Cringeworthy Gaffes in Niseko – and How to Avoid Making Them!

You may think that being an international ski resort, you can’t do too much wrong in Niseko when it comes to cultural etiquette, right? Wrong! Niseko may now be a popular tourist destination, but it is still Japan, and as such behaving in a way which shows respect towards and understanding of Japanese customs is every bit as much appreciated as it would be elsewhere in the country, if not more!

So what things should be upmost in your mind to keep the more cringeworthy foreign gaffes at bay? Firstly voices should be quieter! It may sound obvious, after all shouting isn’t polite anywhere, but it takes spending some time in Japan to realise just how loud us foreigners are. The classic stereotype of the brash, domineering ‘gaijin’ is all the more prevalent when alcohol comes into the equation. What to us is normal jovial behaviour comes across as intimidating, rude and self-serving, all of which are characteristics the Japanese stay well clear of. And when you come to love these qualities in the Japanese, you will find yourself inwardly pleading with your fellow countryfolk, when in Japan, to follow suit.

Another top of the list for foreign gaffes is onsen etiquette. A lot can be written on this, but the main things to remember are to remove all items of clothing, to wash thoroughly before entering (think 5 minutes instead of 5 seconds under the shower), not to let any articles enter the water including towels, toiletries and the hair on your head, not to take photos while other people are present and to try not to disturb with loud conversation what for the Japanese is one of the few moments of peace and recuperation in their notoriously busy schedules! Remember all the above and you will probably find the experience all the more relaxing and enjoyable yourself.

Izakayas are another place which will remind you that you are in Japan. These are traditional Japanese restaurants and usually very casual, but things do work a little differently. Firstly you will be required to remove shoes in the genkan, or entrance way. It sounds pedantic but try not to take a single step out of the genkan with your outdoor shoes as this separate floor space is kept clean and dry. You will probably be given slippers to wear, which when you visit the restroom you will be invited to swap for ‘toilet slippers’, usually plastic, garish colours and sporting a cute little toilet motif, which will make it all the more embarrassing and hilaraious if you forget to swap back to your normal slippers before returning to your table. It will almost certainly happen to someone in your party if alcohol is involved! A few other cultural differences to be aware of – you may find you do not get fed unless you shout ‘sumimassen’ to request your order is taken, you should say ‘gochisousamadeshita’ to show appreciation when you have finished, and whatever you do don’t leave a tip, which is an alien concept in Japan and will require the staff to track you down and return your money!

On the mountain there are a few differences too. Breaking rules in Japan is considered even less acceptable than at home, so paying attention to signs is important. You may have heard that off piste is usually forbidden in Japan as it is considered disrespectful to the mountain dwelling Shinto spirits, but you will be relieved to hear that in Niseko, off-piste is allowed in all but the dangerous areas, giving you ample chance to fall in love with the powder, and making breaking the rules foolhardy as well as bad manners.

Now that you are ready to head to Niseko without making these faux pas, it’s time to book your Japan ski holiday! Contact Japan Ski Experience for the best help available, and start by checking out their wide range of Niseko accommodation here!

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