Japan, the Land of the Rising Sun, is a fascinating country that blends ancient traditions with modern innovation. It is a nation that offers a rich tapestry of history, breathtaking natural beauty, busy metropolises, delicious cuisine, and warm hospitality. However, cultural barriers and language barriers can be challenging for foreigners. It's important to keep in mind that Japan has a unique culture. By respecting their traditions, understanding etiquette, and making an effort to learn basic Japanese phrases, foreigners are likely to receive a warm and friendly reception from the locals. We highlighted the 7 secret tips foreigners should be aware of before travelling to Japan!!!
1. Slurping Noodles
This might be surprising! It is actually acceptable and even encouraged to slurp when eating noodles, such as ramen or soba. Slurping is believed to have about 400 years of history when soba noodles first came out.
Slurping noodles loudly is a way to show how much you are enjoying your meal and appreciating the chef's effort. In reality, it cools down hot noodles. However, loud slurping in high-end restaurants or while eating other foods is considered impolite.
2. Saying "Itadakimasu" and "Gochisousama"
Expressing manners in general is very important in Japan. The most common phrase to keep in mind is "Itadakimasu" (いただきます). This is often said right before eating, much the same way as people say "bon apetit" in the UK. But unlike "bon apetit" has the meaning “let’s eat!”, Itadakimasu" represents "I humbly receive." It shows gratitude for the meal.
After finishing your meal, say "Gochisousama deshita" (ごちそうさまでした), which means "Thank you for the meal." It kindly expresses appreciation to the host or chef.
If you found it difficult to communicate with the restaurant staff, we've also covered a number of useful tips when ordering food.
3. Minimize Noise Level on
One of the first things foreign travellers will notice when taking a tube in Japan is how quiet it is inside. Like London or other large cities around the world, many people in Tokyo are forced to suffer through this uncomfortable situation on a daily basis commuting to work and school. To reduce the stress caused by this, people are mindful not to do anything that might disturb others, and this formed an “unspoken rule” in Japan.
Even during times when trains are not crowded, people in Japan still follow this etiquette. Note that maintaining a quiet and respectful environment on public transportation is always crucial and highly valued.
4. Tatoos banned in Onsen
Japan's onsen culture has gained popularity among foreigners due to its' variety of hot springs. Historical associations of tattoos with the yakuza (Japanese organized crime), many onsen inns and facilities have traditionally refused entry to customers with tattoos.
However, the "Tattoo Friendly Japan" website provides tattoo-friendly establishments in popular tourist destinations such as Hakone, Kyoto, Hokkaido, Tokyo, Osaka, and more. By checking the spots before travelling, you can easily avoid any upcoming inconveniences.
Additionally, there are breathable, waterproof skin-tone patches known as "tattoo stickers" that can cover your tattoos, allowing you to experience Japanese onsen culture without any issues. These tattoo stickers are available for around 200 to 300 yen per piece. If you're interested in purchasing tattoo stickers, you can find them at stores like Don Quijote, drugstores, lifestyle shops, or even online.
5. Eating and Drinking in Public
The rich variety and deliciousness of street food in Japan are well-known among travellers. However, what you may not be aware of is that eating while walking on the streets is considered impolite and rude to the Japanese. Therefore, when visiting Japan, no matter how tempting and delicious the food may be, it is best to find a corner to enjoy your meal before continuing your journey.
6. Tipping in Japan
Like many other Asian countries and the UK, tipping is not commonly practised or expected when travelling in Japan. In fact, tipping can be easily misunderstood as a "bribe". If a customer leaves a tip at a restaurant or other places in Japan, the server may try to discern the customer's intention or feel compelled to go beyond their normal service. As a result, many restaurants prohibit the acceptance of tips.
Although the tipping culture is not prevalent in Japan, some restaurants may add a service charge on top of their bills (10-15%).
Tipping = Violation of Etiquette?
The answer to this question is certainly "No", there are a few situations where it is "reasonable" to offer a tip, such as when taking a taxi.
7. Streets without names
One of the most frustrating things for Western tourists is the lack of street names in Tokyo. Instead of naming individual streets, Tokyo follows a system of numbering blocks, where the streets are simply the spaces between blocks. Additionally, the numbering of buildings in Tokyo is often based on the order of construction rather than a geographical sequence.
The best way to navigate through Tokyo's streets is to enter an address in Google Maps, which will generally help you pinpoint the correct location.
8. Learn some basic Japanese phrases before travelling to Japan
Japan can have a language barrier for foreign visitors. Most Japanese people may have limited English proficiency, especially outside major tourist areas. It's highly recommended to learn a few basic Japanese phrases or carry a translation app to help with communication.
Many Lingoclass Japanese students enjoy travelling around Japan and using the language they have learned with us to talk to the locals and learn more about their culture. Some of them make new friends, apply for new jobs or simply enjoy exploring the beautiful environment that Japan has to offer.
Below we have included a list of the most useful phrases to learn before visiting Japan. We hope you find it helpful. If you are interested in learning more from one of our expert teachers, please feel free to use the contact form at the bottom of the page and let us know :)
Now you know the seven most important tips when travelling in Japan. Before you start planning your trip, you can book some course time with one of our professional Japanese teachers, who will help you learn in a structured environment with ongoing support.
You'll get to learn more about the Japanese language and a more comprehensive Japanese culture! I'll see you in class!