Tips for Responsible Travel in Japan
Today we are answering the question, “What are tips for responsible travel in Japan?”
In today’s video, we are going to talk about things you should know before visiting Japan, such as accepting the rules, noise, what to do with your trash, feet and shoes, queuing up, and taking pictures.
Tourism in Japan
Recently, there’s been a huge increase in tourism. In fact, when I first went to Japan in 1997, there were only about 4 million tourists a year. In 2013, the number of tourists reached 10 million. In 2019, that number jumped to 31 million. That’s a really large increase in a very short amount of time.
In addition, the Japanese government has set a goal to reach 60 million tourists by 2030.
This increase in tourism has led to cultural clashes between the local residents and tourists. So, here are some tips for responsible travel in Japan.
Tips for Responsible Travel in Japan
Accepting the Rules
Let’s start with rules. For a country almost half the population of the United States condensed into the size of Montana, it is clean and consistently one of the top 10 safest countries in the world.
Basically, if there’s a rule, then it should be followed. Don’t question the rule. Learn the rule and then follow it. That’s it!
Look for posted signs. There are posted signs all over Japan that explain the rules. For example, you’ll see posted signs telling you not to eat while walking, not to take pictures in certain areas, or not to sit on stairs.
If you see a sign, then that’s the rule. It supersedes anything anyone tells you. The signs are there to prevent confrontation. So, pay attention to the signs and follow their guidance.
Noise is a really big issue, especially on public transportation. In general, public transportation in Japan is very quiet, so people can relax during their commute.
When riding public transportation, including the bullet train, keep noise to a minimum. Keep your voices down while talking. Wear headphones when listening to music, watching videos, or playing video games.
When using your phone, turn all sound off. Make sure your ringer is turned off and that your phone doesn’t make any noise when touching the buttons. Keep in mind that even having the sound really low still isn’t acceptable.
The next topic is trash. During the World Cup in Russia and Qatar, Japanese fans hit headlines when seen cleaning the stands before leaving the games. The fans brought trash bags, picked up all their trash, and left the stands exactly the way they were before they arrived.
In Japan, everyone is expected pick up after themselves and carry their trash home. Or in the case of tourists, back to your hotel.
There are actually not a lot of public trash cans, so it’s best to plan ahead. If you carry out a Starbucks coffee, then you may have to carry that cup all day long.
Different Types of Trash
There are different types of trash and each needs to go in the proper container. For example, fast food restaurants, such as McDonald’s, Mos Burger, or Starbucks, have a funnel to dispose of liquid. You shouldn’t throw away your cup before pouring out the remaining liquid.
Many areas have a trash can for regular trash and a trash can for recycling. It’s important to only put recyclables in the recycling containers. For example, cans with a circle next to vending machines are only for plastic bottles and aluminum cans. You shouldn’t put regular trash, or your Starbucks cup you’ve been carrying all day, into these bins.
Feet and Shoes
The main thing to remember is that feet and shoes are dirty. Never put your feet on any place where somebody could sit. This includes putting your feet on a bench (inside or outside), propping your foot up on a bench to tie your shoe, or putting your feet on the train seat across from you.
Even small children need to take their shoes off before standing on a bench or train seat.
When you’re in the foyer of an entrance (i.e., at a temple, ryokan, restaurant), you may need to take off your shoes. Take your shoes off and step up onto the elevated platform with your socked feet. This is the clean area and shouldn’t be touched by shoes. Likewise, your socked feet shouldn’t touch the lower area once you take off your shoes.
If you are wearing slippers and you see tatami flooring, then you need to take off your slippers before stepping on the tatami flooring.
And when you go to the restroom, there will be toilet slippers. You need to take off your indoor slippers outside the restroom and then put on the toilet slippers. The toilet slippers should never leave the restroom!
Let’s talk about queuing up. Basically, you need to make a straight line when queuing up. Even though it may seem more natural to stand in a circle with friends or family, it’s important to stand in a single-file line when queuing up.
Also, one person cannot hold the place for a group of people. If someone’s holding your place, then you should both go to the back of the line.
It’s especially seen as rude for one person to hold the place for five or six people, because the other people standing in line may not have realized that there were an extra five or six people that they had to get behind. In general, it’s better for everyone to go to the back of the line.
Last is taking pictures. You’re on vacation and it’s understandable that you want to take a lot of pictures. Just keep in mind that according to Japanese law, you must get permission if you want to take someone’s picture.
With all this said, you will see people breaking the rules. They might be Japanese or foreign tourists.
However, we recommend following the rules to have the most positive, enjoyable experience. We promise that if you follow the rules, you’re going to be received by the Japanese people very warmly, and you’re going to have an amazing trip.
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This video was adapted from our 2018 Presentation at Japan Fest in Atlanta.