Japanese Etiquette Tips : Keeping the Peace Using Non-Verbal Communication

In Japan actions speak louder than words. There are small gestures that may seem insignificant to westerners, but can be seen as disrespectful in Japan. Body language in Japan can be very difficult to understand, so here are some tips on how to adjust your actions to avoid making Japanese people uncomfortable.

Japanese society centers around keeping piece and harmony. Japan is a collectivist society, emphasizing the need for everyone to work together peacefully rather than stressing individuality. This belief is reflected in the way Japanese people behave towards others. Emphasizing politeness and teamwork is meant to promote the general welfare of society rather than for individual gain. The central ideal of harmony is why Japanese people use subtle body language to express their emotions rather than words.
Eye Contact
Westerners are taught to make eye contact when speaking with someone, it's a sign of engagement in the conversation, and acknowledgement of the person you're talking to. In Japan, however, prolonged eye contact is considered rude, and makes people uncomfortable. When meeting a Japanese person make brief eye contact with them to acknowledge their presence, but then adjust your gaze a little lower to their neck or chin.

Facial Expressions 
During a conversation Japanese people usually have a neutral facial expression, and don't show a lot of emotion. It's best to maintain a neutral facial expression as well with people you've just met and business associates. Once a close friendship is formed you can begin being more yourself, and express more exaggerated facial expressions.
Some expressions to look out for are when people start to scratch the back of their head, or their eyebrow. These subtle gestures can be a sign of distress and that you're making people
Don't point! Pointing at someone or something with your index finger is considered very rude in Japan. If you wish to draw attention to something open your hand, palm facing up and direct it at the object of interest.

Physical Contact
Try to avoid any type of physical contact with Japanese people. Don't hug people you've just met, touch them on the shoulder while talking, or shake hands. Touching someone without their permission is seen as an invasion of personal space, privacy, and can make people feel extremely uncomfortable. This is why shaking hands is replaced with bowing in Japan, it removes physical contact, but is still a sign of respect.
Even when paying at the supermarket people avoid physical contact. When purchasing items the cashier will slide you a little plate for you to put your money or debit card on, and they will give you your change and receipt on the same plate.

Giving and receiving gifts is similar in terms of limiting physical contact. When giving a gift such as money or an envelope to someone place your fingers at the end corners of the card and extend it to he recipient. In addition, bow your head as a sign of respect. Of course, this is for very formal situations, you can gradually become less formal the more comfortable you are with the recipient.

These are just a few things to keep in mind when talking to Japanese people. Of course, it's ok if you make a mistake, people aren't expecting you to be perfect. Just make sure if you do make a mistake you're sincere in your apology, and will make an effort to do better in the future. 

Donna Rhae