Japan is one of the most courteous countries I have ever been to. Also because they are so considerate all the time, I sometimes failed to understand what did we do wrong.
Today, I am going to talk about the unpleasant situations you might get yourself into and how you should avoid them. The norms you should know before traveling to Japan, the unwritten rules Japanese expect everyone to know.
• Being LateThis is the first and most important rule to remember.
If you've ever heard about how punctual Japanese are, it's true. Don’t doubt it.
“One minute late is still late.”
Do not be late to board any transportation you reserved. Especially for trains and the “Shinkansen”, they are always PRECISELY on time. Not only for the departure time, you should be aware of the boarding time too. If the instruction is for you to arrive at the platform 15 minutes before departure, be there 15 minutes beforehand.
Do not be late for hotel/hostel check-in also. The staff will be waiting for you and expect you to be punctual. Make a phone call to reschedule your check-in hour if you know you are going to be late (or early).
• LitteringYou will be surprised. Japan doesn’t have rubbish bins everywhere. In another word, it’s really hard to find one. It means you actually have to bring your rubbish with you all the time until you find one. Although it is so hard to throw rubbish away, streets in Japan are “clean”. Also, do not forget to throw rubbish according to the categories!
• Talking to the phone in a trainCellphone using is prohibited in trains. You should switch off your cell phones if you are sitting near to the priority seats. Other than that, phones should be switched to silent mode. Japanese are quiet on the train. They don’t speak loudly in trains so that they won't disturb people around.
• Eating on the streetIce cream, buns, sandwiches, banana… No.
Do not eat while walking on the street. This is not stated in any rule book but it simply is a matter concerning manners. Eating while walking doesn’t look good. Besides, that food might dirty the street. When I was traveling in Japan with my friends, we sit or stand in front of the convenient stores to eat our ice creams and puddings. Try to finish the food in front of the shop or find a place where you can sit down to enjoy your food.
• Blocking the walkway on the escalatorJapanese line up in one line on the escalator.
In most of the areas, right side is the fast lane, whereas, in Osaka, the left side is the walkway. When I was in Malaysia, I did not practice this manner. When I first arrived in Japan, I kept blocking the walkway and it was so stressful because people on the walkway seem to be always in a rush.
• Smoking on the streetThere are designated smoking area and rooms set up for this. Ask to find out where are those places if you need to smoke. Normally you can find it near the train stations and in the shopping malls. It is not hard to find one.
• Being loud at nightJapan residential areas are normally quiet after 9pm. Most of them do not wash dishes or do laundry after 9pm because the noise might disturb their neighbors, not to mention talking and laughing out loud during midnight. Check and follow the rules of the house if you are staying in a hostel or an Airbnb to avoid being complained.
• Taking picture against the lawRespect the copyright! When there is a signboard saying “No Photo”, it means no photo. People who get caught will be asked to delete the pictures, and further legal actions might be taken.
If you are not sure whether you can take a picture or not, ask first.
One of my friends took a picture of a cosplaying flyer distributor on the street. Annoyed, the girl showed an ‘X’ hand gesture to us. This happens a lot because we didn’t understand why not. Well, Japan really respects privacy and rules are created to protect portraiture right. Be careful and ask politely.
• Entering an Izakaya (traditional Japanese bar) without a menu outsideMost restaurants in Japan show their menu in front of the shops. But some don’t. It is fine to enter but it might cost you a lot.
Yes. It happened to me. My friends and I once entered an Izakaya and paid RM560 for 3 plates of appetizers. What were the appetizers? Raw carrot, radish, cabbage and cucumber.
Therefore, remember these when you visit an Izakaya
• Ask if there are any table charges
• Ask for the menu
• Ask if the appetizer is free or paid
• Touching food with bare handsThis is the most common mistake tourist always do.
When you would like to sample some displayed food, ask the shopkeeper for help. Do not touch them with bare hands. Sometimes you might see toothpicks or spoons nearby; in this case, you may get the food on your own.
Notice the word “help yourself” or in Japanese “ご自由にお取りください”.
Hope this will help you understand the norm in Japan, reduce misunderstanding and culture shock. Remember these 10 things and have fun in lovely Japan!
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This blogpost is written by MHF Contributor, Choco Yinns.
An ordinary girl who loves the beautiful world like everyone else. The only difference that set her apart from the others might be this-- She is willing to put everything down but her luggage, stepping out to experience the world she loves.
Feel free to share your thoughts with me by commenting below!