Japan’s rich culture fuses innovation with thousands of years of tradition, making it a diverse and intriguing country to experience as a visitor. However, respecting tradition means guests need to keep some (often surprising!) things in mind. Especially around etiquette in Japan, the cultural differences between the US and Japan can stir quite an adventure. So while planning your trip to the Summer Games in Tokyo here are some Japanese etiquette tips to learn about and explore:
Cash is still king. Yes, credit cards are accepted widely (including in cabs!) but cash is preferred for small transactions. When you pay for something with cash, put your bills in the little tray at the register instead of handing money directly to the shopkeeper. This keeps the coins from falling on the counter during the exchange.
Smoking on the streets is forbidden. If you want to smoke, go to a designated smoking area, usually located next to a store or train station. However, some restaurants (and rail cars!) still allow smoking.
Trash cans can be hard to find. Tokyo is incredibly clean but there are very few waste bins to be found in public places. Carry a small plastic bag with you and dispose of all of your garbage when you get a chance. Bring a refillable water bottle with you to cut down on waste.
When you’re getting around Tokyo…
- Take a business card from the hotel with the address in Japanese. This way, there will be no miscommunication when you are hailing a taxi. It also helps if you need to ask for directions!
- Don’t touch taxi doors. The locks are automatic and your driver will open and close the door for you.
- Don’t talk on trains (or keep it quiet). Japanese culture is very respectful of personal space and speaking loudly on a train is considered invasive to your fellow travellers. While American culture may be more friendly on public transportation, Japanese mannerisms are different.
- Don’t forget — some trains in Tokyo will stop running at 2am. Schedules will be available closer to the event date.
When you’re dining…
- Don’t tip. Tipping, unlike the United States where it is seen as an appreciation of good service and a minimum wage boost, is not part of the Japanese culture and may offend your server, as if belittling their employee salary.
- Don’t pour your own drink. Pour for those around you and wait for someone to do yours. This cultural difference is harder than it seems!
- Don’t park your chopsticks in the rice. Rice is often served for the table so spoon it onto your plate (but don’t leave your chopsticks in it).
- Do slurp your noodles. This behaviour is accepted… and expected! Tokyo has some of the best ramen restaurants in the world so don’t feel embarrassed about slurping your way through the city.
When you’re shopping…
- In Japan you may be asked to take off your shoes when entering a store or changing area. This is common in Japanese households and also in some stores. One cultural difference that some Americans might already practice in their own homes or when visiting other peoples homes.
- If you’re a female trying on shirts, you may be given a face cover. Don’t worry, it’s not personal. Stores are just trying to avoid getting make-up on clothes.
- The Ginza district is home to several upscale department stores featuring rooftop gardens, art exhibitions, and fine dining. Mitsukoshi, one of the largest with origins dating back to 1673, features two floors of restaurants and an entire floor dedicated to duty-free shopping, making shipping incredible souvenirs home incredibly easy!