Know Before You Go: Japan
Japan is one of my favorite places to visit (note: I’m probably biased as I’m part Japanese and have family over there). If you’re new to Japan make sure you get a little familiar before you go in order to avoid any embarrassment or misunderstandings. I’ve put together a quick list of what to know before you go to Japan:
You don’t tip in Japan. Seriously. Not for restaurants, bar tenders, nail technicians, taxi drivers….nope. Trying to leave a tip on the table/bar might very well result in you being chased down in order to hand you back the money you forgot. Just know that it’s not rude to not tip, keep the extra yen in your wallet and be on your way!
You will take them off so make sure your socks are fresh. When entering a home, certain restaurants/businesses or art galleries you are expected to remove your shoes. Ladies, if you’re wearing flats and don’t want to go barefoot get some no-show liners or pack some socks in your purse.
EATING & DRINKING
While some of the older generations are appalled by eating on the street (hi, Grandma!) you’ll see it more frequently near food stalls. Seriously, my Grandma was horrified on our trip this spring to see a group of young Japanese standing in the alley in Machida, eating yakitori. While some attitudes are changing, eating and drinking on public transportation should be avoided. Don’t know how to use chopsticks? Learn now, please. Please. And DON’T BE THE PERSON who stabs their food with one chopstick and/or complains, loudly and in English, that they don’t have a fork. I’ve seen both in action and both are totally cringe worthy. Last note on chopsticks: don’t stick them straight up in your food! This is poor form in a lot of Asian countries and should be avoided. What’s even more unusual (and not rude) for our Western sensibilities is the slurping of noodles and holding of bowls up to one’s face when eating – totally cool in Japan.
This one is a bit personal for me! Tattoos have a somewhat negative connotation in Japan (here’s a good article on why) so don’t be surprised if you get some side eye, especially from older Japanese. Also don’t expect to be allowed into most public onsen (hot springs) with your tattoos. If you’re wishing for a hot spring soak you’re better off booking a private onsen or doing research into some that are more accommodating to Western travelers (and their tattoos). I’m heavily tattooed and haven’t really ever had any major issues, however I’ve also been conscious of my surroundings and have covered up when I felt it would be appropriate.
BEING IN PUBLIC
Rudeness is a no-no in Japan, and a lot of common things for the US are considered rude! Don’t talk loudly, either in person or on the phone, when you’re out and about. Follow everyone else when taking the escalator and either stand on the left or keep it moving (quickly) on the right. Don’t loudly blow your nose in public or light up outside of a designated area, even on the street. Finally, this will be repeated in a lot of my travel writing, but don’t treat locals like they’re there for your amusement. Don’t take photos of people without their permission, don’t point/gawk/loudly speak about someone, don’t mock or belittle the way anyone speaks/acts…basically don’t be a jerk. Japan is not a zoo; their customs are different than a lot of other countries and you should enjoy it, respectfully.
These small things might seem shocking if you’re unprepared for your first trip to Japan so make sure you go in the know! Remember that it’s also good to check on what apps you’re planning to use abroad – you can read about my recommended apps in this post. If you’re looking for a place to stay I’d recommend Machida – check out my reasons why here. I’d love to know what you found the most surprising on your first trip to Japan, make sure to comment and let me know!