Japanese Party Customs

by Nicole Fotheringham
Conducting a successful party with Japanese guests takes planning and finesse.

Conducting a successful party with Japanese guests takes planning and finesse.

Ryan McVay/Lifesize/Getty Images

When hosting or attending a party with Japanese guests, a general knowledge of customs and social norms will help you to enjoy the event. You will not want to cause offense by certain behaviors or actions that may be viewed as rude or impolite. Take time to familiarize yourself with Japanese party customs so that everyone will have a good time.

Invitations and Gifts

If you are hosting a party, send invitations that are factual and succinct. If you know that someone might not be able to attend, ask her informally so that she can politely decline, as a written invitation is taken very seriously. Be prepared; Japanese party guests will arrive on time or early. Wait until all the guests have arrived before starting the party. If a guest presents you with a gift, accept it with both hands, thank him and wait until after he leaves to open it. Send a thank-you gift in return for an elaborate gift or a thank-you card for a simple gift. As a guest, you are expected to reply to formal invitations; only cancel if you absolutely cannot come. Bring a gift appropriate to the occasion; take care to wrap it beautifully. Present the gift with both hands once you are inside the home. Arrive at the time designated on your invitation.

Greetings

As the host, greet the guests individually as they arrive. Bowing is a very complex affair and the length and depth of the bow will increase with seniority. A Westerner is not expected to know how to bow correctly but any attempt will be appreciated. Always address people by adding "san" after their names or, with very senior guests, use the more respectful "sama." Have guests remove their shoes and place them in a rack by the door. You may provide slippers for them, if you wish. As a guest, always remove your shoes when entering a house. Do not help yourself to drinks or food -- an invitation to do so merely indicates that the host is busy and will attend to you shortly.

Table Manners

When hosting a dinner party, provide damp cloths for your guests to use to wipe their hands before eating. Serve a wide variety of dishes and have a small bowl, plate and chopsticks for each guest. Food is presented communally and each guest takes a little onto his plate. If you are a guest at a dinner party, wait for the host to present you with a damp cloth. Use it only to wipe your hands and then fold it and place it on the table. Before you start eating, say "itadakimasu," which means "I will receive." Try to eat with chopsticks; it's not that difficult and it is polite. Slurping food and making loud noises when eating is a sign that you are enjoying your food; however, this does not include belching. Do not suck your chopsticks or leave them stuck upright into your food; place them together on top of your plate when you are not using them. When drinking, wait until everyone has a poured drink. The most senior guest will make a speech and say "Kampai!" Raise your glass and drink.

Taking Your Leave

When you are hosting a party, it is acceptable to give your guests a subtle hint when proceedings are drawing to a close. Serve brown tea rather than green when it is time for your guests to go. If you are a guest, you must be aware of your host's hints to leave. If your host says that you should stay longer, you should leave about 15 minutes later.

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