Traveller’s handbook: Avoid these taboos while in Japan
The Japanese are an incredibly polite society and this is widely known. However, what is lesser known about the Japanese are their taboos. Whenever you’re travelling in Japan, you should know that there are certain taboos you shouldn’t be breaking even as a tourist!
While many of them are forgivable and the Japanese may not call you out on them, it’s always best to know them at the back of your mind so you won’t get any stares or find yourself in any trouble!
Here are 6 taboos you should avoid when you’re travelling through Japan:
1. No hugging
While it may be normal for you to hug someone you are happy to meet, it is a taboo to do this in Japan! Instead, the Japanese custom is to bow as a sign of respect when meeting others. It may be a little odd to do if you’re doing it for the first time, but we promise you won’t be the only one doing it!
2. No swimsuits (at onsens)
Ahhh, there’s nothing more relaxing than dipping into a hot spring (or onsen) in Japan, especially during the cold winter. But if you’re following Japanese etiquette, then you might want to lose the swimsuit or underwear, especially if you’re going to be visiting a fancy space like a VIP room in a Japanese inn. Get the authentic experience by cleaning yourself before entering the shared hot spring and be sure to do it in the nude. No one’s judging!
3. Don’t pour soy sauce onto your white rice
This is a sign of disrespect to the chefs, who take much pride in their cooking. Especially if you’re going to be dining at one of these Journey of Japan’s recommended list of fancy restaurants in Tokyo! The Japanese take their food so seriously and expect foreigners to as well.
4. No tipping
No one is going to look at you funny if you do not leave a tip here in Japan. Tipping is not part of the culture. If you try to leave a tip, you might even have the waiter come running after you to return your money. Even if you have waitresses in kimonos cooking the best beef dishes in Japan for you, you shouldn’t leave a tip.
And while we’re on the topic of money, money is rarely passed directly from one person to another. You pay your bills by putting the cash on the little tray given to you with the receipt, rather than into the hands of the cashier.
5. Get your slippers right
There are two types of slippers provided to you as a guest when staying at ryokan, one for the bathroom and one that is a non-bathroom slippers. Be sure to switch out your bathroom slippers for your non-bathroom slippers and vice versa. And never ever wear your outside shoes into a ryokan or any place with tatami mats!
6. Chopstick etiquette
Like the Chinese, Japanese also have a number of rules to follow when using chopsticks. For one, never use your chopsticks to point at other people. Do not ever poke your chopsticks vertically into your rice bowl (as this is an action done for funerals). Do not ever use your chopsticks to pick up food from communal plates (use the serving spoons provided). And do not use your chopsticks to spear food – not even with pesky little fishballs!