Japan is a fabulous destination. It is among the most progressive nations on the planet. You’ll love its attractions, the cuisine and the shopping experience. Japan reminds you of Shikanken Bullet Train, geishas and samurais, beautiful seasons, shrines and temples, and even Hello Kitty.
Part of the appeal of traveling to other countries is the opportunity to immerse in their cultures, steeped with traditions and customs. Exotic destinations, which are embodiments of a fusion of old and traditional practices and modern life, like Japan, are a joy to visit. Yet, being vastly different from what you are used to, you may find yourself in a sticky situation. It happened to many travelers and it can happen to you, if you will not take time to know the culture and the proper etiquette expected from you.
In the CNN blog post 10 Ways to Avoid Tourist Trouble in Japan by Will Ripley, Euan McKirdy, Junko Ogura and Yoko Wakatsuki, the traveling public is warned about the need to stay in touch with the Japanese customs and norms in order to avoid common pitfalls. The blog opens with the experience of Patrick Schwarzenegger, son of ex-California governor and actor Arnold Schwarzenegger.
With an expected 43 percent increase in its tourism, and with Tokyo being the #1 city for overall experience, more Japan travelers need to be educated about travel etiquette. The authors of the blog warn visitors about the usual faux pas that can put them in trouble:
- No jaywalking — always use the crosswalk
- Smokers can be fined for lighting up outside
- Don’t litter — the streets here are immaculate
- Make sure litter is thrown in the correct trashcan
- Don’t point fingers at people
- It’s also very rude to cut in line
- When on the train set ringers to silent and avoid talking on cell phones
- Oh, and don’t ever eat or drink on the train.
- Always take shoes off at the door when visiting someone’s home
- No need to tip when eating out or taking taxis
- No swimsuits in onsens — go naked instead
The blog, Etiquette in Japan: What Every Visitor Should Know posted in Travels in Translation offers 15 customs that those visitors planning to travel to Japan must know. Some of these, which were not previously mentioned, are:
- Don’t eat food while walking
- Know the chopstick etiquette
- Never refuse food when it is offered. Say “thank you” (Arigat?) and then take a bite.
- Reciprocate the gesture when you are given a gift. Never open it in front of the giver unless asked. Always bring a gift when going to someone’s home. Get it wrapped because it is important to the Japanese.
- Don’t sneeze or cough in public; wear a mask.
- Don’t open taxi doors; taxi doors open and close automatically with the push of a button from the driver.
- Never refuse a drink. If you don’t want a refill, keep it half-full. And don’t forget to yell “kampai” (cheers) before drinking.
- Do Bow. It is a sign greeting and of respect. The lower and slower is the bow, the more respect you convey.
- Take a bath before getting in an onsen (communal baths). And if you have tattoos, cover them up.
- Accept business cards with two hands and read it before stashing it away. Give back your card, if you have one.
- When taking the escalator, you must stay on the right side. Use the left only when passing. In Tokyo, it’s the other way around.
- When paying, use the tray. Do not hand your money directly to the cashier.
Japan is a country of many customs and traditions. These may overwhelm you at first, the Japanese will understand. If and when you are confused or don’t know how to behave or what to do, look around and follow suit or ask someone. A lot of them will nicely come to your aid. The Japanese are nice people, another reason why Japan ranked #1 for overall experience.