Japan is a country known for its many customs and a country for which many foreigners may not know all the rules. There are definitely plenty of etiquette and unspoken manners in Japan, and many of which Japanese people also get wrong.
When you visit a country it’s always important to be respectful of that country and its traditions/rules. So hope this will help everyone be a bit more aware to make visiting Japan easier.
Below is a simpler list of some of the main stand out customs in Japan you should watch out for.
Shoes Off Inside
This one is probably the most common and one you should definitely remember.
When you enter someone’s house or in some restaurants with an entrance area, you will be expected to take off your shoes. At restaurants they will have shoe boxes for you to use to store your shoes.
Also remember to wear socks without holes.
Image from Fg2 (Source)
Quiet on the Train
While on the bus and train in Japan, it is frowned upon to talk on your phone. Someone may even ask you to be quiet.
Texting, using your phone and talking between friends is fine, as long as you are not excessively loud.
In Japan, thinking of those around you and the social setting you are in is really important and taught from a young age.
At restaurants in Japan you don’t need to pay a tip and even if you want to pay a tip you will likely be refused. Unlike most other places in the world, tipping is not expected or even welcome in Japan.
You may notice that in restaurants and shops they use a “change tray” or cash tray” (カッシュトレイ・つり銭トレイ). This is for paying and returning your change, not for giving tip as is quite common in other countries.
Find out more about these trays in English: Japan Times
Image of Cash Tray from Japan Times (Source)
Image from bsdonovan (Source)
When you go to a Japanese styled restaurant, when going to the bathroom you may see toilet slippers. These are slippers specifically to be used only in the toilet area.
You will need to remove your inside slippers provided by the restaurant or shoes and put on the toilet slippers. In Japan, cleanliness is an important cultural value in our structured society, everything has its place and everything has its rules.
Image from Sora24 (Source)
In Japan, masks are commonly seen and there is no stigma to wearing a mask. Japanese people typically wear them when they want to protect themselves from getting sick or when they are sick themselves.
Masks are commonly available in pharmacies and the practice of wearing them is rooted in Japan’s care for each other and stop the spread of viruses or sicknesses.
So when visiting Japan and you’ve gotten sick, it would be worthwhile investing in a mask to wear when walking around in public. It’s much better than coughing on random strangers.
During examination time, you may see many students wear masks to ensure they don’t get sick during such an important time. Also during springtime you may see more masks as there is a lot of pollen and dust in the air, affecting people with hay fever.
Although health isn’t the only reason masks are worn and can be to avoid putting on make up, concealing a blemish or you feel like hiding your face.
Stand to the Side
When in Japan it’s important to know which side of the escalator to stand and which side to walk. During peak hours, commuters who are in a hurry may get annoyed, even pushing you out of the way if you get this wrong.
The tricky part here is that it’s different depending on which part of Japan is. For example, in Tokyo you stand on the left and walk on the right. Whereas in Osaka and most of the Kansai region you stand on the right and walk on the left.
If you are visiting from overseas and have luggage, it’s polite to use an elevator or not to block the walking side of the escalator.
Stand on the Left (Tokyo) Stand on the Right (Kansai)
There are plenty of customs in Japan but if you can remember the above must know customs before visiting Japan, it will get you through majority of your trip without causing too much confusion or annoyance.
Happy to hear what other customs you’d add to this list for Japan and enjoy the trip.