A trip to Japan is one of the most thrilling trips a person can take in their lifetime. There's a sense of wonder, fascination, and genuine curiosity when it comes to this country, and it's part of the allure that brings millions of people there year after year. Some parts of Japan, such as Tokyo, will always seem like a futuristic world while others, such as Kyoto, seem to be frozen in time, perfectly quaint and beautiful.
No matter where a traveler chooses to go in Japan, etiquette rules will follow. Each country has its own (somewhat unspoken) rules when it comes to showing respect and Japan has many. With that being said, it's not the end of the world if a traveler accidentally does something impolite - but being aware and conscientious goes a long way in this incredible country. Here are some do's and don'ts to know before even booking a trip to Japan.
Everything Visitors Should Be Doing
Respect the Tranquility That is Public Transportation
It doesn't really matter where a traveler is going or how long the train or car ride is - silence is a beautiful thing when it comes to traveling in between locations in Japan. This is especially important in Tokyo and other major cities, as people often use the ride home to relax, read, or even take a nap following a long workday.
In the mornings, the trains and trams are just as quiet as people prepare to start their day. Visitors will notice this peaceful and calm atmosphere almost immediately after stepping on the train and while boarding might seem chaotic, the train ride is quite the opposite. Avoid loud conversations, put your phone on silent, and use the time to collect your thoughts.
Be Aware of Chopstick Etiquette When Dining Out
The thing about using chopsticks in Japan is that it's not entirely necessary - most restaurants also offer silverware, so travelers could skip the use of chopsticks altogether. However, in the event that chopsticks are the only option or travelers are comfortable enough using them to refuse silverware, there are some rules to bear in mind.
- Avoid pointing chopsticks at any one person or using them as a pair of forks. If you know how to use chopsticks, then you won't have a reason to do either of these things, anyway.
- When eating rice, avoid tsukitate-bashi, which is the act of holding chopsticks vertically while eating a bowl of rice. This method is only used during funerals, therefore, it's inappropriate to do in a normal meal setting.
- Avoid rubbing chopsticks together, as it's often an insult to the restaurant and makes it appear that diners are unhappy with the quality of the utensils given.
- Don't cross chopsticks when laying them down on a bowl or on the table, and make sure they're always parallel.
- Use the opposite end of the chopsticks when eating in a communal setting in order to transfer food onto your own plate. When sharing bites of food, request permission to use your own chopsticks to take something, put it on your own plate first, and then eat it.
Be Knowledgeable About The Taxi Service In Japan Before Using One
There's even an etiquette when it comes to Japan's taxi service, and it's pretty easy to remember. When hailing a taxi, passengers won't need to open the door (it's automatic) and they also won't need to close the door themselves (the driver does it for you).
It is important to note that many taxi drivers do not speak English, which makes a written address helpful in communicating where you need to go.
Remove Your Shoes When Going Indoors
While it's not necessary for one to remove their shoes every single time they enter a building, there are specific places where wearing shoes is seen as unclean and a sign of disrespect.
The most important places to keep in mind when wearing shoes are these:
- Japanese Ryokan, or inns
- Some restaurants
- Shrines and temples
- When using the bathroom, some places require slipping into a different pair of slippers
Things Visitors Should Avoid Doing In Japan
Blowing Your Nose in Public
It might seem strange to those who aren't familiar with Japan's customs but it's simply not done in public. It's often seen as rude and, yes, quite disgusting, to blow one's nose in a public forum. Instead, visitors are expected to hold it until they can blow their noses in private or excuse themselves to go find a place where they can do so - alone.
Try To Avoid Eating And Walking Around
While it's not considered altogether rude or inappropriate to eat food on the go in Japan, it's something that ends up being more inconvenient for the people who decide to do it.
One thing visitors will notice is that garbage cans are usually placed directly next to vending machines and convenience stores - therefore, people will usually eat their food on the spot before tossing their trash in the receptacles. If you're eating on the go, finding a garbage can will be a challenge which can lead to the awkward act of hanging onto your wrappers until a can is within reach.
Don't Tip At Dining Establishments
This is a very tough behavior for many tourists to break because it's second nature to many to leave a tip after dining at a restaurant. In Japan, tipping is simply not customary after a meal and while it's not rude, it can be very awkward.
Many times, a server will go as far as chasing someone down to return the change that they've 'forgotten' at the table. The only time travelers are expected to tip is when taking a tour; in this case, money should be wrapped in paper and handed to a tour guide with both hands as a sign of respect.