Fun fact: Sticking your chopsticks vertical in a bowl of rice is bad in Japan. Called tsukitate-bashi (突き立て箸), it is incredibly taboo because it reminds Japanese people of funerals, where a bowl of rice is left with two chopsticks standing vertically in the center. It’s also supposed to bring bad luck.
Somehow I managed to go almost six months living in Japan without realizing any of this.
When you first move to Japan, it’s difficult to always be sociably acceptable, especially if you only have a “crash course” in Japanese culture. It’s easy to make rookie mistakes and little blunders that label you as a newcomer, like trying to tip in a taxi, talking on the phone while riding the train, or trying to pay for your sandwich with a credit card. You never know when that one action, an action that is perfectly harmless in your own country, is A Very Bad Thing in Japan.
It’s a learning process. But for now, just remember: never stick your chopsticks vertically in a bowl of rice.