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15 Things You Should NOT Do in Japan

By Orgesta Tolaj


12 April 2024

japanese culture

© Jezael Melgoza / Unsplash

When visiting or interacting with Japanese culture, are you unknowingly committing cultural faux pas? It’s important to be mindful and respectful of the customs and traditions of the country you are in, especially when it comes to a culture as unique and rich as Japan’s. As a foreigner, it can be easy to unintentionally disrespect Japanese culture if you are not aware of the proper etiquette and customs. Understanding and appreciating these cultural nuances can help you have a more meaningful and respectful experience in Japan. Here is what you can do.

What Is Japanese Culture and Etiquette?

In Japan, proper manners and consideration for others are highly valued, and misbehaving tourists can cause tension. To avoid annoying or offending locals, foreign visitors should be familiar with basic etiquette rules. Some of them include:

Consideration on the Streets

Consideration for others is highly valued in Japan, extending to people’s behavior on the streets, particularly in busy cities like Tokyo. Here are some tips to help you navigate the orderly yet crowded streets of Japan.

Consideration in Restaurants

In Japan, many restaurants showcase plastic or wax replicas of their dishes near the entrance, serving as visual menus to entice and inform patrons. These displays are particularly helpful for foreign tourists who may not speak Japanese, allowing them to point to their desired meal if verbal communication is difficult.

Consideration for Shrines and Temples

Behave calmly and respectfully when visiting temples. Show respect by making a short prayer and throwing a coin into the offering box. At some temples, burn incense in large burners by purchasing a bundle, lighting it, and waving out the flame before placing it in the burner. Make a short prayer afterward. Some people fan the smoke towards themselves for healing purposes, directing it towards specific areas if needed.

15 Things You Should Not Do in Japan

Ready to plan your trip to Japan? Before you go, here are some things you need to consider about the Japanese culture first:

1. Don’t Leave Tips

In Japan, tipping is not customary, especially in places like restaurants, cafes, taxis, and hotels. Service providers take pride in their work and don’t expect or appreciate tips, which can even be seen as impolite. A simple “thank you” is sufficient. Tour guides used to tipping cultures may not decline tips, but they don’t actively seek them either. When giving money, it’s best to use an envelope or a designated tray, as handing money directly is not customary. Counting money in front of the seller is also considered impolite.

Japanese culture
© Blake Wisz / Unsplash

2. Don’t Eat or Drink in Public Spaces

Eating in public, especially packaged food, isn’t encouraged in Japan due to concerns about cleanliness and responsible trash disposal. While this custom has relaxed slightly among younger Japanese, they still tend to consume snacks discreetly and avoid crowded areas.

Japanese culture
© katemangostar / freepik

3. Don’t Honk

In Japan, patience and politeness are highly valued, even in traffic. It’s a social norm to remain patient and avoid disrupting others with loud horn honking. This reflects the broader cultural emphasis on maintaining harmony and serenity in daily life.

Japanese culture
© freepik

4. Don’t Point Your Finger

When asking for directions in Japan, avoid pointing as it can be seen as impolite. Instead, use your whole hand or verbal communication. Tourists may also encounter surprises like vending machines selling fresh produce or unique restaurant customs, reflecting the distinct aspects of Japanese culture.

Japanese culture
© Johannes W / Unsplash

5. Hide Your Tattoos

Tattoos are less common in Japan, and those who have them often conceal them in public places. Tourists with tattoos may face restrictions in certain places like pools and spas but generally receive admiration from locals when displayed in public settings.

Japanese culture
© Annie Spratt / Unsplash

6. Don’t Pick Up Dropped Items

In Japan, there’s a strong cultural emphasis on respecting lost items. While tourists may want to help by picking them up, it’s generally better not to. Instead, move the item to a more visible spot, making it easier for the owner to find. Valuable items can be taken to the nearest police station.

Japanese culture
© rawpixel / freepik

7. Don’t Talk Loudly on Public Transport

In Japan, trains are as quiet as libraries, with passengers speaking in hushed voices. This unwritten rule stems from the crowded trains and respect for tired commuters who may fall asleep. Keeping noise levels low ensures comfort for everyone on board.

Japanese culture
© freepik

8. Don’t Carry Credit Cards Only

In Japan, it’s important to carry both cash and cards as many places, especially older establishments, don’t accept credit cards. While cashless payment is increasingly common, some places still require cash. Ensure you have enough cash for your activities or check in advance if cashless payment is accepted.

Japanese culture
© Towfiqu barbhuiya / Unsplash

9. Don’t Wear Shoes Inside

In Japanese homes, there’s a designated area called the genkan where shoes are removed to keep the home clean. Some restaurants and medical clinics also have genkans. Look for a step-up or a distinct flooring separation as a signal to remove shoes. Neatly place shoes to the side facing the door, a sign of good Japanese manners.

Japanese culture
© Pavel Danilyuk / Pexels

10. Avoid Jaywalking

In Japan, jaywalking, especially in busy areas, is unsafe, and illegal, and can result in police intervention. It’s essential to use designated crossings for pedestrian safety. Additionally, obeying traffic rules helps maintain order and respect for the law in Japanese society.

Japanese culture
© Jacek Dylag / Unsplash

11. Avoid Inserting Your Chopsticks Vertically Into Your Rice

In Japanese culture, there are specific chopstick manners akin to table manners. It’s considered inappropriate to stick chopsticks upright in a bowl of rice, a practice reserved for funerals. Similarly, when serving rice in a Japanese home, avoid piling it up like a mountain, resembling a grave; instead, politely request a refill if needed.

chopsticks in rice
© thomaslim2019 / X

12. Don’t Smoke on the Streets

In Japan, smoking on streets and in public spaces is prohibited, but dedicated smoking areas are readily available, especially in urban areas. Drinking in public is generally allowed, with relaxed laws allowing alcohol consumption in parks and public places. Enjoying a beer while admiring cherry blossoms is a fun tradition.

don't smoke in public
© Lê Tit / Unsplash

13. Always Shower Before Entering the Onsen

Before enjoying the hot bath at Onsens, remember to shower with soap in the designated areas. Onsen facilities typically provide high-quality soap, shampoo, and conditioner, with the quality often correlating with the price of the Onsen.

shower before the onsen
© Chandler Cruttenden & Roméo A. / Unsplash

14. Avoid Plucking Flowers

Japan boasts stunning flowers and picturesque parks, but it’s important not to pick the flowers. Instead, capture their beauty in photos to cherish the experience. If you desire flowers, numerous flower shops across Japan offer a variety of options, including Sakura, for those special photo opportunities.

don't pluck flowers
© malavika / Unsplash

15. Always Look Out for the Last Train

Trains in Japan don’t operate late at night, even in urban areas. Before staying out too late, always check the last train schedule on Google Maps to avoid being stranded. Otherwise, you might end up spending the night at karaoke!

last train
© kwan fung / Unsplash

Are you planning a trip to Japan or simply interested in Japanese culture?

You might also want to read: It’s Confirmed! Japan’s Population Is 80 Years And Older

Orgesta Tolaj

Your favorite introvert who is buzzing around the Hive like a busy bee!