Japanese people are very understanding of other cultures and are always willing to help foreign tourists, especially when approached with a smile and a positive attitude. English can be difficult, so always speak slowly and clearly when trying to communicate.
Most importantly, remember to follow Japanese etiquette to avoid annoying your hosts. These rules should be strictly followed while traveling in Japan.
11 Japanese Etiquette Tips for Foreign Visitors
1. Following Rules
In general, Japanese people follow all the rules. If there is a rule, it is not questioned. For example, if the crosswalk is red and there isn’t a car in sight, you still have to wait. This is especially true in smaller towns and cities.
Another example is littering. There are not a lot of public trash cans. You are expected to carry your trash with you until you find a garbage can or get back to your hotel. It is looked down upon when foreign visitors break these basic rules.
2. Speaking Loudly
It is important to keep your voice down while speaking, especially on public transportation. Public transportation in Japan is generally very quiet. People talk in soft voices in order to not disturb fellow passengers.
Equally important is to not lose your cool. Japanese people do not react positively to yelling and being overly aggressive.
Photo by Jackson Boyle / CC BY-NC
3. Talking on the Phone
Talking on the phone while on public transportation is also bad Japanese manners. You must put your phone on silent mode and take calls after you exit the train or bus. You can use the phone for texting or surfing the internet, as long as it doesn’t make any noise. If you want to listen to music, you should wear headphones.
4. Standing in Line
In Japan, people stand in line for everything. Waiting for trains, restaurants, grand openings, etc. When you approach a line, take your place at the back. Do not cut in the line, even if your friend is holding your place further up. If you want to wait with your friend, you should both go to the back of the line.
Photo by Jose Oller / CC BY-NC-ND
5. Blowing Your Nose
It’s acceptable, according to Japanese etiquette, to sniff as much as you like, but do not blow your nose! It is considered rude to blow your nose in public. Wait until you reach a restroom before blowing your nose.
It is common to see people wearing surgical masks. There are several reasons for this. One, they may have hay fever or other allergies, and the mask keeps the allergens out. Two, they may have a cold and wear the mask to keep from spreading germs.
6. Wearing Shoes
Wear shoes that are comfortable to take on and off because you are going to be doing it a lot! Shoes must be taken off when entering a home, some restaurants, a ryokan, hot springs, changing rooms, schools, temples, and all tatami rooms.
If there is a foyer with slippers, then it’s a clear sign to take off your shoes. Simply leave your shoes by the door and put on the slippers provided. However, you must take off your slippers when entering a tatami room or toilet room. The toilet room usually has its own set of toilet slippers.
Shoes and feet are considered very dirty. Do not prop your feet up on a spare chair, train benches, or any place that is meant to be used as a seat or table.
Hot springs are very relaxing and an enjoyable cultural experience. Before entering the bathtub, you must undress completely and wash your body at the designated bathing area. Do not get into the water before washing your body! And don’t put your towel or hair into the bathtub.
Photo by Akuppa John Wigham / CC BY
Visitors to Japan are always worried about bowing, but it is not something the Japanese expect you to do. If someone bows to you, a slight nod of the head is sufficient. Most Japanese people will offer a handshake to foreigners in Japan.
9. Being on Time
Japan runs on the clock. The bullet trains are timed perfectly to arrive and depart within minutes of each other. Being late is not acceptable, even by just one minute. It is best to plan on being 10-15 minutes early for any appointment or reservation.
It is good etiquette in Japan to eat all the food on your plate. Even if you are at a buffet restaurant, you should only take enough food that you are actually going to eat. It is not polite to your host or the cook to leave food on your plate. If you leave food, you might get asked if there was something wrong with the food.
In Japan, restaurants do not offer doggy bags. You are expected to eat all the food on your plate, so there is no need to provide a container for leftovers.
11. Opening Gifts
Japanese people love to give gifts. Gifts are beautifully presented with elaborate wrappings. When you receive a gift, do not open it! Accept the gift, thank your host, and wait to open it until you get back to the hotel. However, if the Japanese person asks you to open it, then go ahead.
If you receive a gift, it is polite to offer a gift in exchange. When traveling to Japan, be sure to pack small, inexpensive items that you can give as gifts. Local souvenirs from your hometown, such as key chains, baseball hats, or specialty foods are a great way to show your appreciation to someone.
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Becki and Shawn
Japan Travel Specialists
Hi, we’re Becki and Shawn! We love Japan and are truly passionate about Japan and Japan travel.
We’ve lived, worked, and traveled in Japan for 20+ years, so we know where to go, what to see, and how to get there. Join us in Japan for an adventure of a lifetime!