Japan is a country that values rules more than any other in the World. And not only the “official” written ones but even more the ones you cannot read on a paper. Japanese society is basically built on informal habits and politeness norms. But how to find out about them then? Check out my selection of 13+1 things not to do in Japan to familiarize yourself with the most obvious ones.
If you are planning to come to Japan, there is something you should know. Japan is a country that values rules more than any other in the World. And not only the “official” written ones but even more the ones you cannot read on a paper. Japanese society is basically built on informal habits and politeness norms. But how to find out about them then? Check out my selection 13+1 things not to do in Japan to familiarize yourself with the most obvious ones. Not all of them are necessary rude, but you can take them into consideration. The most important rule should be – before you act or speak, think about how what you do might actually affect the Japanese around you.
➯ Read more: Katie’s 20 facts to know before coming to Japan
Katie’s 13+1 things not to do in Japan
So here we go, my 13 plus 1 extra tips for you:
1) Blowing your nose in public
Don’t blow your nose with a tissue in public. This is the thing I will never understand. For the Japanese, sniffing is simply more appropriate and basically fully alright. On the train, you can see Japanese sniffing all the time, but never blowing their nose. In the restaurant, the Japanese will excuse themselves and go to the bathroom to clean their nose privately.
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2) Talking loudly in public transport
Be quiet on the train/bus. When on a bus or a train in Japan, you can notice that there is almost a complete silence. People are usually sleeping or more often playing with their phones, but just rarely talking. A train is a common space for lots of people and making noise is inappropriate. You should also not be having a phone call during your travel. It is not prohibited, but the Japanese will be giving you the “what is he/she doing” look. You will find many signs saying you should turn your mobile phone into a silent mode on public transport.
3) Don’t leave your business cards at home when on a business trip
If you are on a business trip, always have enough business card with you. Don’t underestimate the importance, they play an incremental role in Japanese business culture and you can give out dozens of them during just one session. By not having them, you will not only look awkward, but you might miss out on great business opportunities.
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4) Don’t pollute the fresh air with cigarette smoke
Don’t smoke outside on the streets. You can notice a lot of signs saying that smoking is prohibited, so do not break the rule. For smokers, there are special dedicated and clearly marked areas. Or you can just go to Izakayas in the evening.
5) Don’t eat on the train
Avoid eating on the train. Especially food with a strong odor as for example hamburgers. By doing that, you can make the other passengers feel uncomfortable and it is seen as very unpolite in Japan.
6) Don’t point with your fingers
If you don’t need to, don’t point your fingers at anyone. It makes the Japanese feel really uncomfortable as well. I have heard that it is even not appropriate pointing out with your fingers at objects.
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7) Don’t “bless” the Japanese
Don’t use the term ‘bless you’, as the Japanese don’t know it and they wouldn’t understand what do you mean. You will save both you and the other person an awkward situation.
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8) Use your camera with caution
Don’t take a photo of the Japanese the way they would feel uncomfortable, as privacy is very important to them. If you want to make a detail of someone, ask the person first. Usually, younger people are quite open to it, on the other hand, older ones not as much. On the other hand, it is ok to make a photo of a group of people standing further from them without asking for permission.
➯ Read more: Top 10 most instagrammable places in Japan
9) Don’t show off your tattoos
Be careful with your tattoos! There are even places you are not allowed to come in with tattoos! This comes from a historical background when tattoos became the symbol of Japanese infamous mafia Yakuza. You can actually feel quite limited with your tattoo, especially when you wish to take the famous Japanese bath “onsen”. This is exactly one of the places where you will not be let in. If you still want to enjoy onsen even with a tattoo, try a private onsen at some of the Japanese traditional inns called “ryokans”, where nobody can see you. My recommendation for some cheaper options not far from Tokyo would be Hakone and this place. If you are willing to pay some extra money for a view over Mount Fuji, head to Fujikawaguchiko and try this one.
➯ Katie’s tip: Book a room via this link and get your 10% discount on Booking.com for your stay in hotels in Japan!
10) Don’t tip in shops and restaurants
Don’t tip as tipping in Japan might be considered as rude. By tipping, for the Japanese, you are basically saying the business is not good enough to pay their employees well, so you have to give them extra money. Again, save yourself and the others from an awkward situation.
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11) Don’t make special orders in restaurants
Don’t ask the waiter/waitress to make changes or modifications to set meals on the menu. It would be really confusing for them. Once you get your meal, you can just pick and put aside the items you don’t like.
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12) Don’t wear your shoes inside
Don’t forget to take off your shoes when entering someone’s house. Japan is not the only country where people take their shoes off indoors, but sometimes it can be quite a culture shock. The Japanese keep their houses clean and allow to sit on a tatami, on a floor directly or to lay down on a futon. On the other hand, if you are going to a toilet, you should use the special slippers prepared for you by the toilet door.
13) Don’t show off your blades
Be careful with your pocket knives, as knives regulations are pretty strict. On the other hand, blades smaller than 6 cm should be ok.
14) Don’t get crazy from all the rules
And one extra one. Don’t be nervous because of all the rules. For foreigners, the rules are not so strict and not that much really happens when you break some of them. The Japanese are used to foreigners acting a bit “silly” and not being aware of good manners. Just try to think on how your actions influence the people around you and do your best!
Let me hear from you
Great, thank you for reading all the way down through my 14 things not to do in Japan. It seems you have to be pretty serious about coming to Japan and quite considerate about not breaking any of the formal and informal rules. I really appreciate it. Japan is a special country and foreigners should be aware of that and behave accordingly. Are there any other things you think should not be missing on my list? Let me know in the comments section!
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