People often worry about causing offence and upset when visiting Japan. While the Japanese people are incredibly kind and forgiving, here are a few cultural tips to get you started.
Shoes - Removing your shoes when entering someone's house, or the occasional place of business is good manners. When you are on a walking holiday in Japan, in the more traditional accommodations, Minshuku and Ryokan, you will remove your shoes at the front door and be provided with slippers for the duration of your stay. You wear these everywhere indoors, with the exception of the toilet, where there is a special pair of toilet slippers. It sounds very rigid and complex but is actually great fun.
Bowing - Shaking hands is not really a thing in Japan. Some people will offer to shake hands out of respect for your culture, but in general, bowing is the way to go. It is a lovely experience to step onto the streets of Tokyo for the first time and see groups of people bowing to each other. It makes you realise where you are and it shows great respect when a foreigner takes on aspects of Japanese culture. It is generally only a short bow from the waist, but deeper bows show more respect.
Chopstick Etiquette - Chopsticks or Hashi (箸) in Japanese are used everywhere. You can always ask for a fork if you are struggling (Fōku フォーク) but it is a good idea to learn to use chopsticks before you go. However, just being able to use them is not all you need to know! There are a couple of things to keep in mind. The main ones are to never stick your chopsticks in a bowl of rice/noodles. If you are taking a break from eating, place your chopsticks on the little rest provided, or on the side of your plate. The other major no-no is to not pass food from one set of chopsticks to another. Both of these are linked to Japanese funeral rites, where large chopsticks are used and the last thing you want to do is compare the meal someone has cooked to a funeral!
Mindfulness - Ingrained in the culture of Japan is a wonderful sense of mindfulness. Nobody in Japan does two things at once, everyone focuses on the task at hand. So, nobody eats and walks at the same time, or smokes and walks at the same time. There are designated smoking areas and places outside 7-11s where you can eat. Don't speak on the phone and walk, or ride public transport, focus on your phonecall, then carry on with what you need to do. Small things, but worth replicating in the Western world.
Onsen Etiquette - Onsens are the (often natural spring) hot baths that Japanese people love. Onsens are a deep part of the culture and while we could write a book about Onsen rules, there are some basics to always obey. Intense showering must be done before entering the bath. The purpose of the bath is to relax, not to wash, so take a seat on the little stool and get washing. While everyone showers together (separated by gender of course) you do have a tiny towel with you should you wish to protect your modesty, and when you bathe, it is good form to sit this little towel on your head. It also comes in handy to wipe away sweat while in the bath, they are HOT, usually 40-43 degrees centigrade, but after the first couple of uncomfortable minutes, it becomes an act of pure bliss, particularly after a day's walking.
Japan is a cultural experience and there genuinely is no better way to experience it than to take a hike out into the less-travelled parts of the country.