We are sharing the 25 Do’s and Don’ts in Japan so that you have some insight into what you should and shouldn’t do in this country of the rising sun. Of course, some are tongue in cheek, but others are quite a straightforward. Japan is one of the most culturally interesting places for all visitors. It has a rich and intriguing history and is a society bound by etiquette, or rules of behaviour. One of the reasons for this is that Japan has a very large population. This population of 126 million on a land mass of 377,944 km² means that there need to rule that to ensure that entire fabric of this society does not break down. These rules of conduct are also intrinsically linked to its very rich history. However, you can also experience how the Japanese break out of the well-behaved modes of conduct, and how they push the boundaries. Regardless, Japan is one of those countries that you do need to visit, and to experience.
25 Do’s and Don’ts in Japan
1. Do not litter.
The Japanese are fanatical, in a very good way, on recycling. Have you ever noticed that Japan is one of the countries that is really into overpackaging as every little thing must be displayed beautifully and then wrapped beautifully? They are fanatical when it comes to recycling. You won’t see rubbish bins around the cities; because the people take the rubbish to recycling bins, and there are many of them. Read about rubbish shaming in Japan.
2. Do try Pachinko
or, at least, walk into a pachinko parlour for the noise and the colour, and the amazement. Pachinko is one of the few ways to legally gamble in Japan. It is theoretically illegal to gamble in Japan so you just trade your winnings for a voucher to get food or drinks. Those in the know, like all of them, walk to a booth down the street and get real money. The amount spent in Pachinko parlours is said to be bigger than many world casinos ..combined, such is the Japanese dedication to anything that they put their mind to. Go in, walk around, play if that is your thing. It is a uniquely Japanese experience. So when in Japan, Play Pachinko. (Note – we are encouraging gambling)
3. Do have an onsen,
but do read the rules about having an onsen. The public baths are one of the most amazing things in Japan, but there is a proper way to have an onsen. Strictly speaking, I should be saying to have onsen, as the ‘an’ is not necessary.
4. Do try Japanese food
Miso soup, sushi and okonomiyaki are typically Japanese, and well worth trying. No matter how good you are at using chopsticks, you will never do it like a Japnese person. Don;t let that worry you, just have a go.
5. Learn some Japanese phrases
It is just a nice thing to be able to say thank you in the language of the country that you are visiting. If you ski like I do at Nozawa Onsen, then it helps to be able to say Excuse me and sorry when you run into someone.
Thank you – arigato or Arigatoo gozaimasu.
Please – onegai shimasu
Excuse Me – Sumimasen.
Sorry – Gomen’nasai.
6. Embrace your inner Hello Kitty in Japan.
Do try and understand the Japanese obsession with cute. Japanese Love Cute? or Kawai-i.
7. Don’t Get into a Drinking Competition
Do not get into a sake or beer drinking competition with Japanese men. You will lose. For some reason, they can get mightily drunk, and then be at work the next morning bright eyed and bushy tailed, whereas you will feel as if you have died a thousand deaths.
8. How to drink sake in Japan
There are rituals involved in serving and drinking sake in Japan. Remeber, Sake sneaks up on you. Just letting you know that what tastes as smooth as silk, has a kick like a mule.
9. Do go to Karaoke
All the booths in Japan are private, so you can only make a fool of yourself in private unless someone shares it on Youtube. It is a favourite pastime with the Japanese. Maybe it is a chance to break from the rigorous codes of conduct that the Japanese live by. Maybe it is the sake and the beer.
10. Do get a Suica card.
This is one of those e-cards that can be used on trains and to pay for goods, and at convenience stores, etc. It makes your life easier. Learn also how to get from Narita Airport to Tokyo.
11. Eat at Convenience Stores and Train Stations
I didn’t think I would utter these words either, still having the image of the lone hot dog/Weiner going around and around in The Simpsons, at Apu’s Kwik-E-Mart. But ..the food in the Convenience Stores is changed over every 2 hours so is as fresh as anything, and varied. Ditto the train stations.
12. Shoes, on and off, on and off
Do get used to taking your shoes off when you enter a house or restaurant, particularly outside of Tokyo.
The floors in traditional Japanese houses were covered with tatami mats and with very little furniture.Most houses still are such is the tradition. These mats were used to sit on and to sleep on instead of chairs and beds. As the streets were muddy and dirty, they did not want to bring this dirt onto the mats and into the houses. So shoes were taken off outside and slippers were put on inside.
13. Japanese Toilets
Do play with every button on the toilets and listen to music, bird calls, and get a wash or two for free, where you least expect it if you play with too many buttons at the one time.
14. Do play with the vending machines.
The main reason that there are so many vending machines is that they are convenient for a very large and very busy population. They are also constantly stocked and re-stocked particularly the food vending machines. Nothing is even close to a use by date, so meticulous are the Japanese. Anybody who owns property can put a vending machine outside their premises. Coke, Suntory or any of the other beverage companies will come and set a vending machine on a piece of land that you own and all you have to do is to pay for the electricity. You will then get a share of sales, which starts, at 20% of the sale cost. They also come to fill up and provide the maintenance of the machine. Each and every vending machine is different and to be quite honest it was not until it was pointed out to me and I started looking more carefully that I could see this. You learn to differentiate between the various companies of vending machines by their branded logo on the side and also by what they offer.
15. Do burp and slurp.
Slurping your noodles very loudly is considered to be a sign of enjoyment of the meal. The louder the slurping, the more that you have enjoyed the meal. It is disconcerting for Westerners but not for the Japanese.
16. Don’t finish your drink or meal.
Don’t finish your drink or meal. if you are out with Japanese people. They will assume they have not fed you enough, or have not got you drunk enough. This is insulting to the Japanese people who pride themselves on their hospitality. Always leave a little in your glass, and a little on your plate. Let your host pour your drink also.
17. Don’t tip.
The Japanese do not accept or expect to be tipped. It borders on insulting.
18. Cell Phone
Use your cell phone, but don’t talk on it on the trains, etc. Everyone is on theirs, but there is respect for others by keeping it quiet.
19. Do Stay in a Ryokan in Japan.
A ryokan is a traditional Japanese inn, generally with local owners and tatami mat floors, where you will need to get used to toilet slippers as well as house slippers. This will give you a good sense of the culture of the country.
20. Don’t drink or eat while walking.
It is considered bad manners.
21. Explore the city of Tokyo
You will mostly land in Tokyo, so take some time and visit some different disticts of Shibuya, Shinjuku, Akihabara, Ginza, Harajuku. Check out the electronics, and cos play outfits. You can see manga and anime characters as well as many of popular video game characters. Musicians and punk rockers abound. Anything to do with fantasy and magic like Harry Potter is also seen everywhere.
Everything and everyone is on time in Japan. Trains, people … everything. Except once, when an avalanche buried the train line and the Japanese people were so distressed by things not running to perfection, that they fled the trains. Good story to highlight that if everything does not run according to the rules, then this is major hurdle for the Japanese.
23. Do Eat KFC at Christmas time.
Although Japan doesn’t traditionally celebrate Christmas, KFC outlets became popular among foreigners when they couldn’t find a turkey elsewhere during the festive season. KFC very quickly filled the void and mounted a hugely successful marketing campaign in the 1970s. The Japanese now place their orders up to two months in advance to meet demand. See one of the KFC ads designed for the Japanese people on our site “Why the Japanese love KFC for Christmas?
24. Bring your Business Card
The exchange of business cards, meishi, is an essential part of Japanese business etiquette. The Japanese love business cards and you do not have to be in Japan on business to offer your card. Offer the card with the Japanese side facing upwards toward the recipient. Offering the card with both hands will demonstrate greater respect. Do look at the card you have been given, turn it over and admire it. Make sure your card looks good too and is printed on both sides with your details. Place it carefully into a holder. Don’t just shove it in your pocket or handbag.
25. Don’t blow your nose in public.
This is considered poor form, but sniffling isn’t. Try and go to one of the musical toilets before ejecting the contents of you nostrils.
These are just some of the 25 Do’s and Don’ts in Japan. None are hard, and you still may slip up, but the Japanese people respect visitors who make an effort.
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