The Japanese are extremely polite and welcoming, but many travelers going to Japan worry about accidentally offending them by saying or doing the wrong thing. The main thing you want to keep in mind is that the Japanese don’t expect you, as a traveler, to know all of their customs, but here are a few basic tips that will save you from a public correction or a few judgmental stares during your upcoming Sakura trip!
Bowing is one of Japan’s most well-known customs, and most travelers are aware that the Japanese bow when greeting one another. If you’re used to shaking hands when meeting people, it may be difficult to get used to bowing instead of shaking hands. But don’t worry: many of the Japanese are accustomed to shaking hands when meeting non-Japanese, so whether you bow or put out your hand to shake, in most cases you’ll be fine either way! Bowing is also used when thanking someone or apologizing. The deeper the bow, the more respectful!
Removing your shoes
If possible, we recommend traveling to Japan with shoes that slip on and off easily. Before entering a home, a ryokan (traditional Japanese inn), or any area with tatami matting, you will need to remove your shoes. Since you’ll be doing this a lot in Japan, it’s nice to have shoes that come on and off easily. Because of this, it’s also a good idea to make sure your socks match (and don’t have any holes in them). Book for the much-boasted ryokan experience with our partner UOB Travel! Quote “Yogofi” to enjoy 8% off your accommodation of choice. Enquire today.
During your travels in Japan, at places such as ryokan and izakaya (Japanese gastropubs), you may notice that there are slippers provided especially for use in the bathroom. When you enter the bathroom, leave your non-bathroom slippers outside of the bathroom, and switch to the bathroom slippers. The part where many non-Japanese commit an accidental faux pas is by forgetting to switch back to non-bathroom slippers upon leaving the bathroom. Do your best to avoid this slip-up, otherwise you may be greeted by (friendly) laughter upon returning to the table still wearing bathroom slippers!
In Japan, money is rarely passed directly from hand to hand. When purchasing an item or service – rather than handing your money to the cashier – place your payment (whether cash or credit) on the small tray provided. This is where your change will be placed as well. This practice is prevalent in Japan, and you’ll see it in hotels, restaurants, taxis, convenience stores, cafes, bathhouses, train stations, and even at the local Starbucks!
Even if you consider yourself a chopsticks expert, you might not be aware of some important chopsticks etiquette. While much of this is common sense, some might surprise you:
Never point your chopsticks at another person, wave them in the air, or spear food with them!
Don’t stick your chopsticks into a bowl of rice, as this is reminiscent of a funeral rite.
Don’t pass food from chopsticks to chopsticks, as this too is reminiscent of a funeral rite.
When serving yourself from a communal dish, use the opposite end of your chopsticks (not the end you put in your mouth!) to serve yourself.
As long as you act kindly and with respect, you’ll fit right in – even if you do make an etiquette mistake (or two) once in a while!
This one is a big taboo! It is an important part of Japanese manners to keep their mobile phone on silent mode at all times. If a ringtone is heard inside a train carriage, it may cause some annoyance. As part of the Japanese culture, it is also not appropriate to communicate on the mobile phone at certain locations like airport lounges, while queuing up and walking. There are posters and announcements to constantly remind passengers to mind their mobile phone manners to maintain the harmony and safety in Japan!
Pocket Wifi in Japan
This brings us to the next point, in order to communicate, texting is not a problem! As long as you have a portable wifi, you can use social communications apps such as WhatsApp, Telegram or The Line to communicate with each other in Japan. The Yogofi travel wifi offers unlimited data, up to 15 hours battery life and coverage in 100+ countries. Great device to bring along when you travel in groups or with multiple mobile devices as you can share the wifi.