then dates as far back as 4,000 BC! Sake made it’s way to Japan in 300 BC and it was the Japanese that took the opportunity to mass brew this most delectable beverage.

Since the beginning of sake’s emergence in Japan it has been controlled. At first sake was only brewed for the Imperial Court in Kyoto as well as for Shinto shrines and temples. A department of sake was established in the Yamato Era in the Nara area. This department was created to insure that there was a good harvest of sake for annual festivals, which of course tied into religious offerings.

Before it was known that koji could be used to create sake, it was very common that in these early days of sake that a whole village were involved in what they call “Kuchikami no sake” (chewing mouth sake). Which basically means that a bunch of people chewed rice and nuts and then spit into a barrel in the middle of the village, which then would later become the base for brewing their sake.

I’d say that overall that wouldn’t fly today. Thank god for koji right?

During the Meiji Restoration (1868), it was passed as law that the general Japanese people could start construction and operate their own sake businesses. Soon after this law passed (1 year exactly) over 30,000 breweries opened up inside Japan. (kind of reminds me of the Marijuana business in Colorado).

But with this came HUGE taxes on these breweries, and after a couple decades there was only 8000. (just like the MJ business in Colorado).

Sake is a high taxable product in Japan. In 1898 more then 40% of the general tax income was from sake alone! Today sales tax only equates to around 2% of their total tax income. The quality of sake gradually went down during and after WWII when the Japanese government limited the possibility of using rice in production of alcohol and thus glucose was added which created a very poor quality sake.

Since then, the quality of sake has been improving steadily even into the 21st century. But to date the JSBA (Japan Sake Brewers Association) now represents only 1,800 brewers in Japan. From the tip of Hokkaido all the way to Okinawa.

Sake in Religious Ceremonies

Shinto and Temple Sake Celebrations Kagami Mochi Kagami Biraki
For the 2000 years that sake has been brewed in Japan, it has been used in every sort of ritual, festival and ceremony you can run across in the Japanese culture and history.

Sake is a main part of many Shinto purification rituals. It’s similar to say the wine of the christian and catholic churches. Shinto have several different cleansing ingredients that can be used. Water, Salt, Fire, Sand… and of course Sake.

These temples and shrines started to brew sake in the 10th century, which then became the center of sake production for over 5 centuries. Shinto festivals are responsible for a common sake ritual used even today. During their festivals there was a ceremony called kagami biraki which means ‘opening the mirror’. It’s referred to Kagami mochi (which means – ‘breaking up the rice cake’). Kagami mochi is when wooden casks of brewed sake are opened with a mallet. Which usually takes place at temples, company openings, weddings, election and sports victories or any other type of significant event.

This sake is called iwai-zake which means celebration sake and is freely given to all to spread good luck and good fortune. During the new year, many Japanese will drink a health tonic sake called toso, which is made with Chinese medicinal powered herbs. Toso is similar to iwai-zake and this concoction is soaked over night, and children will even take a sip of this tonic.

This new year sake ritual was borrowed from the China by Japanese aristocrats in the Heian era (794-1185 AD). The ritual consists of three sizes of cup, called sakazuki. The smallest is the first filled with tososan and each family takes a sip starting with the head of the house hold.

Once the first cup is drank, the second and third are filled with different types of sake to be passed around.

A Real Japanese Sake Taste Test from Sake Test:

Sake and Health Benefits
Drinking Etiquette and Festivals
Sake Presentation Hospitality

Tokutei Meisho vs Futsuu-shu

Over all there are two basic sake types. You have Futsuu-shu which is Ordinary Sake and Tokutei meishou-shu which is a special designation sake. Futsuu-shu is the equivalent to table wine. Futsuu-shu accounts for the main portion of sake brewed over all.

Tokutei meishou-shu is a premium based sake and it’s degrees of quality are based on how much the rice has been polished. The quality of Tokutei meishou-shu and rice polishing ratio is displayed below:

(brought you by: Japan Sake)

Tokutei meisho and their specifications

Designation Ingridients *1, *2 Seimai-buai *3 Percent of Koji Rice Other Features *4
Ginjo-shu rice, koji, jozo alochol up to 60% at least 15% Ginjo-tsukuri method, good characteristic flavor and appearance
Daiginjo-shu rice, koji, jozo alcohol up to 50% at least 15% Ginjo-tsukuri method, Excellent characteristic flavor and appearance
Junmai-shu rice, koji at least 15% Good flavor and appearance
Junmaiginjo-shu rice, koji up to 60% at least 15% Ginjo-tsukuri method, good characteristic flavor and appearance
Junmai daiginjo-shu rice, koji up to 50% at least 15% Ginjo-tsukuri method, excellent characteristic flavor and appearance
Tokubetsu Junmai-shu rice, koji up to 60% or special process at least 15% Excellent flavor and appearance
Honjozo-shu rice, koji, jozo alcohol up to 70% at least 15% Good flavor and appearance
Tokubetsu honjozo-shu rice, koji, jozo alcohol up to 70% at least 15% Excellent flavor and appearance

*1. The rice used must pass an inspection indicating a certain level of quality
*2. Amount of distilled alcohol should not axceed 10% of rice weight.
*3. Label must indicate that actual seimai-buai conforms with sake regulations
*4. Definition of ginjo-tsukuri: Usually refers to the process of using rice with a low seimai-buai (highly polished rice) and cold-temperature fermentation to create the characteristic fragerance of ginjo-shu

Ginjo (吟醸)

Ginjo-shu is made with rice grains from which more than 40% of the outer layer has been removed by milling. Fermentation occurs at lower temperatures and takes longer. Distilled alcohol equivalent to up to 10% of the weight of the polished rice may be added.

It has a fruity fragrance, called ginjo-ka, with a light, that is low in acidity. “Light” does not simply mean “mild” or “diluted.” The sake should also have a smooth texture (mouth feel) and a good aftertaste.

The specific characteristics of ginjo-shu vary by brewer, with the more fragrant varieties designed to highlight ginjo-ka and others designed with more emphasis on flavor and less on ginjo-ka.

Daiginjo (大吟醸)

Daiginjo-shu is a form of ginjo-shu made with even more highly polished rice from which at least 50% of the outer layer of the grain has been removed. It has an even more refined taste and stronger ginjo-ka than ginjo-shu.

Junmai, Tokubetsu junmai (純米・特別純米)

Junmai-shu and tokubetsu junmai-shu are made only from rice, koji and water, highlighting the flavor of the rice and koji more than other varieties. There are no requirements regarding polishing ratio. Junmai-shu is typically high in acidity and umami, with relatively little sweetness.

Junmai ginjo (純米吟醸)

Because ginjo brewing techniques are used in making junmai ginjo-shu, the acidity and umami are toned down and there is a clear ginjo-ka.

Junmai daiginjo (純米大吟醸)

Junmai daiginjo-shu is regarded as the highest-grade sake. The best products in this class deliver a good blend of refined taste with acidity and umami.

Honjozo (本醸造)

In honjozo-shu, the emphasis is on flavor and there is little ginjo-ka or aging‐induced aroma. It has a reasonable level of acidity and umami and rather than asserting the aroma and taste of the sake itself, it helps to bring out the taste of food.

Sake varieties are also distinguished by brewing method.

Shinshu (新酒)

Sake brewed during the current year.

Koshu (古酒)

Matured Sake that has been stored for a long time.
Period of maturation can be authenticated.

Genshu (原酒)

Undiluted sake. Many genshu have a high alcohol content and have strong taste, because there is no addition of water after pressing.

Tezukuri (手造り)


Junmai-shu or honjozo-shu that has been brewed using certain traditional methods.

Namazake (Nama-shu) (生酒)

Usually, sake is pasteurized twice before being bottled.
Namazake (Nama-shu) is sake bottled without being pasteurized at all.

Nama-chozo-shu (生貯蔵酒)

Nama-chozo-shu is sake pasteurized only once at bottling after maturation.

Namazume-shu (生詰め酒)

Namazume-shu is bottled sake pasteurized only once before maturation.

Kijoshu (貴醸酒)

This term derives from ancient Japanese book Engishiki, which records a unique mixing process, shiori, using sake instead of water in the brewing process. There are sub-varieties of Kijoshu, such as koshu, namazake etc.

Ki-ippon (生一本)

The term means junmai-shu brewed at only one brewery, rather than having been blended from more than one brewery.

Taruzake (樽酒)

Cask sake. sake that has been kept in a cedar cask, has its own special aroma.

Hiyaoroshi (冷やおろし)

This is an old-style way of marketing namazume-shu. It refers to sake that has been pasteurized only once and aged from the winter until the following fall before marketing.

Nigorizake (濁り酒)

The moromi is filtered through a coarse cloth which produces cloudy sake, called nigorizake. In the past, it was unpasteurized and contained living yeast. However, these days, much of the nigorizake is pasteurized to stabilize the quality.

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–and on a side note for those who enjoy interesting drinks, be sure to check out habu sake here, it’s not for the weak hearted.