In Japan there are many unobvious faux pas, and due to the non-direct culture, there’s a high chance you will not be corrected. From hygiene to general etiquette, it is crucial to adhere and respect any countries behavioural norms – especially in the midst our current climate.

So, whether you’ve lived in Japan for a number of years or are a tourist visiting for the first time, don’t worry. Here are some of the ‘don’ts’ below! Please note, many people break or slip out of these unwritten rules from time to time, even Japanese people. However, to avoid drawing more attention to yourself these tips will really help you out.

1. Don’t Tip

So, you’ve just finished an amazing meal and want to show your gratitude. What do you do? Nothing. Yes, in western society a tip is almost guaranteed to compliment superb service however in Japan it’s believed that top notch service should always be provided.

As a result, a tip is more of an insult. Not only can it be seen as measuring an individual’s service but also leaves the waiter feeling very awkward and they will definitely not accept your money.

Also, when paying at a restaurant or izakaya (Japanese bar) make sure to have cash as many places in Japan still do not accept credit cards.

2. Don’t Use Chopsticks Incorrectly

Take care when using chopsticks. Whether you’re a pro or can barely pick something up without dropping it you should pay close attention to how everyone is using chopsticks around you. It’s a big no-no to leave your chopsticks standing upright in rice. Not only does it look unpleasant it mimics a Japanese gravestone!

Secondly, never pass food chopstick-to-chopstick as it’s seen as re-enacting a Japanese burial – passing the of bones of deceased relatives. Now that isn’t something you want to remind people of while eating a delicious meal!

3. Don’t Wear Shoes Inside

When entering someone’s house, an onsen (baths) or a restaurant with distinct wooden flooring, it’s a must to take off your shoes.

Shoes have been traipsing the streets carrying who knows what. It’s seen as rude and also unhygienic to bring this with you into what is seen as a pure space. Socks count too, make sure they’re in pristine condition otherwise it’s best to take those off.

4. Don’t Forget your Mask

Right now, with the coronavirus pandemic it’s generally a faux pas if you fail to wear a mask anywhere in the world. However, Japan instilled this rule way before this era. If you have the slightest sniffle or sign of a cold you must wear a mask to show good etiquette and your concern for others to not catch your germs.

5. Don’t Blow your Nose in Public

Sniffing is okay. Sniff as much as you like. However as soon as you take the next step to blow with a tissue, you’re making everyone witness a private matter. Sniffing is seen as polite when you’re trying not to blow your nose. It’s also seen as very unhygienic so make sure you’re blowing your nose in the bathroom.

6. Don’t Say ‘Bless You’ When Someone Sneezes

In western culture if someone sneezes – a colleague, a friend, or even a stranger – it’s perfectly normal and has been ingrained in us to say a casual ‘Bless you!’. A polite gesture to tell someone to take care. In Japan, after a few incidents you learn to say nothing. You should ignore that someone has sneezed as to not point any attention or embarrassment to the person.

7. Don’t Speak on the Phone or Eat on the Train

Train etiquette in Japan is one of the first things I noticed. The train is a very eerie, quiet place even during morning rush hour. It’s silent, which is why it’s so important to be respectful on your train journeys. Try to avoid talking on the phone – if you have a call, it can wait! Or if it’s seriously urgent you usually see people edging towards the carriage door to answer, they have their hand covering their mouth and will swiftly get off at the next stop.

As well as using your phone, you cannot eat on the train. No matter how hungry you may be eating is socially unacceptable. You’ll have to suffer in silence until your final destination.

8. Don’t Make Your Tattoos Visible

Tattoos are off the cards in Japan. Mainly because of having a large association with the infamous Japanese gang, the Yakuza. Tattoos have only recently become more accepted, and as of 2020 tattooists no longer need a medical license for their craft. However, tattoos are still prohibited in many public places such as onsens and gyms. If you do have tattoos these will need to be covered.

The same goes for piercings and dyed hair!

9. Don’t PDA and no Hugging or Kissing in Public

Although it may be completely normal to publicly kiss or touch your partner in your country, this is not a thing in Japan. You may want to kiss your other half, but you’ll need to wait until you get home. Holding hands is usually as far as it goes on this stance. Even shaking hands in a formal manner doesn’t happen – the standard custom in Japan is to bow.

10. Do Enjoy Your Stay

Remember that you will not be arrested for failing to follow these guidelines. Showing respect in any foreign country is important and anyone would agree that the differences are interesting, right? If you take note of some of these customs, you’ll be able to blend in. Good luck!