Learn With Nippon Hippo

What (Not) To Do In Japan

Live In Japan | 10 Minutes Read
Written by : Aliza
13 August 2021

People in Japan are known for being very humble and friendly with foreigners. They welcome foreigners into their country and culture wholeheartedly but their culture may overwhelm people from all over the world. The country has rules and social norms unlike any other which can confuse foreigners at first. We realise that you may not be familiar with these social norms and etiquettes, which is why we have listed out a few that could help.

We will be very happy if you can spend a few minutes to finish the whole blog and share it out with people that you think will need this. 😉

If you’re moving to Japan soon(or even planning a visit) here are some things that you should absolutely avoid doing.

1. No Shoes Inside

It might come as a surprise to you that Japanese people follow strict cleanliness rules both at public and private spaces. It is common for Asians households to have a ‘no shoes inside the house’ rule.

However, in Japan many semi-public places such as workplaces, restaurants, schools and hotels also follow the ‘no shoes inside’ rule, requiring people to change into separate indoor slippers. Some restaurants in Japan - called izakaya - have tatami mat flooring and shoe lockers placed outside the restaurants for visitors to remove their shoes before entering.

Here’s a small tip: If you see shoes lined up outside a place, make sure you remove your shoes before entering. Don't worry, there will be separate slippers that will be given to you inside!

2. No Skipping Queue

Japanese people are known for being punctual and following the rules. They respect each other’s time and expect others to do the same. This is why you can see Japanese people in queues patiently waiting for their turn at restaurants, bus stops, and train stations. It is safe to say that Japanese people love to line up, which is why most places in Japan usually have a specified area for people to queue at.

Here’s a small tip: At train stations, look for lines or people waiting in queues and join them. Once the train arrives, wait for people to leave the train first before entering through the queue. Don't ever cut between lineups.

3. Don't Do These In Public Spaces

Every country has its own social norms. These norms are usually made through years of repeated habitual behavior. They act as unspoken rules embedded in people’s minds, ruling particular behaviors as appropriate or inappropriate in public spaces. Well, in Japan’s case, there are more than a few.

Avoid Eating On The Go
You may think it's normal to grab a hotdog burger and eat it on your way to the office. In Japan, eating or drinking on the go is labelled as ‘bad manners’ - especially on the public transport.

Speak Softly In Public Transports
Speaking of public transport, Japanese people love to take naps, catch up on reading or playing games during the commute. Talking too loudly or laughing out is considered as rude on public transport as it often disturbs other passengers. Make sure you keep your phone or physical conversations short and low.

Don't Blow Your Nose In Public
Next, you must remember that blowing your nose in public is regarded as ‘unhealthy’ in Japan. People usually wear masks when they have a cold or fever and find public washrooms to blow their noses and clean up in order to protect others around from germs and infections.

Don't Open Taxi Doors
Lastly (well, not really the last😋) avoid trying to open taxi doors. Thanks to the technological advancement in Japan, taxis in Japan have automatic back doors that are controlled by the taxi drivers. Many foreigners in Japan don't know that and may try to pull the back door.

If you need a taxi, wave and wait for one to stop. Then wait for the driver to open the door instead of pulling on the door. After you reach your location, pay and wait for the driver to open the door again.

4. Don't Ignore The Restaurant Rules

Japanese restaurant etiquettes are different from any other country in the world. Have you heard of the chopstick rules? If not, start taking notes.

- Don't stick your chopsticks vertically in rice bowls. It reflects a funeral ritual.
- Put away your chopsticks in the holder on the table when you’re done eating.
- Don't use chopsticks to pass food, make sure you put it on a plate before eating it.
- Rubbing chopsticks is considered rude.

Tipping the waiter at a restaurant is mandatory in most countries. In Japan, there is no tipping culture as giving tips is considered an insult. Not just at restaurants, the same norm applies everywhere in Japan.

5. Don't Instantly Pocket Business Cards

For doing business in Japan and even for just networking, exchange of business cards is very important for Japanese people. Receiving and giving out business cards is done in a respectful manner as it signifies building relationships.

While giving a business card, make sure to bow first and use both hands to pass the card to the receiving person. Afterwards, give a short introduction of yourself by stating your name, company name and intentions. When receiving a business card, make sure you receive the card with both hands and look through it for sometime before putting it away. Don’t ever keep the business card in your back pocket as it is considered as a sign of disrespect.

6. No Public Displays Of Affection (PDA)

While PDA may be completely normal in some countries, it is widely avoided in Japan. While holding hands is common, you will rarely see people hugging or kissing in public. It is advised for foreigners who are visiting or living in Japan to avoid PDA as much as possible as it could make Japanese people feel uncomfortable.

Every country has some unique cultural norms and rules that they are proud of following. Think about your own home country and your cultural norms. Wouldn't you want other people visiting your country to respect and follow them too? Knowing and remembering these small unspoken rules can take you a long way in Japan!