While foreign customs can seem daunting, learning about them is half the fun of visiting another country. Here are some basic rules to help you make a good impression in Japan.



Chopsticks are to be respected as more than a food implement. Do not leave the chopsticks sticking out of the rice or pass food from chopstick to chopstick; both are ancient funeral rituals. Do not lick, chew or nibble the end of your chopsticks, or use them to move or point at anything. Do not spear your food with the chopsticks. When taking food from a communal plate, use serving spoons if provided, or use the bottom, fatter end of your chopsticks. Only rest chopsticks on a designated chopstick rest.


Meishi (business cards)

Meishi are an important business tool so make sure yours are clean, straight and presentable. You should always stand when exchanging meishi. Offer your meishi with both hands, facing towards the recipient so that they can read the details easily. If you receive a meishi, do not write on it, hurriedly put it in your pocket or disregard it.


Visiting someone’s house

Shoes are not permitted in most Japanese houses so slippers will often be provided in the entrance (genkan). Store your shoes neatly, facing towards the door. Toilets have their own designated communal slippers. Be sure to remove these slippers again before going back to the rest of the house. When leaving the house, place the slippers neatly together, facing away from the front door before putting your shoes back on.


Eating Noodles

Unlike in the Western world where making noise while eating is frowned upon, slurping while eating soba, udon and ramen is very much encouraged. In fact, it actually shows appreciation and enjoyment! So next time you order a bowl, enjoy your meal in true Japanese style.


Ofuro (bathing)

Sento (public baths) and onsen or hot springs bathing culture has a long history in Japan. Male and female baths are separated by curtains marked with different colours and kanji characters – 男 for male and 女 for female. No clothes or swimming costumes are permitted so place your personal belongings in the locker provided and cover yourself with a small tenugui towel when walking around. You must wash thoroughly before relaxing in the bath.


Tea ceremony

The ritual of preparing and serving green tea in a formal setting is an art form that can take years to learn. The ceremony uses the finest tools and careful, ritualised movements to focus the mind wholly on the moment, and away from everyday life. Guests wear their best clothes and remove their shoes before kneeling on the tatami mats. Bows are exchanged between the host and the guests and the bowl must be turned three times before drinking the tea. Conversation is limited to keep the mood tranquil.



In Japan when drinking with a guest, friend or work associate, it is customary to pour their drinks first and to refill their glass as soon as it is empty. Your guest will also do the same for you and it is very common to share large bottles of beer or sake amongst a group of people. Plus remember to always say a big “Kampai!” (cheers) to kick the night off.



In Japan, bowing is an important ritual that conveys respect, acknowledgement and appreciation. The lower you bow, the more respect you show. Before you bow you should straighten your posture and bring your knees and heels together. Your hands should be beside your body or crossed in front of you. Look at the person and try to keep your back straight, bowing slowly and deliberately from the waist or the hips.



Everyone loves karaoke, especially in Japan. Enjoy the luxury of sharing your own private karaoke parlour with friends. Songbooks usually have a large selection of songs for you to enjoy, but remember not to hog it. The polite thing to do is to choose a song, sing it and then enjoy everyone else’s superstar renditions.


Temple and Shrine

Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines
are places of worship so they should be treated with respect. At a shrine, make a deep bow when you enter the torii gate, and use the bamboo dippers at the nearby fountain to cleanse your hands and mouth. A small amount of money, called o-saisen, is given at most shrines and clapping, ringing a bell, or saying a short prayer are also common.



The children wept as they said goodbye to their new friends, friendships that are likely to last a lifetime because of bonds forged during a special week of camp. Yes, it was an emotional scene at the Takeshiba Ferry Terminal in Tokyo. One I will never forget, but one I hope repeats with other children in years to come.

This group of children from Fukushima, Japan, had just returned from the Fukushima Kids Dolphin Camp that was held August 15 to 19 on small, friendly Mikura Island. The group spent the week exploring nature, facing fears, sharing feelings and, yes, swimming with wild dolphins.

Longtime friend Toru Fujita and I held the first FKDC in 2014. It is a radiation and expense-free camp for children whose families were affected by the meltdowns at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant following the Great Tohoku Earthquake and Tsunami on March 11, 2011.

Four years after the earthquake and tsunami devastated Fukushima and surrounding areas, there are still some places where radiation levels are checked regularly. In fact, some kids even carry a special device to keep an eye on the radiation level when they go to school. And some areas closer to the power plant are simply off limits. Houses are abandoned, and only the occasional stray
animal frequents those neighborhoods.


Concerned about the radiation, even in those areas where people live and work which are considered safe, many parents in Fukushima have cut down the time they allow their children to play outside. And even though a couple of beaches in Fukushima are now open to the public, many families avoid them. So children like the ones who attended the recent camp no longer swim in their hometown.

That’s where FKDC comes in.

But before I go any further, I have to answer the question asked most about the camp: why do you hold a camp that features swimming with wild dolphins?
I spent two years working as a dolphin swim guide in Hawaii about 20 years ago.
I was amazed by the effect these wild, yet approachable creatures have on humans. I believe swimming with dolphins cannot only bring one closer to nature, but also it can bring out courage and confidence.

That’s what the camp is all about: giving children the courage and confidence to live a positive and fulfilling life. And let’s be honest, swimming with wild dolphins is a pretty cool thing to do.

So, Toru and I and other volunteers set up a four night, five day excursion to Mikura Island, located about 200 kilometers off Tokyo. It is also the stomping grounds of about 150 friendly bottlenose dolphins. It is one of very few places in the world where you can swim with wild dolphins under the watchful eye of professionals.

This year we had 13 children attend the camp. The campers, ranging from second to seventh graders, were selected based on essays they wrote about Fukushima and why they should attend the camp. We had dozens of applicants and it was extremely difficult to select who would attend. We didn’t want to turn anyone down, but the budget and space in the facilities we used were limited.

For those selected, it was quite the adventure: one that didn’t include their parents. They took a bullet train by themselves from Fukushima to Tokyo, rode a ferry with our camp staff and stayed in a bungalow with other children they had never met.

And they swam with wild dolphins.

Upon arrival and getting settled in, the campers were given a snorkeling lesson in shallow water. And then we boarded a boat and headed out to sea in search of dolphins. After ten minutes, the captain yelled, “Dolphins!” There was a pod of 30 swimming toward to us.

To say the campers were excited is an understatement. Jumping up and down and eyes almost popping from their heads as they stared at these friendly and approachable creatures of the sea, the kids were ready to jump in. So they grabbed their snorkels and masks, donned life jackets and jumped into the unknown.

“I am doing this“to give children the courage and confidence to live a positive and fulfilling life. Because children are our future.”

In the clear blue water, the dolphins slowly approached, checking out the excited children. I could hear the high-pitched sounds of “yeeew, yeeew” that dolphins made. They swam slowly and got within ten feet of our group. They stayed with us for less than a minute before swimming away, but it is a time that will forever be etched in the minds of these children.

“I saw a baby dolphin!” one of the campers yelled on the surface.
“Their eyes are bigger than mine, and they swam super close and I thought I was going to touch them,” said super stoked third grader Kanta Terauchi. “They were very gentle and I want to swim with them some more.”

During the entire camp, the children had a blast. They played to the max. They ran in their bare feet, snorkeled in the clear water every day, hiked in the mountains and helped cook meals. But most importantly, they bonded with one another.

But the reality of the life they live and the fears they face in Fukushima popped up on occasion.

One day during the camp, a local fisherman gave us a good-sized bonito he caught at sea. We made sashimi out of it.

“Is it safe from radiation?” one boy asked. Only after he was assured that indeed the fresh catch was safe to eat, did he chomp down on the raw chunks of bonito.

As I sat there and took in the scene, I was saddened that these children have such worries and can’t enjoy the sea or the seafood around Fukushima. For the past four years they’ve lived with the constant fear of radiation.

I have heard many stories of the healing power of dolphins. And I believe in them. The children traveled far to see dolphins and it took a lot of courage to swim in deep waters with these creatures of the sea. But the trip was more than just swimming with dolphins. It was about exploration, discovery, conquering fears and learning that it’s OK to dream.


During the last night of camp, each child stood up in front of everyone and announced his dream.
“I want to be the strongest man in the world!” a boy screamed.

“I want to be a nurse,” a girl said with pride. “I want to be an Olympic swimmer,” chimed in another camper.

“I want to be a volunteer leader,” said another.

After each declaration, the other children yelled back in force, “You can do it!”

The campers were no longer timid and shy like when they arrived. They expressed their feelings thoughtfully but vigorously, shouting into the night sky. They had grown. They had formed their own pod.


The camp is run with donations received from the crowd-funding websites Indiegogo and Readyfor. More than $8,000 was raised for this year’s camp. Folks from around the world donated, including from the US, France, Holland and Australia.

Funds for the 2016 camp are being accepted now.

To find out more about the camp, visit our website.
Web: www.kidsdolphincamp.com
Email: futurekidsadventure@gmail.com




A good policy is to always check the 100-yen shop before buying something from a regular store. They carry an amazing variety of items and are ideal places to stock up your apartment with dishes, silverware, and other essentials to survive when you first arrive. Buy in Bulk on your phone to find better deals online while you’re shopping at stores, too. I usually use Amazon to buy big boxes of oatmeal or my fabourite cereal that I know I’ll eat and that last for a long time.


Not everything is a bargain at the 100-yen shop, especially toiletries and other things that you’ll use everyday. It’s better to buy essential consumable supplies like tissues, detergent or body soap in bulk from stores like Costco. There are several around Tokyo and if you can find a friend with a membership, tag along with them every once in a while and stock up. It’s also a good idea to buy lots of frozen veggies and fruits, as these can be absurdly expensive when sold fresh in the supermarkets. If you can’t make it to Costco, try finding a local wholesale food store such as “Niku no Hanamasa” (there are several around Tokyo) which caters to restaurants and sells meat and seafood at big discounts. To manage bulk amounts of food, I bought a cheap box of 200 plastic bags which I then use to separate and freeze a few weeks worth of meat and fish.


Shopping online using Amazon or Rakuten is easy and convenient in Japan. You can even have your package sent to a local convenience store for pick up and often can get next day delivery. You can use a barcode reade


At any given time, there are a lot of foreign residents who are packing up and leaving Japan and need
to sell their things. I bought a big screen TV and a fridge both from people who lived right down the road from my place. You can search for the item you’re looking for and sometimes even negotiate the price a little as long as you’re willing to pick it up yourself. I sometimes just search the name of my town to see if anyone is selling something locally that’s easy to pick up. This is a great way to buy big items like a washing machine or a stovetop oven.


Obviously you should try to cook at home as often as possible if you’re living on a budget. And you should also try to pack a lunch everyday if you can. But sometimes you get invited out and want to have fun. In Japan, it’s pretty normal for a group of friends to share all the food and it’s often (but not always) customary to split the bill at the end of the night (called warikan). The problem is that you end up having to help pay for the five bottles of expensive wine someone decided to order. If your friends are considerate they will pitch in more if they had a lot, but don’t count on it! Your best bet is to go to a place with nomi-hodai or all-you-can- drink (usually for two hours) with a set individual price or to go to a Western-style pub where you pay separately as you order, (called betsu-betsu). You can also just buy snacks and drinks at a convenience store but be careful because it’s bad etiquette to eat and drink while walking around.