Japanese culture is heavily based in tradition, and many of the common social beliefs and practices may differ from what you are used to at home. When you visit the beautiful island of Japan, it is important to be aware of these differences, and to try and avoid accidentally insulting those around you. This list will help keep you aware of what to do and what not to do once you’ve touched down in The Land of the Rising Sun.

No Need to Tip

Hold on to that extra yen – Japan does not have a tipping culture. In Japanese culture, when you give extra money, it is essentially telling the employees that they need to improve their service. Best to avoid this, so you don’t end up insulting those around you. If you forget once or twice, don’t worry – many service industry workers are used to this common mistake made by foreigners, and will likely just smile and return your money to you.

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Photo credit: Jennifer Feuchter

Surgical Masks

You will likely come across a high number of citizens wearing surgical masks as they are walking outside and going about their daily business. Don’t be alarmed! Masks are worn to prevent airborne colds and bacteria from being transmitted, and are often worn if someone is already sick, in order to avoid spreading the disease. In order to return the courtesy, try to avoid coughing or sneezing in public, especially in crowded places.

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Photo credit: Diego Cupolo

Cash, Not Credit

Japan is largely cash based, and many places will not be able to accept your credit card. It is always useful to have some extra cash for those spontaneous shopping excursions.

Chopsticks + Table Manners

When you travel to Japan, you will be expected to eat with chopsticks. Depending on your level of comfort, it may be a good idea to spend a little time practicing with the utensils before you arrive.

Besides being able to physically use chopsticks, it is important to recognize when and how to use them. Keep the following rules in mind when you sit down to a meal: [1] Do not stab food with the chopsticks [2] Do not wave your chopsticks over the food while deciding what to choose [3] Do not selectively pick items out of a dish with your chopsticks [4] Chopsticks are not for passing food.

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The Good of the Group

Japanese culture places a high importance on the group, and less so on individualism. Keeping this in mind, be mindful of how others behave, and try to follow the behavior of those around you. If everyone on the bus or the train is being quiet, it is probably not a good idea to talk loudly on your cell phone, or enthusiastically recount a story to your traveling companion. Pointing is also frowned upon, and it is considered rude to point at other people or objects.