Japan Etiquette and Culture
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Despite being relatively widely travelled, Japan was more
culturally different than we’d anticipated and there’s a significant amount of
etiquette involved. If you’re travelling to Japan, hopefully the following may
People constantly bow. Do not attempt to shake hands, bow
back. The more senior the person, the lower you need to go.
Japan is a nation of mask wearers - the surgical masks
protect them from germs in winter and pollen in summer. Taxi drivers even wear
them in the cars.
People are friendly and helpful and will approach you if
you’re looking lost and go out of their way to give you directions (this can
extend to taking you there and with no hassle).
It is a male dominated society. Whilst men work longer hours
and go drinking afterwards, women tend to stay at home.
The Japanese all want their photographs taken individually
in front of iconic sites and sometimes with you, especially if your hair is
blonde or red.
You will eat a lot of miso soup, tofu and raw fish (sushi
Tea ceremonies are a formal, elegant process and are not to
Tokyo, has a diverse range of quirky restaurants e.g. Maid
Cafes. We tried the Robot Restaurant.
Smoking is still allowed in restaurants and bars.
Credit cards are not as widely accepted as they are in the
UK. When they are taken, processing can be basic and require a signature. At
the opposite end of the scale, others are taken via a gizmo attached to an
i-pad and require a ‘finger signature (it’s also said to record your e-mail
Tipping is not required at all - in fact it’s said to cause
confusion and embarrassment.
The luggage forwarding system is excellent so you can just
carry hand baggage. It can take either 12 or 24 hours to arrive and costs
around £12 to £20 per bag depending on distance and time.
Taxis are often old fashioned, black and look as though they
came from Russia. Yet all have automatic opening on the left hand side of the
car - they do not like you using the right door. The drivers can wear dinner
suits and white gloves.
The Japanese drive on the left. Standing on escalators
depends on which city you’re in as in some expect you to be stationary on the
right, others on the left.
J walking is frowned up.
Cyclists often use pavements which usually have yellow
raised and dotted line for visually impaired.
Children are either carried or walk: you hardly ever see a
Ryokans are traditional Japanese houses where you can enjoy
a traditional experience including a special dinner, sleeping on futons on
tatami mats and enjoying the onsen. There is a lot of etiquette associated with
staying in a ryokan which is explained on arrival.
Onsen are traditional public baths (generally found in
Ryokan) and are a way of life. Men and women are segregated as bathing is
naked. There’s lot of etiquette surrounding the bathing process.
Toilets vary between squat and western style. They often
have heated seats and a range of bottom washing and drying options which can be
regulated in terms of water temperature and pressure. Some have sounds, either
music or running water, to disguise the noise of your ablutions. In better
hotels, seats and lids may open and close automatically. Ironically hand dryers
are few and far between as the Japanese all appear to carry small flannels for
drying their hands
Baths are short but very deep.
It’s hard to find a litter bin in public places as everyone’s
encouraged to take rubbish home. Children
are responsible for cleaning their school from an early age.
Vending machines are ubiquitous and on every street corner
and railway station. They sell a huge range of both cold and hot drinks (which
are shaken to heat).
Gambling is illegal but Pachinko Parlours have a mixture of
slot and pinball machines where you win balls which can be exchanged at any
time into goods at the parlor's gift shop. But you can also bypass the law that
prohibits gambling by exchanging the balls first into some special goods and
then exchanging the special goods for cash at a small window just outside the
parlor. In Osaka we saw people queuing to get in at 10am.
It’s acceptable to sniff and the Japanese find handkerchiefs
abhorrent. If a tissue is used, the rule
is one blow and throw.
Electric sockets vary enormously and we found our English
three pin plug could be used in some places.
Helen has written many reviews about her travels around Japan for Silver Travel Advisor. Simply type 'Japan' into the search box at the top of this page to find them.
37 people found this feature helpful