Updated: Jul 13
Japan is a dynamic country with a perfect mix of deep rooted culture and new modern trends. It can be very overwhelming to visit this country as a tourist because there are so many layers to understand in this culture. Things that are common in other countries are disrespectful (ie #1 below) and vice versa (ie #4 below). I quickly picked up on a lot of important details that will help you be a knowledgeable and respectful tourist in Japan. Read more below!
Related Post: Tokyo, Japan City Guide
1. Tipping in Japan
Tipping is not required or expected in Japan. In fact, it can be considered rude to tip (who knew!). The service industry is paid well by their employer so tipping is not required. Some nicer restaurants will add a small surcharge to the bill while others don't expect it at all.
2. Keep to the Left
When it doubt, keep to the left. This goes for driving, walking, and riding on an escalator in the subway. This large city might feel similar to NYC, but this is the biggest difference (in my opinion). I was amazed by the order of each and every pedestrian in Tokyo - it was almost as if there was a law forbidding you to walk on the right side. When riding the metro, people would queue up in order to stand on the left side rather than stand on the right side.
3. No Shoes Inside
You may be required to take your shoes off before entering a temple, house, or restaurant. Shoes are considered dirty and disrespectful. Some places will offer you slippers to wear while others will have you stay barefoot. Respect their wishes and follow the guidance from the locals.
Slurping is a sign of respect. You are more than welcome to slurp your noodles while in a restaurant to show your appreciation. Also, don't be disgusted if you hear others around you doing it too... it's normal.
The national currency of Japan is the yen (JPY). Check current conversions here - usually about 1,000 yen is $9USD. Carry cash because some places will not accept credit cards.
6. The Toilets are Intense
I was shocked when I used my first toilet in Japan. There were about 100 buttons of different settings and options (of course none were explained in English so I really had no idea what I was doing). You'll find that some bathrooms have the option to play music for privacy, to heat my seat, act as a bidet, or more. It's quite intriguing.
7. Squat Toilet
On the other hand, there are some toilets that are still "eastern" - ie: a hole in the ground. This is typically found in rural areas. I saw far more in China than I did in Japan, but either way, be prepared to squat to use the restroom.
8. Public Transportation is very Sufficient
The public transportation system is amazing in Japan. There are over 2,000 stations in Tokyo alone! It can certainly be overwhelming as a tourist so download the map in advance and study up on which stops are near the best attractions.
PS: It's also considered rude to talk on a phone or eat food while riding the metro in Japan. You'll notice very few locals doing this (although you will see locals falling asleep on someone else's shoulder and magically waking up exactly in time for their stop)!!
9. Convenience Stores are... convenient!
Go figure! :) There are Convenience Stores on every corner in Tokyo (similar to all urban Asian cities). The 3 most popular are 7-Eleven, Family Mart, and Lawson. You can find essentially anything you need in these stores - snacks, water, clothes, medical supplies, etc.
10. Cover Your Tattoos
Japanese culture tends to view tattoos as a direct association with criminal gangs. You won't see any locals with (visible) tattoos and it is recommended for tourists to cover theirs as well.
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Related Post: Tokyo, Japan City Guide
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