13 Common Mistakes Tourists Make When Visiting Japan, Don’t Do These!

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Mistakes When Visiting Japan

Don’t Make These Common Mistakes When Visiting Japan

What are some of the common mistakes when visiting Japan that tourists make? Japan is a country where good etiquette is regarded highly. If you don’t want to stand out from the crowd too much as a tourist, respect the country and culture by reading this list of common Japan mistakes and taking note for when you’re next there!

Don’t Wear a Backpack on the Train

Trains in Japan can get crowded, especially in big cities during rush hour. If you’re wearing a backpack, it’s correct etiquette to remove your backpack and hold it down in front of you at your feet or legs. Holding it on your back takes up space that another person could be using!

onsens in japan

DON’T Break The Rules at the Onsen

When going to a Japanese onsen, or hot spring, it’s very important to follow the rules. The main two rules are;

  1. Remove ALL clothing. Yup. All. You’ll be 100% naked in front of everyone in the room (same-sex only) and you CANNOT enter if you wear a bathing suit. It’s not permitted under any circumstance and if you don’t feel comfortable doing that, then don’t go.
  2. Don’t forget to shower BEFORE entering the bathing area. The ideas of the communal baths are that they are clean because you shower beforehand. If you jump in straight away, you basically contaminate the whole thing. Don’t do that. It might be tempting for you to want to get into the water straight away, especially if you’re not used to being naked in front of others or body-conscious. Get over that. And if you can’t, don’t enter.

This is the same when entering bathhouses in other countries such as Korea and China.

DON’T Refuse Slippers

It’s not polite in Japan to enter certain establishments and houses with shoes on. Instead, you’ll be offered slippers. It would be considered odd or rude to refuse this, so best to just accept the offer.

Such slipper and shoe culture can be found in Korea too.

DON’T Be Late

Better still, arrive 5 minutes early. It’s very impolite in Japan to be late, and most people will try to arrive a bit early to avoid such a social faux-pas.

DON’T Ignore Smoking Rules

Smoking rules in Japan are a bit odd, so it’s important to pay attention.

Don’t smoke whilst walking, and don’t smoke randomly anywhere in public. There are designated smoking zones to go to, and each convenience store will also have one outside.

Only enough, there are smoking areas in most restaurants inside, and also in some bars and cafes.

Mistakes When Visiting Japan

DON’T Tip

One of the most common of the Japan mistakes… Don’t do it to try to be nice. Tipping is not a culture in Japan and tipping the waiter would be considered odd and rude. It also puts the Japanese person in a bit of a position since they don’t accept tips. They won’t know what to do, and giving it you back would be impolite, taking it would also be impolite… It wouldn’t make them feel great.

Tipping is not common in other countries such as China and Korea.

DON’T Try to Customize Food Orders

You may have a specific dietary requirement that means you can’t eat something, and you might want to ask for a dish in a specific way. This is considered rude in Japan, since it’s viewed as an insult to the chef. Sometimes, the chef may also not wish to honor your request since their dish is their creation. If you change it, it might not taste so good, so they would feel bad to make it like that.

japan mistakes

DON’T Eat on Public Transport

And don’t eat when walking to get the bus, either. In the UK, I was often busy and would eat a sandwich while walking from one place to the other. I’ve even eaten full on meals on the train!

This is an absolute no-go in Japan and considered very rude. You’ll also be looked at pretty strangely if you eat while walking.

DON’T Count on Finding a Trash Can

Most Japanese people take their trash home. This is due to the complicated recycling system, and also the fact that there are no bins around. So out on the go, don’t make this Japan mistake of trying desperately to find a bin. Presume you won’t.

DON’T Mix Trash

As per the above, the Japan recycling system is pretty complicated. Don’t ignore it. Japanese people take it very seriously and they’d be upset if you were to mess up their system. You can actually get a pretty hefty fine from it!

Mistakes When Visiting Japan

DON’T Rely on Cards

Japan is a largely cash-based society, with many businesses not accepting cards at all. Always carry cash with you. If you need to use an ATM, most convenience stores have one.

DON’T Flash Your Tattoos

While the culture is changing with the new generation, tattoos, like in Korea, are pretty taboo. The younger generation may be enjoying getting inked, but nevertheless, wearing something that reveals a big tattoo is something you should avoid. It will make the people around you feel uncomfortable and might be intimidating.

japan mistakes

DON’T Use the Ladies Carriage (BOYS!)

In Japan, some train lines have a train carriage for women only. This is clearly marked on the train platform, as well as in the carriage itself. Do not go in here if you are male. These carriages are here for a reason. If you’re a foreigner, Japanese people won’t get offended but rather tell you politely you’re in the wrong spot. Thank them and leave, and don’t worry too much – but try to be aware for next time! Often, the train interior is pink – so it’s really hard to not know.

Common Mistakes When Visiting Japan – Final Thoughts

Of course, if you accidentally make any of these Japan mistakes, it’s fine. You won’t be punished. Of course, it is not your culture, so you’re bound to make mistakes. But if you try then the Japanese people will certainly appreciate it!

Zoe Stephens
Zoe is a freelance writer from Liverpool, UK. She spends her time travelling between China, where she is based, and North Korea, where she works as a tour guide for Koryo Tours. You can follow her journey and see her content from North Korea on Instagram (@zoediscovers) and YouTube. You can see more about her life stuck on Tonga on Instagram @ifyouwerestrandedonanisland.

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13 COMMENTS

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13 COMMENTS

  1. Great article with good advice. But if you have something you absolutely have to throw away and can’t pack with you, you will very likely find a garbage can in a 7-11 store or other convenience store.

    In all of Osaka, I’ve only seen one outdoor trash can, and typically Japanese, it was spotlessly clean.

    I love Japan. My son and his family have lived in Tokyo for 9 years and I’ve been there dozens of times.

  2. Do you not consider trains public transportation? When the station sells bento boxes to be taken with you on your journey, eating is perfectly acceptable on board.

    And how about blowing your nose in public? That is a big no-no.

  3. You should clarify that you can eat on the bullet trains (Shinkansen), just not on the local trains.

    One unofficial rule of thumb to see if you can eat on the train is take a look at the seats. If the seats are in rows behind one another, then it’s fine to eat since those are long distance trains.

    Trains where the seats are facing each other are generally local trains so you shouldn’t eat on those.

  4. Wow, great article. On our first trip to Japan, my friends and I easily committed 3 – 4 of these social taboos (among others) and we were accompanied by a Japanese native nearly the whole time! In a highly honor bound society, etiquette is extremely important and while the majority of Japanese are way too polite to even consider correcting you or expressing frustration at you, it’s still much better to be aware of these faux pas so you can avoid embarrassment for yourself and others around you. Japan remains one of the safest, cleanest, and most beautiful countries I have ever visited, therefore spending 30 minutes reviewing local customs before you visit is a very small price to pay (as is the case for visiting most countries for that matter).

  5. Good basic tips for Japan. You forgot about talking on your cell phone in public places.

    Also, @ifyouwerestrandedonanisland isn’t an instagram account.

  6. Don’t leave your chopsticks standing up in your rice. It is seen as a bringer of bad luck – reminds of when they burn incense at burial.

  7. Ramen is one dish that you can really customize in Japan, how soft or hard the noodles, fat or no fat, extra pork, etc.

    I’ve been to japan several times and it doesn’t feel restrictive. For me it’s fun to be in a different culture. There are reasons for each of these “rules” that the article doesn’t go into. For example, tipping is not a custom because each person is doing his/her job and the tip would be an insult. There are few trash cans because there was a terrorist attach with sarin in the trash cans. There are no bathing suits in the onsen because the bathing suits may not be as clean as a freshly showered body. The backpack in front is just thinking of other people. As I see it, the customs help everyone get along.

    It is an absolute pleasure to be in a super clean place where everyone is polite and they give each other, and me, space and privacy. But they are ready to help as soon as I ask. For me, it has been the easiest place to travel as a single woman.

  8. My takeaway, Japan has too many rules and cultural no-no’s which makes it a place I’ll never visit. If I’m paying for my meal then I’m certainly not going to be told how I should eat it…now give me some soy sauce because the ramen ain’t salty enough.

    • I’m sure that the Japanese are delighted that you will never set foot in their country. They may even send you a thank you note for not coming.

    • @2808 Heavy. Right on, bro! Japan is infamous for its poor manners and horrible food – it’s much better in the US where people get to fight on planes, eat healthy burgers & fries, and solve problems by shooting strangers. And even worse, they like speaking their own language. I mean, if English was good enough for Jesus…

      • If I eat 1lbs burgers at every meal, and enjoy a large order of those greasy, salty little fat sticks that we call french fries…and die if a massive heart attack…shy of my fat ass falling on you and crushing you to death, how does what I eat and how I eat it, affect you?

        Oh wait…it doesn’t. Oh and since you want to talk about things that affect those of us in America you can start doing your part by MINDING YOUR OWN BUSINESS! What another person eats has NO affect on you. Now carry on…

        • You’re right again. Yes, I am guilty of criticizing something that has no effect on me. I should have realized that only Americans can criticize other cultures, like Japan. Others must mind their own business. Got it.

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