Proper Etiquette Towards Your Japanese Neighbors

By

If you’re new to how some Japanese people see foreigners as far as neighbors are concerned, please allow me to give you a word of advice: they may very well expect you to be loud or otherwise obnoxious, especially if your potential place of residence is say, an apartment that very rarely has foreign tenants.

Granted you have successfully weaved your way through the myriad of trials that is applying for renting an apartment in Japan, there are a few things you can do to set your neighbor’s anxieties at ease.

First and foremost, if you speak Japanese you should definitely use it as much as possible and be polite when doing so. However, if you don’t speak much Japanese here are a couple scenarios and phrases that may help you.

If you run into your near neighbors while moving your things into your new place for the first time, a “こんにちは” is always a good starter. Next, you should use some kind of basic greeting. You could use the following example.

はじめまして. 301 に引っ越 (ひっこ)してるスミスと (もう)します. よろしくおねがいします.

Hajimemashite. San maru ichi ni hikko shiteru Sumisu to mou shimasu. Yoroshiku onegai shimasu.

Nice to meet you. I’m Smith, and I’m moving into apartment number 301. I hope we can be good neighbors.

Please note that “yoroshiku onegai shimasu” can be translated to English in a variety of ways. It usually means that from this point on something is expected of the person you’re saying it to, depending on the situation.

It is also a token of good will if you come bearing gifts for your new neighbors. If you live in an apartment complex with many other tenants, it may be a good idea to keep the gifts to 3 or 4 neighbors on either side of your apartment. This can be a fairly cheap gift of snacks, mini towels, etc. You can use this situation to introduce yourself with the above example sentences to neighbors you haven’t met yet, as well.

After you’ve settled in to your new place, you may quickly realize that Japanese people appreciate quiet even more so than people in your home country might. If you’re going to make noise, it is generally safe to do so in between 9 AM to 7 PM, and even then you are expected to take countermeasures to lessen whatever noise you’re going to make as much as possible.

For example, if you’re going to play guitar, close all doors and windows in the room you’re going to play it in. If you have an electric guitar, it would be wise to either keep the volume on your amp low or just plug in your studio headphones.

Additionally, if you decided to bring your extensive home stereo system complete with subwoofers and surround sound, you more likely than not will not be able to use it to its fullest ability and have happy neighbors at the same time. Unless you will be living in your own house, rented or otherwise, these kinds of sound systems are generally considered 迷惑めいわく・annoyance at any time of the day.

While Japanese people have times that they keep to themselves, in many instances your neighbors will say “おはようございます”, “こんにちは” or “ こんばんは ” to you during times of passing. Especially if they are neighbors that you see fairly frequently, a friendly greeting is likely to put you in good standing with your neighbors.

When it’s finally time to move on, it is customary to leave your neighbors a parting gift of similar value to the gift you gave when you moved in (though some no longer follow through with this custom). As you give this gift, a

これから引っ越 (ひっこ)します. お世話 (せわ)になりました.

Kore kara hikko shimasu. O sewa ni nari mashita
I’m moving, thanks for everything.

As a general rule of thumb, it is always a good idea to think about how your actions will affect your neighbors, be it through sound, proper use of community resources or how you conduct yourself. If you think it might cause trouble for your neighbors, it is best to be on the safe side and not do it.

Since Japanese people generally do not expect foreigners to understand these customs and nuances, they will be pleasantly surprised when they see that you are well mannered and that you are striving to be a good neighbor to them in the best way you can.

Topics:    

Musician, Japanese language and food lover.
  • Design Box says:

    My experience of Japanese neighbours mainly is that contrary to popular belief about the Japanese is that they are very impolite as they will rarely acknowledge your presence when passing you by. When i moved to a new mansion recently we introduced ourselves to our neighbours with small gifts as i was told that was the custom, but have not seen any neighbourly communication since then apart from a pedantic noise complaint through the building management about closing of doors. I would recommend for foreigners who are looking to live in Japan to look for detached houses so you don’t have to deal with such an environment as it happens in most apartment complexes here.

  • jay says:

    I’m currently 15 and have been super interested in japan and have already started planning to move there, (I know you’re thinking at my age why am I thinking about this I’m still young or you probably will change your mind) but I’ve already got costs and other things that I would need such as rail pass, locations to lodge, airplane costs, and much more! However, I have looked at apartments and everything but the situation is that I am a musician and I have been playing for 6 years on many instruments but when I go to japan I want to study cello. However the problem is with my instrument is its big and loud it can be quiet and I’d be going to school for it so I’d have to constantly be practicing.. So is there a certain type of apartment I need to look for such as certain types of walls, rooms, or other things? Would I need to get the sound proof pads and place them in a room for me to practice?

  • Rubens says:

    Thanks for the post, it is a great topic! It will really come at hand. I am planning to move to Japan next year for graduate school and I was wondering if I should bring my electric guitar – which I am really attached to it. But of course, I am afraid of being denied a rental opportunity just because I own a guitar , thus I could be some noisy foreigner on the landlord’s conception. Do you think it would be best if I just left my guitar at my home country? Since it’s gonna be a long time, I might as well sell it before going..

  • Janses says:

    If you are renting a apartment , or a house for a short time . You choose if you want to do this . But if you buy a house or apartment, and want to live there for a long tima, it is a good start with the neighbours .

  • EmiKat says:

    Though all these points are valid, there needs to be another article about what to do when your neighbours are downright imbeciles. Incidentally we are going through some situation here with our next door neighbours who thought they could encroach upon public land outside our wall of the back garden as well as lay claim to a wall that is in our land within the boundary line that divides their property from ours. other problems have included them calling the police for the slightest of sound like my husband working in the garden to replace previous stone garden into a lawn. so far they have called 110 on us about 5 times since we moved. All of this after I had gone to them as this article suggests to do, to greet and introduce us with a little gift of a cake and having a few friendly chats initially. we were warned about them by the previous owners but i didn’t think them to be this mad. unfortunately, i am ashamed to say, i had a shouting contest with them once. since then we have not spoken to them on the advice of the police and of course by own thinking as well. We realized that the only way to go about it was officially. So I got in contact with the real estate agent that represented the last owners who became the mediator to sort the issue of the boundary wall. Then I got in touch with the neighbourhood committee or Jichikai President and had him get in touch with the relevant person at the City office as the land our nbeighbour encroaches belongs to the city. In fact, just this morning they came and it was decided that all the stuff they have grown their will be cleaned up along with the open rainwater containers AKA mosquito breeders that they placed on the said piece of City/Public land. So if you find yourself in this kind of a situation, make sure you are always civil, properly behaved and get the neighbourhood comittee or management of your building and the city/town/village office where you live to handle the situation for you.

  • emikofatima says:

    Though all these points are valid, there needs to be another article about what to do when your neighbours are downright imbeciles. Incidentally we are going through some situation here with our next door neighbours who thought they could encroach upon public land outside our wall of the back garden as well as lay claim to a wall that is in our land within the boundary line that divides their property from ours. other problems have included them calling the police for the slightest of sound like my husband working in the garden to replace previous stone garden into a lawn. so far they have called 110 on us about 5 times since we moved. All of this after I had gone to them as this article suggests to do, to greet and introduce us with a little gift of a cake and having a few friendly chats initially. we were warned about them by the previous owners but i didn’t think them to be this mad. unfortunately, i am ashamed to say, i had a shouting contest with them once. since then we have not spoken to them on the advice of the police and of course by own thinking as well. We realized that the only way to go about it was officially. So I got in contact with the real estate agent that represented the last owners who became the mediator to sort the issue of the boundary wall. Then I got in touch with the neighbourhood committee or Jichikai President and had him get in touch with the relevant person at the City office as the land our nbeighbour encroaches belongs to the city. In fact, just this morning they came and it was decided that all the stuff they have grown their will be cleaned up along with the open rainwater containers AKA mosquito breeders that they placed on the said piece of City/Public land. So if you find yourself in this kind of a situation, make sure you are always civil, properly behaved and get the neighbourhood comittee or management of your building and the city/town/village office where you live.

  • David says:

    sounds like you are scared of the neighbours, while the pointers are valid, you don’t need all these rules, just a bit of common sense

  • Nos_Da says:

    When I moved into my new apartment, my wife made us go door-to-door and introduce ourselves to all the neighbors with who we share walls. She had picked up some kitchen essentials for them as a way of breaking bread and starting out on the right foot. The only reason I agreed to do it was because my wife was heavily pregnant at the time, so we wanted to apologize ahead of time for any late night crying that they may hear. We waited until we knew each person was home before we went to their doors, but out of the 4 apartments we went to (we tried on a few occasions, not just once) not a single person answered the doors to us. In the end we just threw the gifts in bags with a note and hung them on their door handles, if only so we could at least say that we tried to be good neighbors.

    Then on one of the first days I was living there, I left my apartment the same time as one of my neighbors, and despite being just a few steps from her car, she locked eyes with me, ran back to her apartment and fumbled with her keys trying to open the door as quickly as possible to escape from my obviously offensive presence, like a scene from a horror movie. Then on another occasion, not long after that first awkward chance encounter, a different neighbor was fixing his bicycle outside the front of the apartment and upon noticing me leaving my front door, he quickly scooped up his bicycle and awkwardly carried/crammed it through his front door, chipping off a piece of the wall in the process.

    I have decided from the experience at my current apartment that this custom of introducing yourself to your neighbors will no longer be something I will do again, unless I one day buy a house, in which case I will do it just as a way of keeping the WA.

  • Jessica Halo says:

    As someone who lives in an apartment complex in Japan that has frequent turn over, I can tell you that this is extremely outdated information. Not once has a new neighbour come to present me with a gift. Nor have any of my neighbours greeted me or anyone else in the complex. It’s a “keep to yourself” kind of place.

    When I first arrived, I was very specifically told NOT to do this because it’s simply not done anymore (at least in cities.)

    • Kyle Von Lanken says:

      Thanks for the comment, Jessica. Perhaps whether or not this information is outdated depends on the area you live in. I live in an apartment near Sapporo–my wife and I got gifts for our neighbors when we moved in and when our neighbors moved out they got us gifts along with the “oseiwa ni narimashita.” I also noticed that our neighbors are very friendly and greet us whenever we pass by each other, which surprised me because I was really expecting them to basically ignore our existence. I think it’s very interesting that even within Japan what is observed and what is not seems to change a lot depending on where you go.

  • Kyle Von Lanken says:

    Granted, you should always remember that there are noisy Japanese people just like there are quiet western people, but on the majority scale Japanese people are more quiet. Also remember that like I said, some of these things are if you want to make absolute sure that you’re in good standing. For bringing gifts, some do it and some don’t. But if you do I think you’ll be sure to establish yourself as a culturally sensitive, well-mannered neighbor. 🙂

  • Mark Kennedy says:

    Good article. By the way, I have heard that it is also a good idea to introduce yourself (with small gifts) to your neighbors directly below your apartment–especially if you have small children who are going to make some noise.

    Also, does anybody have any advice about how to BBQ without upsetting your neighbors? I recently picked up a shichirin clay grill and want to give it a try.

  • Leigh says:

    This is great advice! Following the garbage routines correctly is also a good way to win “Friendly Neighbour” points. Mine were surprised the first time they saw me correctly sort the various types of recyclables. (To be fair, so was I …)

Related Posts