A Guide to Japanese Etiquette For Travelers

Japanese Culture

Are you visiting Japan soon? Well, if you are you will need to be aware of the etiquette and manners that the Japanese see as important. Here are some to take note of if you’re a traveller.


One of Japan’s most well-known customs is bowing. Most travelers are aware that the Japanese bow when they greet other people. If you are used to shaking hands with people when you meet, this can take some time to get used to.

However, you should not worry as many Japanese people have become accustomed to shaking hands when meeting non-Japanese people. You will generally be fine if you bow or put your hand out to shake.

Bowing will also be used when someone is apologizing or thanking someone. You should keep in mind that the deeper the bow, the more respectful it is.

Removing Your Shoes

When traveling to Japan, it is recommended that you pack and wear shoes that are easy to slip on and off. Before you enter a house, a ryokan which is a traditional Japanese inn or any other area with tatami mats, you need to remove your shoes. This is why you should look at shoes that are easy to take off and put back on. It is also important to ensure that your socks match and do not have any holes in them.

Bathroom Slippers

When you travel to Japan, you may notice that there are slippers provided for use especially in the bathrooms in ryokan and izakaya. When you enter the bathroom, you need to leave your house slippers outside of the room. You should then switch to the bathroom slippers.

This is where a lot of non-Japanese people accidentally commit a faux pas when it comes to switching back when they leave. You should not leave the bathroom with the bathroom slippers. If you forget about this, you will generally be greeted by friendly laughter when you return to your table still wearing the bathroom slippers.

Taxi Doors

Japan has become famous for its efficiency and technology which means that there is no surprise that taxi doors automatically open. When you call a taxi, the driver will pull up and the door will automatically open for you.

This is always a surprise when first-time visitors are in Japan. The door will also automatically close for you. All you need to do is wait for the door to open, get into the taxi and then wait for it to close again. If you wish to cut down on taxis, then stay near the tourist spots you wish to travel to – you should read this if you are looking for the best place to stay in Tokyo and this will allow you the chance to stay nearby you interests.

Passing Money

When in Japan, it is very rare for money to be passed hand to hand. When you buy an item or pay for a service, instead of handing your money to the cashier you need to place the payment on the small tray provided. This is where the cashier will place your change.

This is a practice that is prevalent across Japan. You will see it at hotels, in stores, restaurants, bathhouses, taxis, train stations and the local Starbucks.

Baths And Hot Springs

There is nothing more enjoyable and potentially perplexing to visitors to Japan than the traditional onsen or the neighborhood sento. These two places will offer you a traditional cultural experience, but there are a few guidelines that you need to keep in mind.

You first need to get clean and then you can bathe. The baths are for relaxing which is why you need to shower completely before you get into them. When you are at the onsen and sento, you need to enter a washing area where you can shower and get clean before going to the bath.

At the traditional sento and onsen, swimsuits are not generally allowed. There are some modern onsen theme parks that do allow them. However, these places will often lack the character of the real traditional baths.

The onsen will provide you with 2 towels, a large one and a small one. The large towel is for fully drying after you have had a relaxing soak. The small one is taken to the bath, but not into the bath and it is important to not let the towel touch the water. Most Japanese people will place the towel on their head or a nearby surface.


Even if you consider yourself a master with chopsticks, there is some chopstick etiquette that you might not be aware of. While some of this will be common sense, there are others that might surprise you.

You should never point your chopsticks are another person or wave them in the air. You should also not spear your food with them. Your chopsticks should not be stuck in a bowl of rice as this is close to a funeral rite.

Food should not be passed from chopsticks to chopsticks as this is also close to a funeral rite. If you are eating from a communal dish, you need to use the back end of your chopsticks or the end that you do not put into your mouth to serve.

Warm And Cold Towels

When you are in a restaurant or izakaya, you will be given a wet towel which will be hot or cold depending on the season. The towel will need to be used to clean your hands. You should then fold the towel and place it on the table in front of you. You might see men using the towel to wipe the sweat off their faces, but this is considered rude and you should avoid it.

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