Japan is about us not about you
The first thing that should be covered is that Japan is a country focused on the collective rather than the individual. Citizens focus on how their actions will effect others rather than thinking about themselves first. In the west we tend to focus on things like "how will this decision effect my life, my happiness...etc." while in Japan thoughts tend to be more "how will my decision effect those around me? My friends, family and co-workers?" This type of thinking is behind the rest of the tips that I will be discussing.
Shhhhh! Be quiet on the subway
Subway stations can be very noisy, but once you get on the subway it's generally very quiet. When entering the subway turn your cell phone off or put it on silent so you don't disturb the passengers around you. Try not to talk while on the subway or other public transport as this can also be annoying to the passengers around you, if you have to talk try doing it very quietly.
Did someone cut in line? Are the prices of mangos really high today? Had a bad day? These are all things westerners openly complain about, but the Japanese rarely do. Being seen as someone who complains constantly is a really bad image to have in Japan. The best way to deal with bad situations is to just brush it off and adopt the "shouganai" culture. Shouganai is the Japanese term of "it can't be helped" or "nothing can be done" you simply accept what happened and move on. This can be really hard to accept for westerners who are used to fighting for what is right, but the Japanese don't find it productive to be upset about things that they can't change. If your just visiting you won't have to conform for long, but this attitude is a must for people planning on living in Japan.
Bowing and General Acknowledgement
Bowing is a form of respect that you show for someone. The degree, or deepness, of your bow will depend on who you're meeting. When performing a bow keep your hands to your sides and tilt your upper body down, don't stick your butt out! Bend your head slightly, and look down when bowing.
There are 3-4 different bows: a simple head nod, 15 degree, 30 degree, and 45 degree bows. As you go up you show a greater amount of respect
A 15 degree bow is used for when your meeting someone of equal rank or social status. This bow is generally for acquaintances, co-workers, friend-of-a-friend, etc.
A 30 degree bow is used for people higher in rank than you like teachers or other masters that are wiser than you. You can also use this to show appreciation towards a host, or thanking someone for a gift.
This is a deeply respecting bow that can be used for your bosses, in-laws, or other people who hold some type of power over you. A 45 degree bow will be rarely used by foreigners who are just visiting.
Greater than 45 degree
This is a show of deep respect for someone, and is reserved for deep apologies or meeting the emperor. Rarely, will anyone use this when visiting Japan, but it is a possibility for those planning on staying so don't forget this bow!
I hope this helped you on your journey in Japan! In my next article I will be discussing different ways in expressing politeness through speech.