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9 Japanese Etiquette Tips for First-Time Travelers

ViaHero · October 21, 2018

To dig deep into Japanese culture, you’ve got to have some essential insider info on cultural taboos, snafus, and boo-boos. Prep for an authentic Japanese experience with these top 9 tips on Japanese etiquette. Still have questions after reading? Feel free to send us a message!

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#1: Don’t leave a tip—period.

If you come away with nothing else, this should be it—tipping in Japan is close to nonexistent. With the Japanese concept of omotenashi, a respectful and grateful attitude is considered a reward in itself. Get a Japan insider’s advice if you have questions about tipping in various contexts (hotels, restaurants, museums).

  • Pro tip: If you’ve had extraordinary service and want to attempt to tip, first place the money in a tip envelope, then hand it discreetly to the other person. Don’t be surprised or offended if they don’t accept!

#2: Watch where you point those chopsticks.

Using chopsticks in Japan

Let’s face it—chopsticks (hashi) are tricky little utensils. Try keeping these top 3 chopstick tips in mind: don’t stab your food (you know better), don’t stick chopsticks into a dish (a Japanese funeral practice), and only place your chopsticks across your bowl once you’re finished eating.

#3: Save the nose-blowing for home.

Blowing your nose in public is cringeworthy in Japanese culture, so save that massive, honking nose blow for your hotel room. The general public will thank you. If you’re desperate, try dabbing at your nose with a handkerchief, a Japanese wardrobe staple.

#4: Slurp those noodles like you mean it.

Slurping ramen in Japan

Everyone’s grandma told them at some point not to slurp their food, but while in Japan, embrace the slurp! Slurping noodles (like ramen or udon) and soup (like miso) is a major compliment to the chef. It’s the perfect way to say oishi des (so yummy).

#5: Use the little money trays for paying in cash.

Whether you’re at a posh designer store or a small convenience store, you’ll often see a small, colorful money tray on the counter. Place your cash, change, or cards on the money tray rather than handing payment directly to the cashier. It’s also totally okay to pay for small purchases in change since Japanese coins go up to 500 yen (or $5 USD).

#6: Give a low bow instead of a firm handshake.

Bowing is good etiquette in Japan

Bowing in Japan is the ideal form of greeting, saying thank you, and saying bye. From a small nod to a full bow at the waist, you’ll want to get familiar with Japanese bowing culture, so you’ll look like a pro on your Japanese adventures.

#7: Know the difference between shoes, house slippers, and toilet shoes.

In Japanese shoe etiquette, you’re expected to remove your outdoor shoes before coming into someone’s house, place of worship, or school. Cubbies in the entryway often have “house slippers” that you wear instead of outdoor shoes. To complicate matters a bit more, change your house slippers for toilet slippers before using the restrooms.

#8: Carry a fancy hankie—your sweat (and neighbors) will thank you.

Hermes handkerchiefs because it is etiquette to carry a hanky in Japan

No matter the weather, just about everybody in Japan carries a handkerchief with them at all times. Especially in the summer, Japan’s heat waves can be intense. Rather than letting sweat drip down your face (ew), dab politely at your forehead with a hankie. (And no, we’re not talking about “dab” the dance move.)

#9: Get squeaky clean before soaking in a public bath.

Although public baths can take a little getting used to, you’ll be missing out if you pass up the onsen (hot-spring baths). They’re a total must-do in Japan if you really want to experience the traditional culture! Just remember: before you hop into the onsen, take a short shower (with soap, please) before sliding in.

  • Pro tip: Some onsens ban tattoos—ask a Hero about which onsens are more body art-friendly before embarking on your Japanese journey.

You’ve got a lot of cultural ins and outs right at your fingertips—why not put those tips into practice in your own Japanese adventure? As you outline your Japanese experiences with a Hero, check out these links to become even more travel savvy:

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