• May 22, 2018, 11:26:08 AM

Login with username, password and session length

Author Topic: Etiquette for a tourist in Japan  (Read 17780 times)

0 Members and 1 Guest are viewing this topic.


  • Member
  • Posts: 13861
    • The Delian's Commonwealth
Re: Etiquette for a tourist in Japan
« Reply #30 on: October 06, 2012, 10:32:14 AM »
I didn't see this in other posts (didn't read deeply, sorry): It's considered impolite to "clean your plate." Always leave a little bit of food behind; to clean your plate is to imply that your hosts have not provided enough and that's an insult.

I think this might be changing.  I know students are strongly encouraged in school to finish their lunch and not to waste anything.  I'm bad at this because our school lunches are gross, and a lot of the time another teacher will say something to me when I throw something away.  When I'm out with friends, I'm almost always the only one who leaves any food behind because I grew up in a "stop eating when you're full" house, not a "clean your plate" house.

Interesting. Thanks for the update. I'll confess that my knowledge is a little out of date and cultural things like this can change very rapidly once there's enough momentum.
Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn't do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bow lines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.


  • Member
  • Posts: 258
Re: Etiquette for a tourist in Japan
« Reply #31 on: October 06, 2012, 12:01:06 PM »
I've also read that one needs to give a gift to each person present.  Is that true?

My sister's Japanese boyfriend stayed with us for a few weeks. He'd never met me, but he brought me a ton of Hello Kitty items! All beautifully gift-wrapped!

And when she goes to visit him, she brings a gift for each member of his family. She did the same when she went on exchange - the girls sent letters so my sister knew who was in her "sister's" family. They were small, token gifts like a previous poster mentioned.

This thread couldn't have come at a better time. I'm going to visit my sister in Japan at Christmas and I know a little about the culture but not enough. My small list of Japanese phrases mostly centre around shopping and cats. :D


  • Member
  • Posts: 44
Re: Etiquette for a tourist in Japan
« Reply #32 on: October 06, 2012, 05:36:39 PM »
Adelaide, given that you and your friend are both young women, it's quite possible she may put her arm through yours when you're both out and about. My friends did that; it's normal for young women to go about arm in arm. Let her take the lead on that and go along with it if it doesn't bug you.

They don't like hands in pockets.

Waving a hand in front of the face means "No."

If you want to point at yourself to indicate "me", point at your nose, not your chest.


  • Member
  • Posts: 1
Re: Etiquette for a tourist in Japan
« Reply #33 on: October 06, 2012, 09:56:35 PM »
I have travelled extensively in Japan, and agree that the Japanese are kind and courteous, and the last thing they would want is someone feeling uncomfortable if they unknowingly make a 'faux paux'

There have been a lot of good comments and good advice. I would like to add the following:
-if you are out in public, on a train, or in a restaurant, it would be very impolite to answer, or talk on a cellphone. You will notice that in the rare event a Japanese person is on a cell phone, they  make
every effort to talk softly, and cover their mouth and phone. They also do not carry on loud conversations in public, such as in a train. After a month or so of this polite behavior, it will make you think twice about cell phone usage in the States!

-before getting in a bath, sauna, or spa, you shower yourself first.

-public restrooms do not usually provide paper towels or automatic dryers, so take a small wash cloth
in a ziplock bag. You can buy the cutest wash cloths in the department stores...they make nice gifts.

-the Japanese do not approve of tatoos. If you have any, cover them up, if possible. Many spas will prohibit
entry if you have them.

-the Japanese do love gifts, if you bring chocolates from the US, they will think you are wonderful. We would go to the food court in the large department stores, and buy strawberries, or any package of fruit. (although sometimes these items are very expensive) The department stores will insist on wrapping everything.

Otherwise, enjoy! We found Japan to be one of the safest, travel friendly places we have been. If you are in a train station, and can't figure out what to do, a kind person will most likely try out their English, to help you.
At least that is how things were when we were last in Japan.


  • Member
  • Posts: 3665
Re: Etiquette for a tourist in Japan
« Reply #34 on: October 07, 2012, 01:22:22 AM »
I don't think I ever went into a restroom in Japan that did not have an automatic dryer or paper towels, but perhaps that's a regional thing?  That said, you can get really pretty washcloths and handkerchiefs there that I would recommend buying, not just cuz they are awesome, but also because it comes in handy for those random "guess that's life" moments.


  • Member
  • Posts: 2907
Re: Etiquette for a tourist in Japan
« Reply #35 on: October 07, 2012, 04:24:27 PM »
I don't think I ever went into a restroom in Japan that did not have an automatic dryer or paper towels, but perhaps that's a regional thing?  That said, you can get really pretty washcloths and handkerchiefs there that I would recommend buying, not just cuz they are awesome, but also because it comes in handy for those random "guess that's life" moments.

I lived in the Tohoku (northeast) region. Never did find a public restroom with paper towels, but a lot of them had air dryers. The trick was finding a restroom that had 1. warm water, 2. soap and 3. a dryer. Some had only cold water, no soap, no dryer. I strongly suggest having some wet wipes in your purse. I always carried some with me.
William wondered why he always disliked people who said "no offense meant." Maybe it was because they found it easier to say "no offense meant" than actually to refrain from giving offense.

--Terry Pratchett, The Truth


  • Member
  • Posts: 972
  • I like big books, and I cannot lie
Re: Etiquette for a tourist in Japan
« Reply #36 on: October 08, 2012, 01:01:28 AM »
No tipping in restaurants and the like. If you accidentally leave some change, people will run after you to push it back into your hands!

If you go to a hotsprings, it is customary to wash yourself before entering the spring - each place has the facilities to do that.

Don't ever litter. There aren't always many dustbins around, so it may be useful to bring a plastic bag with you.

And it may see, daunting, behaving right in japan, but I spent over 3 weeks in Japan and had no problems at all. Just observe and do what they do.
Another nice observation - when my Dh and I went to a park in nagasaki, you could see children running around and playing everywhere. People were very patient and would stop for a moment if a child would run across their path. The children were generally social and well behaved too.


  • Member
  • Posts: 564
Re: Etiquette for a tourist in Japan
« Reply #37 on: October 08, 2012, 04:29:42 AM »
Everyone is so nice about taking photos too, obviously you don't want to take masses of them and hold people up, but most will try and stay out of the way of anyone taking a photo and we did too :)

Everyone is very polite, there are lots of signs also in English around the place that can help. We were there for 3 weeks last year, and only had a smattering of words but had no problem. Watch for signs on trains and buses reserved for elderly, etc. The subway systems are excellent and really easy to get the hang of.

Hai (pronounced like "hi" with a hard ending) means yes.


  • Member
  • Posts: 9273
Re: Etiquette for a tourist in Japan
« Reply #38 on: October 08, 2012, 07:13:16 PM »

Re the cleaning your plane thing - my husband is Japanese, and he's got a definite thing about eating *everything* that he's served.  I've seen him apologize to the restaurant for not being able to finish his meal.

For the soy on rice - I think it's just a cultural thing. It would be like someone Japanese coming to the US and going to a nice restaurant, and dumping ketchup over it. After all, Americans use a lot of ketchup.   Soy sauce is very common in Japanese cooking, but it isn't used as a general condiment - there are very specific situations where it is used as a topping on pre-prepared food (for example, if your rice comes with a raw egg on top, adding soy sauce is expected).

If you smoke, note that in some areas smoking is not allowed on the sidewalks - wait for one of the designated smoking zones.

And of course, take your shoes off on entering a house, and put on the provided slippers.  Take the slippers off and go in stocking feet if you subsequently enter a tatami room. And if you go to the bathroom, and there's a pair of slippers inside, leave your slippers outside the bathroom, and switch to the bathroom slippers inside.

I found a great set of striped clownfish socks (think stripes like Nemo, with eyes and fins painted on).  I plan to wear these on my trip to Japan this week.  ;D


  • Has a fine singing voice.
  • Member
  • Posts: 3595
  • Reading the threads here makes me hungry.
Re: Etiquette for a tourist in Japan
« Reply #39 on: October 11, 2012, 03:41:46 AM »
My parents were born and raised here, but they were/are very much Japanese. I know they taught me many of the things being emphasized here in the thread. Overall, we were taught not to impose on or inconvenience others through our actions.

My father told all of us never to walk around with our hands in our pockets.

No soy sauce (shoyu) on rice. Good short grain rice does indeed have a very delicious and distinct flavor and to drown it out with soy sauce is an insult to your host, like they served you sub-par rice.

Don't point with your chopsticks.

Also if you are getting food from a communal dish, use the other end of your chopsticks (not the end you eat  from, flip them around to the handles) to pick up food to put on your plate.

Don't stand your chopsticks up in a bowl of rice or use them to pick up pieces of food to pass food to another person. These are both things done during a funeral service.

Even now, I never go over to someone's home empty handed. If they are Japanese, I will try to find the nicest fruit I can find, like clementines or apple pears. Fancy chocolates are also nice. But don't go over board, more about this following.

And be very careful about asking for favors. It is a big thing to inconvenience someone and the Japanese don't like to impose on anyone, so be mindful of this. Along with this, if you ask, yes means yes, maybe or a deflection is pretty much always no. They don't like a direct refusal, so they will say maybe or deflect in some way to avoid a direct no.

With gift giving or asking for favors, there is a huge burden of obligation so try to avoid placing heavy obligation burdens on others, if that makes sense.

No matter where you go, there you are...

White Lotus

  • Member
  • Posts: 491
Re: Etiquette for a tourist in Japan
« Reply #40 on: November 05, 2012, 10:53:29 PM »
People have covered most of the basics, but I will add, as someone who travels frequently in Japan and has for many years, that Westerners have a huge bubble of personal space/aura they carry around with them, which feels huge, inappropriate and pushy in Japan, though it is fine when they are at home.  Be conscious of your psychic space and try to minimize it.
Japanese people carry around a much smaller bubble, but it is absolute.  Even close friends bow and shake hands, though young women, and sometimes older ones, will walk with arms linked.  Do. Not. Hug.  Unless the Japanese person initiates it.  This bubble is respected and honored.  Give people lots of psychic space and psychic privacy.  Living in crowded conditions means this Cone of Privacy is very important.  Silence is golden.  Speak softly.  Text, don't talk.  Don't wave your arms around.  Manners are all that maintain civilization in crowds, I sometimes think.
Bowing is a big deal.  You are not expected to know the nuances.  Watch and learn.  Bow a bit when shaking hands or meeting people, but don't make a big thing of it.

Shoe rules are huge.  Watch carefully and follow them, as stated above. "Foot covers" can be found everywhere, and are rather like Peds, except they stay on well and are often lacy.  They are frequently worn with pumps, summer shoes or sandals and are meant to show.  I personally wouldn't go with Fast Flats -- they are too shoe-like for indoors to my eye.  Tokyo at least is a very dressy city, and I have found Japan generally a dressy, fashion-conscious country.  Jeans, T-shirts (unless high end designer with logos, as a fashion statement, and real shoes, not trainers) and trainers (only on the very young as a fashion statement or for sport)  are just not done except for dog walking and the like. Khakis, European walking shoes and a Polo shirt, all very tidy, will carry your further.  Japanese people are suckers for designer merchandise, and love anything with someone else's name on it.  Make sure there's an alligator or a horse on that Polo. 

Carry tissues, because sometimes there is not toilet paper (truth!) or you have to pay a machine for it, and said machine will be empty.  Carry a handkerchief.  This is your hand towel.  You will need it.  Tissue plus handkerchief is such a good idea, I carry them always, everywhere, now.  A bandanna is OK.  Bandannas make good gifts. IME, only men carry those washcloths, and then only when dressed casually.

In Temples and in Shrines, there is a dress code.  Chest below collarbone, shoulders and arms to elbow, and legs to the knee covered are the standards.  A mini with leggings (not tights) would be OK.  These are houses of Practice (Buddhism doesn't analogize well) and people are there to do their practice or ceremony.  Just as in an historic church in Europe, be conscious of this and respectful.  There will be a front door, but it will not be used, generally.  Look for the side door that everyone else is using.  Take tours.  They will be helpful.

After all of that, a very close Japanese friend told me once that if one is considered a well-mannered person in the US/UK etc., one will be considered well-mannered in Japan.  Especially, again IME, if one learns and follows all the things people mentioned above, and don't ever be afraid to ask what is correct.  People will be pleased at your concern and clue you in.  The Japanese are great hosts, welcome visitors, love kids and animals, nature, and like to have fun.  Enjoy!