Manners you should know before traveling to Japan

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Japan is a country where consideration for others comes above everything else. The Japanese are taught from very little to respect other people and value their needs. There are a set of rules Japanese people follow no matter what, regardless of the effort, as long as it helps the ones around. Even thought foreigners will be forgiven for not knowing some of the manners, it is preferable to be familiar with their basic rules and try to follow them during your trip.


While on public transportation, keep your phone on silent and refrain from talking on the phone.

©milatas- Fotolia

As a good part of your trip will consist of riding trains or buses, this is an important rule to keep in mind. In order to not bother other passengers, Japanese people are always careful to set their phones to silent and refrain from conversations. You will always be reminded of this through the car’s speakers. If you do receive an important call, try to give the person a message telling that you will call later, or if not possible, answer and tell them directly, but be sure to end the conversation quickly.


Do not smoke on the street

Many of us were born in countries where smoking is permitted everywhere, but this is not the case in Japan. Several Japanese cities have anti smoking laws, which makes smoking possible only in designated areas. Police even patrol to find people who break this rule and you will get a fine if caught. But you do not have to worry; there are plenty of smoking spots everywhere. Even if you do not understand Japanese signs, be on the lookout for ashtrays. If you find one, it means you can smoke there.

No smoking area, by Yun Creative Labs, CC BY-ND


Never break lines

You will often notice Japanese people lining up for trains, buses, restaurants or shops. These lines can get very long, especially in big cities where the population is large. It is very important to stay in line and not go in before other people who came first. You might say that this is a basic courtesy rule that everyone is supposed to know, but you would be shocked to hear how many foreigners break it.

Tokyo Station, by Dick Thomas Johnson, CC BY


Do not blow your nose in public

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As weird as it may sound, Japanese people consider it rude to blow your nose when you are near others. It is even worse when doing this while you are talking to someone. Refraining can be especially tough during cold weather when just cannot help it, but solutions can always be found. Fortunately, Japan has toilets almost everywhere. No matter where you are on the streets, you can find a toilet in less than 5 minutes: in malls, trains stations, parks, convenience stores, etc. You can blow your nose there without problems.


Umbrella etiquette

When raining, people in Japan never enter any shop, restaurant or other establishment with a dripping umbrella. The floors would rapidly turn into a messy puddle, disturbing the customers, and it will also be inconvenient to carry a wet umbrella around. In most cases you can find plastic covers, umbrella stands or sinks to shake off the water at the entrances. But just to be on the safe side, take a small plastic bag with you every time you go out during rainy weather.

Wrap your umbrella, by nachof, CC BY-SA


Taking your shoes off

Many of you have heard that Japanese people always take their shoes off when entering a house. But even if you do not intend to visit anyone during your trip, you might still stumble upon a situation like this. For example, if you are at a store and want to try some clothes on, always take your shoes off and leave them in front of the fitting room before entering. Do no expect the store clerks to remind you, they might not know English or might be too embarrassed to tell you. There are also some hotels that require clients to take off their shoes at the entrance and use slippers to go to their rooms. Be sure to ask when checking in!


Apologizing and showing gratitude

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You will often hear Japanese people apologizing or saying “thank you”, even for very small things. It may seem funny at first, but you will soon realize this is their way of showing respect to other people’s feelings. If you happen to bump into someone or do something to inconvenience another person, always apologize. You need to say just one word: “sumimasen”, followed by a short bow. In the same way, if somebody does something for you, no matter how unimportant it may seem, be sure to say “arigatou gozaimasu”, again followed by a short bow.

It might be hard to adapt quickly to all these rules, especially if you go on a short trip, but you do not have to panic. Follow what other people do and you will be fine. The Japanese are very kind and they will understand you as long as you are polite and try to do your best.

MyTop10Japan Editor

MyTop10Japan Editor


Working at MyTop10Japan.