Both my sister and I knew quite a lot about Japanese culture, rules and habits before going there. We looked up all of the information we could find basically. I’ve also got a friend that went to Japan for a couple of weeks, totally unprepared and therefore a lot of things he was really surprised about. I mean, it’s fun to just go there and let the country surprise you, but you don’t want to do anything wrong right?
Japan is a country of rules, lot’s of unwritten rules too, and manners. I even read somewhere that Japanese kids are tought manners before being tought anything else. Behaving the right way, being respectfull, working hard… are all things they value a lot.
Today I’m going to tell you all about the things I feel you need to know before going to Japan! If you’re interested in all of their strange rules and habits, keep on reading!
Let’s start with the basics first. All the way at the beginning of your trip too: in the plane to Japan. Before arriving in Japan (or at least before gong through customs) you need to fill out two forms. One for you and one for your family. So if you’re traveling with your sister, like me, we both had to fill out our own form plus a shared form. However, if you’re traveling on your own, you still need to fill out the two forms. It’s basically just some information about you, what you plan on doing in Japan and where you plan to stay. We planned on stayin in three different places, but there was no room to write down all three adresses, so we just wrote down the address of the last hotel we planned on staying in, which was totally fine.
Another basic: in Japan they drive on the left side of the road! And therefore, they do everything else on the left side as well: cycling (although not much people cycle), walking. If you are walking directly at someone and don’t want to bump into eachother, step to the left instead of the right. If you’re standing on the excalator in Tokyo, stick to the left so people that are in a hurry can walk past you on the right. Which by the way, is the complete opposite in Osaka, where you stand on the right and walk on the left. Don’t know why this is but it was really confusing to us lol. Now there are also some exceptions to this ‘stay left’ rule. You’ll sometimes notice signs near stairs that say ‘keep to the right here’, or arrows on the stairs that indicate on which side you need to go up and which side you should be going down. To be honest though, not even all Japanese people stick to this rule. When crossing the street and the people on the other side of the roas obviously do the same, they just walk all over the place and don’t stick to the left at all. I’ve seen people at the stations that were in a hurry and therefore went up the stairs at the side where you’re supposed to go down. This was so strange because my sister and I really felt like everyone in Japan was like focussed on following every single rule perfectly. Turns out this rule is not THAT important I guess lol.
This next one is actually a tip instead of a rule, but I definitely recommend getting an umbrella as soon as you’re setteled in your hotel or as soon as you can after finding out the weather forcast is telling you it’ll rain tomorrow. This does depend on what season you go to Japan of course. Get one of those seethrough ones, because if you don’t you wont be able to see all of the other people carrying an umbrella and you WILL bump into everyone else. We had great weather in Tokyo but it was raining all of our days in Osaka. Luckily we could borrow umbrellas from the hotel we stayed at, otherwise we would have had some sad last days lol. Here is a (terrible) picture of my sister standing next to Osaka castle in the rain. She looks so sad and lonely haha!
Because of this weird weather in Japan, my next tip is to always check what season is the best to go to Japan BEFORE you book the flights and all. My sister and I didn’t do this simply because we didn’t think about it. The weather in The Netherlands is never actually dangerous so it’s not a factor we considered. In Japan it can get quite dangerous though! And they have also got rainy season, and I’m sure you don’t want to go on a holiday and never see the sun lol. So please don’t forget to check! We were lucky enough to have booked our holiday right after raining season and right before typhoon season. Check out this blogpost: How I did it: Booking a holiday to Japan! if you want to know how we booked our holiday.
Last one: yes they do speak English at most places. Not very good English, but enough for them to understand you. I’d try to order in Japanese and the waitress would usually reply to me in English so I eventually stopped trying in Japanese lol. So they usually do understand you, but it’s hard for them to talk back in English I’ve noticed. So some places have got pieces of paper or sometimes even a whole book with Japanese scentences and the English translation. So if the waitress didn’t know how to say something in English she’d just grab the paper, point out what she wanted to say and we could read the English translation of it. Handy dandy. What’s quite funny though is that sometimes when I answered in Japanese, even if it was just one word, the staff would start telling me entire stories in Japanese and I’d just look at them like an idiot because my Japanese is defintely not that good so I didn’t understand what they were saying hahaha. So they got all excited for nothing, whoops.
We researched a lot about food-related rules. One of the weirdest ones is that you’re supposed to slurp while eating your noodles. Apparently it’s a sign that they taste good. It’s quite weird when you’re at a restaurant and you constantly hear people slurping around you haha. But it’s also pretty fun. What you’re definitely not supposed to do: put your chopsticks upright in your food. No no no.
One of the things we didn’t know beforehand though, is that restaurants don’t serve all of the dishes at the same time. Like I’d get my food and my sister would have to wait another few minutes to get her food. Where I live this is considered to be really quite rude. Every restaurant in my country serves all of the dishes at the same time. The only exception to this is large groups. In Japan this is just normal, but that was a bit strange to us.
I think most restaurants that we went to had chopsticks as well as cutlery for you to eat with. Exept for the suspi restaurants of course. Especially the restaurants that were not of Japanese cuisine had both. Not that we ever used anything else than chopsticks and sometimes a spoon, but it’s good to know.
All restaurants will give you a free glass of water before ordering your meal. Some restaurants even do refills. Therefore this tip: don’t order drinks in restaurants. They are very expensive. Ususally if you order food and drinks, the drinks will be cheaper than if you were just going to have drinks, but still. Why would you order drinks if you’re getting free water? And also: the drinks from the vending machines that are EVERYWHERE in Japan, are usually cheaper.
In Japanese restaurants it’s actually quite common to sort of shout at the staff if you want their attention. Just go ‘Sumimasen!’ if you want to order, ask something, the menu, the check, whatever. You’ll have to explain what it is you want lol just sumimasen is not enough. Where I live it’s normal for the waitress to seat you, ask what you want to drink and give you the menu all at the same time. Then you look at the menu and when you’ve decided you put it down. When the waitress sees this, she will automatically come to your table and ask you what you want to order. If she’s busy it might take a bit longer, but nobody goes out to eat when they’re in a rush right, that’s just a silly thing to do. I’m sure most of you reading this are used to this right? We are not used to shouting at the waitress the moment we made a decision and are ready to order. Which is what Japanese people do. Now I found this quite awkward and luckily some waitresses of restaurants that were used to tourists actually did come to us when they noticed we had put down the menu for a few minutes already. But usually we had to ask for their attention. You ESPECIALLY have to do this in the smaller conveyor belt sushi restaurants. The big restaurants like this always have a touch screen with a button you can press if you want to pay. In the smaller ones, shouting sumimasen is a must. If you want to order a special kind of sushi you also just have to shout the order at the chef lol. –Sumimasen! Kappa maki onegaishimas!-
Last food related one: don’t tip. Tipping is not a thing in Japan at all. If you try to do this, whey will not accept and they will be very much insulted actually. Fine with me, saves me lots of money haha.
Important warning: after spending some time in Japan, you’ll be addicted to sushi!
Let’s start with the unwritten rule that I think most people know: don’t walk and eat/drink at the same time. You’re not going to get arrested if you do, but apparently it’s just a no-no in Japan. It’s actually also more convenient for yourself if you eat the food you just bought near the store where you bought it because the store will have a trash can and there are basically no trash cans anywhere on the streets of Japan or even in the shopping malls. Which means that if you eat while you’re walking, you’ll have to carry the trash with you untill you get back to the hotel or untill you’re at another food shop. Throwing your trash on the street is a big NO in Japan too. But I mean, its not allowed in most countries, and why would you even want to do that?
Don’t cross the street if the light is still red, even when there are no cars coming. Although, this is probably one of the rules many Japanese people break themselves. But still, most people obey this rule and you don’t want to be THAT tourist.
Let’s talk about tattoos now. If you’ve got them, they’ll think you’re a criminal. In Japan, pretty much all people that have tattoos ARE criminals (so you should probably stay away from Japanese people with tattoos). Even though nowadays the younger generation is starting to change their views of tatoos and they are starting to get them themselves. Most people don’t approve of them though. Which is why they are not allowed in onsens, spas and swimming pools most of the time. You might even not be allowed to enter other places when you’ve got a visible tattoo I think. Not sure though. But I can imagine you’re not allowed to enter a nighclub for example.
This next one is one I personally loved while I was in Japan. Japanese people stand in line to get on the metro/subway/train/whatever it is they are trying to get into. They actually stand in line! I mean I knew they did this before I went there and it was still amazing to see! Where I live people don’t have any manners, especially not when it comes to public transportation. As soon as the doors open and everyone that needed to get out at that stop has gotten out, people rush to get in from all angles because they don’t want to have to stand. In Japan however, there is a nice mark on the floor where the doors will be, and that’s where you stand and wait. If you’re the first in line you’re the first to enter and most likely to have a seat. Which is AMAZING if you ask me because we were always way too early and therefore first in line haha.
I feel like there’s more to tell you, but this blogpost is so long already I’ll just stop right here 🙂 Hope you enjoyed reading and hope you learnt something new!