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Experiencing Japan


This section is designed to provide basic information on various social situations that reserve participants are likely to encounter and to educate and guide them in relationships with their Japanese counterparts. This is intended as a guide only and its application must be tempered to the circumstances and use of common sense.

  1. As Americans in Japan, we are not expected to act exactly as the Japanese. Accordingly, it is neither necessary nor appropriate to emulate each and every custom and mannerism of your hosts.
  2. Good manners and etiquette of our American culture can serve us well in Japan. Proper behavior in accordance with contemporary American standards, together with a touch of modesty, is perfectly appropriate in Japanese business and social settings.


  1. In Japan, while the handshake greeting is common between Japanese and Americans, saluting and bowing are common and highly respected practices within both the military and civilian sectors. Japanese military personnel render the hand salute on all occasions when greeting another military service member or counterpart, regardless of rank. As in the U.S. armed services, it is customary for Japanese enlisted personnel to salute officers, but unlike the U.S. military, Japanese enlisted members also render salutes to each other. Therefore, it is appropriate for U.S. military members to greet their Japanese military counterparts of all ranks with a proper military hand salute. As in the U.S. Army, saluting is usually restricted to out of doors.
  2. Bowing within the military ranks is commonly practiced in addition to the hand salute to extend courtesy and respect from subordinate to superior. Although bowing by Americans to their Japanese counterparts is not absolutely required, it is highly recommended as a gesture of goodwill and respect. If sincerely executed, the American will be held in high esteem. As Americans, we are not expected to bow as deeply from the waist as do Japanese. However, we should execute our bow by lowering our head and shoulders slightly forward in a sincere manner. This gesture may be rendered as many times as required during a meeting, and is appropriate within both Japanese military and civilian communities. Bowing is proper both indoors and outdoors.


  1. Business cards or "Meishi" are a universal part of Japanese business, governmental, and military interactions. Business cards are commonly exchanged during introductions. The giving of a business card is a serious gesture in Japan; it is a type of commitment, for it automatically opens the door to direct contact at any time. U.S. officers, senior noncommissioned officers, and staff level U.S. civilian employees are encouraged to use business cards.
  2. Normally, both parties exchange Meishi. When you present your card, present it with the Japanese translation side, if you have bilingual cards. If your Meishi is only in English, present the card so that the other person can read it.
  3. c. When receiving a Meishi, take a few moments to examine the card. Take note of the person's name, duty position, and any special qualifications indicated on the card. Because the Meishi symbolically represents the person who gave it to you, do not write on it, fold it, etc., in the presence of its owner. Treating the Meishi with disregard implies a lack of respect for the person from whom you received it. Never put it in your wallet.


  1. Gifts are exchanged between U.S. members and their Japanese hosts on both official and personal occasions such as welcome or farewell parties. Gifts range in price and simplicity according to one's economic status. Gift giving is an established Japanese tradition and is a very sensitive issue. To refuse a gift under normal circumstances could be construed by the Japanese as offensive.
  2. Acceptance of a gift of nominal value from a Japanese member is considered acceptable. If it is wrapped, you should ask permission if you can open it.
  3. If we accept a gift from a Japanese host, we should find a suitable way of reciprocating. Common gifts used are American chocolates/candies, unit patches, tie pins, coins, and/or other inexpensive memorabilia such as items that are unique or representative of the United States or your hometown. The gifts should be simply wrapped. It is not Japanese custom to open a gift in front of the person who gave it; however, they are usually familiar with American customs and may open the gift while you are there.


  1. Most Japanese can speak some English as it is taught quite extensively in Japan beginning with junior high school through college or university. However, their English speaking ability is more limited than their reading and writing skills.
  2. No matter how well our Japanese counterparts and friends may speak English, it is their second language. We must not assume that their comprehension and response levels are the same as an American English speaker. We should speak slowly and clearly, and avoid using baby talk, excessive slang, or "pidgin English." Don’t speak louder if they don’t understand. Misunderstandings could create many problems. When in doubt, or when it becomes apparent that what is being said may not be understood at all, it is best to request the assistance of an interpreter or translator, especially during business discussions. Most Japanese not only enjoy speaking English with Americans, but enthusiastically welcome every opportunity to practice. Remember, it is best to use short, concise phrases in well structured, simple sentences to obtain the best results. Take advantage of the opportunities to learn and use new Japanese skills; it will enhance your performance and interest, both professionally and personally.


Maps of private and Japan Rail (JR) and Tokyo subway lines are available at Army Community Service (ACS) Bldg. 402. These systems are efficient and ACS can help to get you anywhere where you want to go in the Kanto Plain. Stations have sufficient signage in English.


Camp Zama’s military operator can be reached at 046-51-1520. You can also call Camp Zama numbers directly from the U.S., by dialing 011-81-46-407- and then the last four digits. When calling a U.S. toll free number (800, 877, etc.) from a military phone at Camp Zama, just dial the number without the “1.” This works well when using a calling card.


Informal business wear (suits and dresses) is rarely needed in Japan. Casual clothing of conservative taste is acceptable almost everywhere. Dress warmly for winter and coolly for the heat and humidity of summer, but avoid wearing revealing clothing (e.g., shorts or tank tops) off post. Never mix military clothing with casual clothing.