26 Things You Should Not Do in Japan

Japanese people are known for being well-mannered and Japan’s society as a whole is famous for its etiquette, high-level of customer service, and polite people. But while Japanese people are non-confrontational, there are a set of “unwritten rules” that people expect you to follow. These rules are considered common sense and one of the reasons why society lives in peaceful harmony. For first-time travelers to Japan, there are certain mistakes that can easily be made which can impact the overall experience. 

These mistakes can range from minor faux pas to major cultural blunders that could offend the locals. So, whether you’re planning your first trip to Japan or you’re a seasoned traveler, let’s learn 26 things you should not do in Japan.

1. 食べ歩き (tabearuki): Don’t Eat While Walking

You may be used to grabbing a sandwich on the go or quickly grabbing a slice of toast to eat on your commute to work or school. You may have even seen scenes depicting such in anime. However, in Japan, it’s not common. In fact, it’s frowned upon. 

Eating while you walk should be avoided particularly in busy areas, such as the train station or congested streets. You can slow down the traffic of people and you also might leave a trail of crumbs in your wake. Perhaps the most important reason to not eat and walk is because it does not give you the chance to savor and appreciate the food which can be interpreted as disrespectful.

So you may wonder, what about street food? Even for street food, it is best to stop and eat on the side of the street. Some popular places for food stalls, like Asakusa, have designated areas for you to step to the side and eat. While some food markets and theme parks allow tabearuki, you should generally find a designated eat-in space in Japan.

2. Talk Loudly on Public Transport

The trains in Japan are as quiet as libraries. People tend to speak in hushed voices while on the train or bus. This is because the trains can get quite packed. Imagine if everyone started having a conversation on a packed train, it would get very loud, very quickly, which could be uncomfortable and so there is this unwritten rule. Another reason is that people are usually tired after a long day of work and sometimes fall asleep on the train. So, it’s respectful to those people to be quiet and keep their voices down.

3. Take Phone Calls on the Train or in Quiet Cafes

Another thing you will almost never see is someone taking a phone call on the train. If they do, in a quiet voice they let the other person know they are on the train and the conversation ends there. In quiet cafes too, people step out of the cafe for a phone call out of respect to other customers who might be working or studying. 

You will usually gear in train announcements to put your phone on silent, or マナーモード (manaa modo).

4. Don’t Eat on the Train

The third thing you shouldn’t do on the train is eat. Again this is because trains can get busy and cramped. Furthermore, the trains in Japan are very clean and there is always the potential of spilling something or leaving bits of food behind. The exception to this rule is on the shinkansen (bullet trains) where it is acceptable and there are even eki-bens (short for train station bentos.)  

5. Don’t Tip

No matter how good the service, never tip in Japan. If you tip, it can result in more inconvenience for the waiter as they chase after you to return your money. It is not common here in Japan, and often due to company policy, they cannot accept your tip. Only if you find a jar labeled “tip jar” can you tip, otherwise it is a no-go.  

6. Don’t Jaywalk

Do not jaywalk in Japan, especially in busy areas with lots of traffic. Not only is it unsafe, it is also illegal and the police can stop you for it. Try to find a crossing when you can. 

7. Stick Your Chopsticks Upwards in Your Rice

Much like how there are table manners, there are also chopstick manners. One of these is to not stick your chopsticks upright in a bowl of rice because that is reserved for funerals. Furthermore, if serving your own rice in a Japanese home, don’t pile it up like a mountain because it resembles a grave, instead, you can ask for a refill. 

8. Don’t Wear Your Shoes Inside

Inside all Japanese homes is a little area called the genkan (玄関) where there is a little step up into the house. This is where you are supposed to take off your shoes to keep the home clean from dirt outside. Some restaurants and even medical clinics, like dentists, have genkans too. Look out for a little step up or a distinct separation in the flooring, this usually indicates that you need to take your shoes off. Sometimes there will be slippers for you to change into – a big hint to remove your shoes. Once you have removed your shoes, place them neatly to the side and turn them so they are facing the door – these are excellent Japanese manners!

9. Forget Your Handkerchief

A lot of bathrooms in public places do not have hand towels or hand dryers. Instead, many people carry around a small handkerchief to dry their hands – it’s also very eco-friendly! You can find these handkerchiefs at stores around Japan, especially omiyage (souvenir) stores. 

10. Only Carry a Credit Card

Don’t make the mistake of only going out with your card, be sure to bring some cash with you too. A lot of places, like restaurants and medical clinics, still don’t accept credit cards — especially for older establishments.

While most stores in Japan now have adopted cashless or digital payment, remember that you will still need to charge your prepaid IC card with cash if you’re ging to be train hopping a lot! Be sure to carry around enough cash for what you plan to do on the day or look up where you are going in advance to see if they accept cashless payment. 

11. Not Shower Before Onsen 

Before sinking into the relaxing hot bath, make sure you shower down with soap in the dedicated shower areas at Onsens. Most facilities provide great soap, shampoo and conditioners. The more expensive the onsen, the higher quality the soaps, so make the most of it!

12. Miss the Last Train

Trains in Japan don’t run in the middle of the night, even in the city. Before you stay out too late, always check the time of the last train on Google Maps. Otherwise, you may find yourself spending the whole night at karaoke! 

13. Don’t Pick Flowers

Japan has some beautiful flowers and fantastic parks to view in. Although it may be tempting, don’t pick the flowers. Instead, take a pretty photo to commemorate the experience. If you want flowers, there are many flower shops all over Japan. Some even sell Sakura, so you can always consider this as an option if you want to take a particular photo or video. 

14. Smoke on the Streets

In Japan, there are dedicated smoking areas. Smoking on the streets and in public spaces isn’t allowed but smoking areas are never too hard to find, especially in the city. 

One thing that you might be able to do is actually drink in public! Japanese laws on this matter are pretty relaxed, so even though it might be frowned upon, you’re able to consume alcohol in parks and public places. In fact, it’s a fun tradition to drink a can of beer while enjoying the cherry blossoms!

15. Don’t Leave Your Garbage Behind

You may see a lot of signs in public spaces and parks reminding people to take their garbage home. There are not many public bins in Japan, so it can be a good idea to carry around a plastic bag with you to collect your trash. Then once you get home, you can separate it accordingly and dispose of it correctly. This is how the streets in Japan stay so clean. 

16. Don’t Wear Room Slippers to the Toilet

You’ll notice that in some restaurants, hotels and onsens, places where you have to take your shoes off, there are slippers in the bathroom. These are special bathroom slippers or toilet slippers. Before you enter the bathroom, take off your room slippers and put on the toilet slippers to keep the areas clean and separate.

17. Don’t Open the Taxi Door Manually

In almost all taxis in Japan, the door that opens at the back, opposite to the driver, opens automatically. If you try to force it open manually, it could break or make for a rather disgruntled taxi driver. If you are sitting in the back, always wait for the taxi driver to open the door. 

18. Face the Wrong Way on the Squat Toilet

While Japan is known for its smart toilets, did you know that some places still use the squat toilet? For those that aren’t used to squat toilets, facing the wrong way is an easy mistake to make but can have dire consequences. When using a squat toilet, squat with your feet flat on the ground for good posture and face the flush lever, usually away from the door. 

19. Don’t forget that this kanji 流す means flush

Speaking of bathroom etiquette, many bathrooms in Japan actually remove the manual lever to flush the toilet once they have installed the bidet. But the bidet has so many buttons! And if you do not know which one is flush it can leave you in a pickle. So it’s good to remember that this kanji, 流す, (nagasu) means flush. You can also look for the small 小 and big 大 kanji for a small and big flush. 

20. Don’t Pour Your Drink Before Others

If you eat with Japanese friends or co-workers, always fill up their drinks for them first. They will really appreciate this and may be quite surprised as it is a very well-mannered thing to do in Japan. 

21. Don’t Eat Without Saying Itadakimasu or Gochisousama Deshita

Before people eat in Japan, they bring the palms of their hands together and say itadakimasu as a way to say thank you for the food to the person that made or bought it. When they have finished the food they say gochisousama deshita to say thank you again and it lets everyone know they have finished. Don’t forget these two phrases when you eat in Japan!

Did you also know that in Japan, it is also common to say itadakimasu before taking a bath in someone else’s house? 

22. Don’t Turn up at Someone’s Home Without Omiyage

Japanese people love omiyage (souvenirs), this is evident just from the number of stores at train stations, airports, and tourist destinations dedicated to omiyage. Omiyage isn’t just given when someone travels but also on many other occasions. One of them is when you visit someone’s home. Often when visiting a Japanese person’s home they clean up before you arrive and sometimes prepare tea and snacks. To thank them in advance for their hospitality, people arrive with omiyage, which is sometimes tea and often food. Food is always a good option if in doubt.  

23. Don’t Enter Someone’s Home Without Saying Ojamashimasu 

Ojamashimasu, literally means I’m sorry to intrude, but can also be translated as thank you for the invitation, and it is often what you say as you step into someone’s home, when you enter from the genkan into their living space. 

24. Not Wash Your Hands Before Praying at a Shrine or Temple

Before you pray at a shrine, you should wash your hands at the designated basin. This area is called the chozu-ya, temizu-ya, or temizu-sha, depending on the shrine. The reason why people wash their hands beforehand is to purify their minds and body before praying to the kami (gods). First, pick the ladle up with your right hand and wash your left, then with the ladle in your left hand wash your right hand. Some people also pour water onto their left hand and wash their mouth but don’t drink it! Others just bring the water toward their mouth and then let it go. Just washing your hands is okay too.  

25. Don’t Walk Down the Center of the Path When Entering a Shrine

When you visit a shrine, you may find that people are either walking to the left or the right of the path and leaving the center free. This is because the middle of the path is reserved for the kami (gods).  

We hope this list helps you in Japan. Were you surprised by anything on the list or do you have anything to add? Let us know in the comments.  

26. Don’t Point Fingers in Japan

Pointing fingers directly at someone is considered impolite in Japan due to its confrontational and disrespectful nature, as it singles out individuals and can cause discomfort. Japanese culture emphasizes indirect communication and maintaining harmony, favoring non-verbal cues and subtle gestures instead. These cultural norms discourage pointing fingers as a means to avoid confrontation and preserve social relationships.

Want to learn Japanese? Contact Coto Academy for a free level check!

Coto Academy offers fun, relaxed Japanese language classes for learners from all levels. Our schools are located in Tokyo (Shibuya and Iidabashi), Yokohama, and online. If you would like to learn in a small class, contact. our coordinators for free consultation!

FAQ

Why is it rude to point fingers in Japan?

Pointing fingers directly at someone is considered impolite in Japan due to its confrontational and disrespectful nature, as it singles out individuals and can cause discomfort.

Can you kiss in public in Japan?

Public displays of affection are not common in Japan. You can kiss but it might be best to keep it light and brief to not draw attention. 

Is it rude to finish your plate in Japan?

Not at all! Actually, it is considered polite to eat all of your food in Japan.  

Why do Japanese people slurp their noodles?

Japanese people often slurp noodles as a cultural practice and to enhance the dining experience. Additionally, slurping is a way to express appreciation to the chef and show enjoyment of the meal. It is considered acceptable and even encouraged in many Japanese noodle establishments.

  


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