Japanese Etiquette

The Japanese are famous for being warm, polite and always on time! They are also incredibly welcoming to travellers, but you will need to know your chopstick rules from your slipper etiquette to ensure you have a hassle-free trip. Here are a few handy tips to help you get around Tokyo without making any faux-pas towards the locals.

Eating with chopsticks

The main rules on chopsticks are as follows: don’t leave chopsticks standing upright in a bowl, and don’t use them to pass food directly to another person’s chopsticks. Also, it is best to avoid doing anything that might look like you are ‘playing’ with your chopsticks. Knives and forks are sometimes available on request - but are not commonly used across Japan.

Taking off your shoes

A lot of rules regarding indoor manners in Japan are related to footwear. These rules not only apply to most Japanese homes, but also to many traditional ryokan, some restaurants and the indoor sections of historic buildings.
You should take your shoes off and line them up at the edge of the lower side of the floor, but if there is a kutsubako (shoe box) or locker available then leave your shoes there. Slippers may sometimes be provided for you, however even these must be removed when entering a room floored with tatami matting.

Bathroom Slippers

Slippers are provided outside most bathrooms, toilets and some restaurants. A tip is to wear slip on shoes or shoes that are easy to take on and off. It’ll help you ease into the Japanese way quicker!

When you enter, leave your own shoes outside and switch to the bathroom slippers. These are only for use within the bathroom so be sure to change back to your own shoes before you leave.

Bowing

Bowing is considered a sign of respect and is one of Japan’s most well-known customs. When greeting one another, people bow instead of shaking hands. The deeper the bow, the more respectful it is. Bowing is also used when thanking or apologising to someone.

Passing Money

Money is very rarely passed directly from hand to hand in Japan. When paying for any item or service, place your money on the small tray provided rather than handing it to the cashier. This is where your change will also be placed.

If you have to hand anything of value directly to someone (such as a credit card), clutch the item with both hands and deliver with it a subtle nod. It shows that both parties are exchanging something of value and they respect both the item and each other enough to entrust it to the other.

Tipping

It is considered rude and a little insulting to tip in Japan. If you do leave a tip, be prepared for it to be handed back to you. The only exception to this rule is if you are staying in a very high class ‘Ryokan’ (a traditional Japanese Inn). At a Ryokan, tipping etiquette is to leave a small tip in an envelope and to never give the tip directly.

Aside from this, hotel staff in Japan will not expect you to tip and are trained to say "no thank you" if you offer.