Many travelers spend a long time searching for information about popular places and foods in Japan, and yet forget to learn a little bit about Japanese customs, manners, and etiquette.
Bad manners would cost you a “stare” from the locals around you. There are no real consequences by doing these things, police don’t actually take you to the police station. However, we don’t want locals labeled us as a rude or pointless foreigner.
That being said, don’t worry too much for not knowing or understanding everything. You don’t have to change your personality. Nonetheless, just try to be a mindful and respectful traveler. Here is the list of 10 things you should know before coming to Japan.
1. DON’T litter
Obviously, littering is bad in any country, but particularly Japan is a clean country, you will rarely find any trash on the street. Despite the clean city, the trash can is rare to find. If you like to bring snacks on your journey, wait until you find the trash can OR bring plastic bags for your trash.
2. DON’T smoke while walking
While it’s legal to drink alcohol in public places, it’s restrictive to smoke out of doors. Generally, smoking while walking, smoking while standing in the street, and smoking while riding is prohibited. So, you have to smoke at designated smoking areas. Even in some areas in Japan, smoking while walking is prohibited with a fine around 2,000 yen or more.
Big department stores and restaurants have smoking areas. Or, smoking while eating and drinking at izakaya (traditional Japanese style pub), this place is your smoky paradise. And about the ashtrays, public smoking areas do have ashtrays, but Japanese usually bring their own portable ashtray. You might need one too.
3. DON’T forget to take off your shoes
Whether you’re entering the hotel room, guest house, or your Japanese friend’s house, DO take off your shoes. Wearing shoes inside the house is considered to be unhygienic. It’s common for Japanese to sit directly on the floor or Tatami floor, spread their Futon, and have meals sitting on the floor, therefore they don’t like the floor to get dirty.
4. DON’T eat or drink while walking
If you watch carefully, once locals buy their food or drink from the convenience store or the street stall, they will take them home or eat and drink it outside/near the store while standing. Locals don’t normally walk while eating or drinking, this act considered bad manners.
Though eat or drink while walking isn’t good in Japan, the culture has changed a little bit, the new culture or trend is called tabe-aruki (to eat and walk). This act can only be done at a tabe-aruki spot like Tsukiji Market in Tokyo, Kuromon Market in Osaka, and Nishiki Market in Kyoto. So bear in mind, not every place is acceptable for the tabe-aruki.
5. DON’T tip the waiter
Although tipping in some countries means showing appreciation and gratitude for the service you received, this isn’t common practice in Japan. If you give a tip to the waiters, they may reject your money because it makes them feel uncomfortable. Don’t feel offended by it, it’s just not in their culture.
6. DON’T talk on your phone on public transportation
We sometimes don’t recognize how loud is our voice when we’re talking on the phone. Particularly if this takes place inside public transportation, you will be frowned upon because your loud voice can make others unpleasant. So, let us switch our phone to vibrate mode.
7. DON’T forget to bring name card and DON’T fold name card you just received
A name card is particularly crucial in a business meeting in Japan. There is a Japanese business custom called meishi koukan or exchange name card. Thus, if you’re on a business trip, prepare your name card. When presented with a name card, receive the card with both hands and take a good 3-second look like it something really special. And DON’T fold the card, it indicates lack of respect. So, be very careful.
8. DON’T play with your chopsticks
Don’t put chopsticks vertically into the rice, and don’t pass food or things from chopsticks to chopsticks as both acts are similar to the ceremony conduct at the funeral. This will be seen as really rude.
Lastly, when you open a waribashi (wooden chopsticks that you need to break apart), don’t rub your wooden chopsticks together to remove the splinters. The owner or the restaurant staff may get offended as this indicates that you think the chopsticks are cheap or poor quality.
9. DON’T blow your nose in public
If you have a runny nose, you’d better just keep sniffling or rubbing it with tissue or handkerchief. Because apparently, blowing your nose (loudly) in public is considered bad manners. So yes, keep sniffling until you could reach the nearest toilet to blow your nose.
10. DON’T forget to learn Japanese manners and etiquette
Some travelers may forget or don’t even care to learn any etiquette of the country they’re going to. Even though there is always an exception to the rule, particularly for foreigners, let’s do our best to be a mindful traveler.