Japan is a country with a very unique culture and heritage. Manners are very important to the Japanese. If you are a travelling to Japan for the first time, there’s a lot you need to know. A while ago, I came across this infographic commissioned by the Department of Tourism of Kyoto in collaboration with TripAdvisor about Japanese etiquette. This document entitled “Insider Guide to Kyoto Part II: AKIMAHEN (Don’ts) of Kyoto” inform tourists about the do’s and mainly don’ts in Japanese culture.
“What cultural things I should know about before travelling in Japan that might make my trip a bit easier?”
Japanese etiquette for tourists
So what shouldn’t you do in Japan?
- Littering – Japan is a clean country and it wants to stay that way. Japanese are taught from a young age that clean means good. You will rarely see a graffiti or even street bins. So how come streets are so well looked after? It’s because people have been taught to always take responsibility for their own mess and take any rubbish they create home with them to dispose of. Children have to clean their own schools and private homes or business have to keep their areas clean. If you are caught littering, you can be fined for up to 30 000 yen.
- Smoking outside – You don’t tend to see people walking along the street smoking as you might do in Europe or America. This is because walking and smoking are illegal in some areas and it’s not uncommon to see “smoke patrol” in busy areas like Omotesando or Shinjuku to enforce the rules. There are plenty of smoking areas if you keep your eyes well opened. If not, the best bet is outside konbinis, hotels, bars or large train stations. Again, if you open your eyes, you might see some men pretending to hide their cigarette as they walk. If you get caught, you will be fined a 1,000 yen.
- Taxi doors – Japanese taxis have automatic doors so feel like a VIP by letting the drivers pen and close the door for you; they get offended if you open the door yourself.
- Slippers on tatami – slippers should not be worn on tatami floors. So if you are staying at a ryokan with tatami mat in the room, you will be asked to wear them only in the hallways or other areas within the premises.
- Tipping – There is no custom of tipping waiters at restaurants or taxi drivers like it is the case in many European or American cities. Tipping can be confusing for them or even insulting.
- Cycling Under the Influence of Alcohol – Out of all the don’ts, the worst cultural offence that one could probably commit not only in Kyoto but in Japan as a whole is cycling while under the influence of alcohol. Anyone spotted committing this act would most likely end up in prison for five years or pay a fine of one million yen.
- Keep toilets clean – Like most places, you want to leave the toilet the way you found it, so it’s no different in Japan. If you are interested in the history of Japanese toilets, you might want to visit the Toto Museum in Kitakyushu.
- Blowing your nose – Blowing your nose in public is considered rude. Hence why you can see people walking around wearing surgical-style masks. Most people prefer to use these when they have a cold or flu to help prevent passing on their germs to others. Sniffling (although my pet hate) is generally okay.
- Bringing food and drinks bought elsewhere to a restaurant – Japan is full of places to eat from yatai (屋台 small food stall), izakaya ( 居酒屋) to fancy Michelin star restaurants, you have a wide range of choices to enjoy local specialities. One thing to remember is that eating food or drink bought from another restaurant, konbini or stall is considered to be bad manners. When you enter a yatai for example, so be sure to order food from their menu and bring the things you have bought elsewhere back to your hotel. Another thing that is seen as impolite is walking and eating. I nearly committed a faux-pas once when I started opening a packet of dry mango in the street and my friend told me that eating in the street was frown upon. I realised after the reasons I kept seeing people standing or crouching near food stalls while eating street food! Of course, it’s possible to eat while walking in some places like food festivals at shrines or temples.
The detailed infographic is here.
What did you think about these rules? If you follow them, you’ll have a great trip and be greeted with a warm smile wherever you go. If not, then you might get some strange looks from the locals while doing so.
Share your experiences in the comment below.