This time round in our Japan guide, we have compiled a list of things that you should never do when you are in Japan. Much like any other countries, Japan has its own custom cultures and believes which has been passed down over the generations and as tourists, the least we could do is respect their customs. Read and re-reread this short Japan guide and perhaps bring a printed version along with you the next time you are planning to visit Japan. It could help you avoid some uncomfortable situations and bring you more pleasurable hospitality from the locals there.

Don’t tip anyone

When in Japan, trust this Japan guide and don’t tip anyone. Not in any restaurant, hotel, massage centre or any place. They will run after you with the tip that you left over and return it to you. The Japanese believes that they are paid fairly according to how much you are charged which is why they do not need to be paid extra on your behalf.

Don’t go into people’s homes with your shoes on.

You may run into this at certain temples and shrines, restaurants or traditional inns too. If you see other people taking their shoes off, do the same. (Additional Note: there’s a small area right inside the entrance called a ‘genkan’ which is usually one level below the rest of the house, where you take off your shoes. You don’t take them off outside the house!)

This is how a genkan area looks like in a common Japanese household

Do not get confused by the toilet

You will encounter ‘washlets’ or toilets with attachments for washing and drying your private parts everywhere. Don’t get too freaked out by them. If you can’t figure it out (probably because most of the writing is in Kanji), just use the toilet paper. You’ll be fine.

Do not enter a bath tub before washing yourself first

This is especially of high important when you are at a public bath tub. Probably you wouldn’t need this Japan guide to tell you this because after all, it’s common sense. Even you wouldn’t want to share the same water in the same container with someone who just came out from a mud bath wouldn’t you?

And the list goes… on:

  • Don’t try to hug people you just met. Yes, it’s common in most parts of the world and yes, we know your gesture is friendliness orientated but Most people in Japan don’t like it, especially the older folks.
  • Don’t talk on your cellphone in trains. While it’s not against the law, it’s considered to be rude since it disturbs people around you. Respect is of high importance in Japan.
  • Likewise, if you are having a chat with your friend in the train, don’t talk too loud. Talk in a low discreet voice (or a regular conversational tone – don’t shout at at each other or laugh out loudly)
  • If someone invites you to dinner or drinks or something (e.g. after a business meeting) they will be doing the paying, so don’t keep insisting that you’ll pay.
  • Always stand on the correct side on escalators. In The Tokyo you stand on the left. In Osaka you stand on the right. Follow what other people are doing. This comes from experience and there won’t be signs pointing you to the correct direction.
  • Don’t drink or eat while walking around unless it’s at a venue where that’s expected, like a festival with food stalls (although even there people usually eat sitting down)
  • Don’t eat on commuter trains. Discreet drinking from a PET bottle is ok unless it’s too crowded. (Eating and drinking on long distance trains is fine though, since you have pull-out trays and such. They’ll even come to your seat to sell you food and beverages.)
  • Do not litter! Even though you will notice that trash cans are quite scarce on the streets of Tokyo, do not litter. Carry your trash with you until you find a place to throw it out (such as in a restaurant or a shopping mall)

There are other small faux pas that happens every now and then but usually will be tolerated by the locals there. One of them would be showing public affection. If the locals sees tourist kissing in the public, they will just smile it off. But very rarely would you see Japanese local couple showing affection in public because it’s just not in their culture.

So now, the next time you are heading to Japan, you know what to do and what not do. Have fun!

P/S: Did I miss out anything? If yes, add it in the comment below!

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