10 Things You Should Avoid Doing When Visiting Japan


Konnichiwa! Welcome to this blog post where we’re going to dive into the top ten things you should avoid doing when visiting Japan. Exploring a new country is an exciting adventure, but it’s essential to be aware of cultural customs and norms to ensure a smooth and respectful experience. So, let’s take a look at what to do, or in this case what NOT to do, as we explore these important cultural guidelines!

trip to japan

Planning a trip to Japan?

1. Don’t Talk on Your Mobile Phone on the Train or Subway

All aboard! When it comes to public transportation in Japan, it’s crucial to be mindful of your fellow passengers. Engaging in loud phone conversations on trains or subways is generally frowned upon. Instead, enjoy the ride quietly or use text messaging if necessary. This way, you can appreciate the peaceful ambiance and respect the space of others.

Quiet on a Train
Skyscanner Japan

2. Don’t Tip

Calling all travelers from countries where tipping is the norm! In Japan, tipping is not customary. When you receive excellent service, instead of reaching for your wallet, express your gratitude with a sincere “arigatou gozaimasu” (thank you very much). Rest assured, you’ll still receive exceptional service, as it’s deeply ingrained in Japanese culture.

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3. Don’t Wear Shoes Indoors

It’s time to slip out of those shoes! When entering homes, traditional establishments, or places with specific signs, it’s customary to remove your shoes. Look for shoe racks or designated areas to store your footwear. By embracing this shoe etiquette, you’ll not only keep spaces clean but also show respect for Japanese customs.

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4. Don’t Pass Food from One Person to the Next Using Chopsticks

Let’s have a taste of Japanese cuisine! When dining with others, it’s common to share various dishes. However, remember not to pass food from one pair of chopsticks (or ohashi) to another. This action is reminiscent of a funeral ritual, where the bones of the deceased are passed using chopsticks. Instead, place the shared food onto the recipient’s plate and let them pick it up themselves.

Airhub Japan

5. Don’t Show Tattoos at an Onsen

Time to unwind at the onsen, Japan’s relaxing hot springs! If you have tattoos, be mindful that they might be seen as a sign of association with organized crime. To avoid discomfort, it’s best to cover your tattoos with waterproof bandages or opt for private onsen facilities. This way, you can enjoy the soothing hot springs without any concerns.

6. Don’t Enter an Onsen Without Washing

Before you dive into that rejuvenating onsen experience, there’s a crucial step to follow. It’s customary to wash thoroughly before entering the communal baths. Use the provided showers and stools to cleanse yourself, ensuring that you enter the hot springs with a clean body. By adhering to this tradition, you’ll be in harmony with the onsen culture.


7. Don’t Stick Your Chopsticks Upright in Food

While chopsticks are a staple utensil in Japan, there’s one action to avoid: sticking them upright in your food. This behavior resembles the incense sticks placed in memorial altars for the deceased. To show respect, lay your chopsticks on the chopstick rest or parallel to the edge of the plate when taking a pause from eating.

8. Don’t Be Excessively Affectionate in Public

Love is in the air, but let’s keep it low-key! Public displays of affection, such as kissing or excessive hugging, are not common in Japanese culture. It’s best to keep physical interactions with your loved ones modest and reserved. A simple hand-hold or a warm smile can still convey your affection without making others uncomfortable. After all, a bow is preferred to shaking hands in Japan even by those who are familiar with each other. It is best to respect this culture and and keep your hands to yourselves. Stick to saying “I love You”, and maybe try saying “I Love You” in Japanese.

9. Don’t Block People Walking on an Escalator

Time to step up or down the escalator, but wait! In Japan, it’s essential to keep the left side of the escalator open for those who are in a hurry or want to walk up or down. Stand on the right side to allow others to pass by smoothly. By adhering to this practice, you’ll contribute to the efficient flow of foot traffic and avoid any unwanted congestion. Japanese people are generally too kind to speak up if you are in their way, but they will certainly appreciate it if you adhere to this practice which is critical in most train stations.

escalator etiquette
People lined up for the escalator at Yokohama Station, leaving the right side available for people who want to walk up

10. Don’t Ignore Trash Disposal Rules

Let’s tidy up our act! Japan is renowned for its cleanliness, and it’s crucial to dispose of trash properly. Look for designated trash bins and sort your garbage according to the appropriate categories, such as burnable, non-burnable, and recyclables. Following these disposal rules helps maintain the cleanliness of public spaces and demonstrates respect for the environment. Also, be prepared to carry your garbage with you for long periods of time as garbage and recyclable cans are hard to find and basically never found in areas of public transportation like train or subway stations.

recyclable cans in Kyoto Station
Recyclable Cans in Kyoto Station
garbage cans in Kyoto Station
Garbage Cans in Kyoto Station

Final Thoughts

As you embark on your journey to Japan, keep in mind these ten things you should avoid doing to ensure a respectful and enjoyable experience. From refraining from loud phone conversations on public transportation to respecting the custom of removing shoes indoors, each guideline reflects the rich cultural traditions and societal norms of Japan.

Embracing these practices allows you to immerse yourself fully in the local culture and build meaningful connections with the people you encounter along the way. Remember, a light-hearted and open-minded approach will pave the way for unforgettable experiences and a deeper appreciation of this remarkable country.

So, pack your bags, learn a few Japanese phrases, and get ready to embark on a fantastic adventure in the Land of the Rising Sun. Safe travels, and enjoy every moment of your time in Japan!

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