Japan is sometimes seen as a pretty daunting travel destination when considering all the etiquette, traditions, ceremony and superstitions. In reality the Japanese are pretty forgiving to foreigners and don’t get easily offended. However there is some basic etiquette you should be aware of before you travel.

Be polite and well-mannered.

This is the fundamentals of Japanese society. Do not show anger, aggression or shout in public. The only exception is when someone bumps into you in a busy area, don’t expect an apology or feel you need to apologise. They’re not being rude, places like Tokyo it’s so crowded and busy moving, by the time you have said excuse me the person is usually gone.

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Do not wear your shoes into someone’s home.

Whilst the Japanese are pretty forgiving this is probably the most important piece of etiquette to follow. When entering a Japanese house remove your shoes and place them neatly at the entrance. Slippers are usually supplied at the doorway by the host. So make sure you wear clean socks with no holes. If you are wearing sandals bring a pair of white socks to wear inside the house. In homes and some restaurants bathroom slippers are also provided. House slippers are left outside the door while using the bathroom.

Don’t show affection in Public.

Hugging, kissing, hive fives or shoulder slapping. Like a lot of Asian cultures the Japanese consider it rude and offensive. Limit it to holding hands and save the affection for the hotel room. Avoid excessive eye or physical contact and respect the personal space of others.

Do not make a point of counting your change.
This is considered rude. Give it a cursory look-over or wait until you’re out of site of anyone who saw you pay the bill or by the item. It’s a very honest culture and the Japanese don’t generally rip tourists off.

Don’t eat whilst standing or walking or in public.

Always sit down to eat, especially inside a house. The exception is ice cream or eating at the counter of a street side vendor, usually serving ramen (noodle soup). Also do not drink while walking, When using vending machines you will notice locals will stop to drink it by the machine before continuing on their way. Public consumption of alcohol is considered extremely rude. For more detailed information see our etiquette guide to Eating and Drinking in Japan.

Do not interrupt or talk over people when speaking.

Allow time for someone to consider their response before continuing a conversation. Don’t be concerned or jump in during periods of silence in the middle of a conversation as the Japanese always consider their response before they speak.

Avoid the number 4.

The number 4 is pronounced “shi”, the same word for death. So never give gifts in sets of fours. The number 9 is also considered unlucky, pronounced “ku”, which means suffering. You might also find some floors or rooms with a four or nine in them don’t exist in some buildings. The number 13 is sometimes considered unlucky; however this has come from western culture.

Bowing is considered the same as a handshake.

Foreigners are generally not expected to bow. You may also find many Japanese will commonly offer a handshake to a foreigner, acknowledging our culture. If not sure about bowing correctly, a little bob of the head will usually suffice and be received with a smile.

How to say “no” or “I don’t know”

To politely say “no” or “I don’t know” wave a hand back and forth with palm forward in front of your face. This is handy if you’re not confident with the language.

Don’t point at people with your finger, chopsticks or feet.

This is considered extremely rude. If you want to point at someone near you, put your palm up, keep your fingers closed, and direct your whole hand towards them. If you have to point at something or someone in the distance, put your palm down and keep your fingers closed. Never point to someone with four fingers spread out and thumb folded in. If pointing to yourself, point to your nose not your chest.

Most Japanese do not use first names casually.

Refer to people by their last names followed by the suffix ‘san’. So if his name is Mr. Kaito Tanka, address him as Tanka san. When introducing yourself do not add any suffix to your own name.

Don’t be late.

The Japanese are well known for their punctuality there is no “fashionably late” in Japan so allow adequate time for travel delays.

When you’re travelling on a train or bus.

Don’t use your cell phone, texting is ok. Also don’t take pictures or speak loudly as it is considered rude. Blowing your nose in public is considered bad manners.

When visiting shrines or temples be very respectful.

If required remove your shoes when entering and leave them on the shelves or take them with you in plastic bags provided at some temples. Whilst photography is generally allowed on temple grounds it is usually not allow inside a temple. Whilst there show your respect by making a short prayer in front of the sacred object and throwing a coin into the offering box. In some temples you can purchase incense (osenko). Do not blow the incense out extinguish the flame by waving your hand, fanning some of the smoke towards you.

Don’t wear yukatas or kimonos outside your hotel.
Some hotels offer guests kimonos or yukatas. They are not street wear, they are basically pyjamas. When wearing a kimono or yukata it’s always the left side over the right side.