Japanese household manners
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There are customs and set phrases that are important to know if you'll be visiting someone's home in Japan.
Entering a home
You're entering your friend's house.
This is a set phrase, so make sure you say します and not する, even if you're visiting relatives or close friends.
You should say お邪魔します either right as you walk through the doorway, or when you step up into someone's house from the 玄関 entryway.
A 玄関 is the area in a Japanese home right inside the entrance. This is where you take off your shoes. There is typically a single step up into the house from the 玄関.
The word 邪魔 means something like "hindrance" or "obstacle." In saying お邪魔します, you're relating that you're imposing on the person by entering their home.
The kanji for 邪魔 are pretty fun.
Few things are more of a "hindrance" than some 邪 wicked 魔 magic.
Taking off your shoes
This was alluded to above, but you'll always want to remove your shoes when entering someone's home. This is also true of many temples and shrines.
A sign that is posted at the entrance of a temple.
土足, literally "dirt feet," refers to the act of wearing shoes into a place you shouldn't, a serious cultural faux pas in Japan.
Shoes are viewed as being quite dirty in Japan, so you shouldn't put them on things, either. For example, if you're stepping on a chair to grab something you can't reach, you should take off your shoes first.
Shoes are only for the ground outside or in public places with lots of foot traffic. Many (high-end) shops and restaurants will also require you to remove your shoes when entering. They'll give you slippers to wear instead.
You're an exchange student who just arrived in Japan. You went to use the bathroom at your host family's house, but the door was closed. It's been more than 20 minutes, and no one has come out. You think to yourself.
The exchange student in the example above doesn't realize that the door to the toilet room — which is often separate from the room with the shower/bath and sink — is typically kept shut in Japanese homes, even if no one is in there.
They're waiting for someone to come out of the toilet, but no one is in there.
You're staying the night at your boyfriend's place. You're pretty sure he already showered in the morning, so before you get out of the bath, you call out to him.
Bathwater is commonly shared in Japan. You're supposed to shower and clean your body before you get into the tub.
The speaker in the example above isn't sure if her boyfriend is going to use the bathwater after her.
Leaving a home
You're leaving your friend's house.
I (Niko) always forget to say this one when I'm leaving a house I visited as a guest.
It's especially easy to forget the お邪魔する phrases when the person with me doesn't need to say it.
For example, Rei doesn't say it when we visit her mom's house, but I do.
There are many more customs to be observed in a Japanese home. Knowing the ones described above will at least greatly decrease our risk of inadvertent bad manners.