A few weeks ago, Youtuber Logan Paul’s video was immediately buried under controversy not long after it was uploaded. For the unfamiliar, the footage details Paul’s Japan trip and his inappropriate behavior for the sake of what he considers comedy. The online debates have gotten to the point where Youtube has been forced to take action and Paul might lose his partnership with them.
Whenever you travel, whether it be Japan or some other country, to some extent you have to understand and respect the culture you’re exploring. In the hopes that the disrespectful acts of Paul’s broadcast will not be repeated, here are some things to keep in mind if you ever get the amazing chance to go on a fascinating Japan trip.
Indoor Voices, even Outdoors
This is hardly a practice exclusive to Japan, but it’s still noteworthy. You might be surprised to find you speak louder than you think you do. This doesn’t mean you always have to pretend you’re in a library. When in doubt, do as the Japanese do. If everyone is keeping quiet on the train, do the same. Unlike some opinions, Japan is not a theme park, it’s a place where people live and work.
Tipping is not a thing in Japan. It’s considered rude and more like “bribing” than a gift. Most of the time, though, if they realize you’re a foreigner, they will smile and just give you the tip back. Still, it’s good to know so you don’t make this mistake.
Always, always, always show your gratitude, even for the smallest gesture. Japan has a very polite society so you’ll be expected to smile, bow, and say thank you. Most people will recognize arigatou, but that is generally for people you are familiar with. For everyone else, it’s Arigatou gozaimasu [go-zai-mahss].
For meals there are separate terms, before eating it’s Itadakimasu [ita-da-key-mahss]. Once you’re finished, it’s Gochisousamadeshita [Go-chi-co-sa-ma-desh-ta]. Try to finish everything on your plate, to show how much you enjoyed the meal and respect the people who prepared it.
And, of course, you will need to bow. The bow is tilting your upward body at a forty-five degree angle with your back straight. Bowing is used when greeting or saying goodbye, showing thanks, congratulating, asking a favor, apologizing, and religious worship.
No Shoes, Yes Service
There is a clear delineation between “inside” and “outside” in Japan. For pretty much every establishment and home you will visit, there will be a genkan, an area for you to leave your shoes. Most places will give you slippers in lieu of bare feet, but just in case you should bring a clean pair of socks to wear indoors. In addition, there are separate slippers for bathrooms. Be sure to remove these slippers after use!
Yes, you are going to have to learn how to use chopsticks. No spearing through the food like a harpoon. Chopsticks are considered part of the Japanese culture and there is a specific etiquette to them. Double-dipping is an absolute “don’t” if you’re sharing soy sauce.
As always, don’t use the chopsticks to make noise or play with them. The two most important rules are to never stick your chopsticks vertically into a bowl of rice and let them rest. The second is, when you’re done, place the chopsticks horizontally in front of your plate or bowl, with the tips pointing left.
For the most part you should be allowed to take photos, but be mindful of signs. While the museums and temples in Japan are free, some of them will not allow you to take any photos whatsoever. Feel free to ask an attendant if you’re not sure. Also, as a general rule, do not take pictures of people without their consent. Even in Western countries this is considered very rude, but doubly so in Japan’s private nature.
Keep it Clean
Literally. Japan takes a lot of pride in keeping their city streets clean. Do not litter, ever. It might take you a while to find a garbage can, since they’re usually grouped together, so hold on to it until you find the proper receptacle. You’ll also quickly realize that most establishments, and homes, will ask you to take off your shoes before entering. This is to keep from tracking in dirt, so don’t be surprised if you’re trekking through a restaurant in your socks.
Pointing is Rude
Pointing is considered a social faux pas in Japan. Instead, to indicate something, gesture with your whole hand, fingers together, with your palm facing up. Be mindful of this on your Japan trip.
The Tattoo Rule
This one in particular might be baffling to Western travellers. Tattoos are seen as a symbol of the yakuza, the Japanese mafia. There might even be signs for hotels and restaurants saying you will not be permitted entrance if you are seen with tattoos. In anticipation for the 2020 Olympics, though, the government has tried to ease up on this ruling for Western tourists. Still, if you have some ink, be prepared to cover up with a jacket of some sort.
Temples and Shrines
Japan features many beautiful shrines and temples, and no they are not the same thing. As a rule of thumb, temples are for Buddhists and Shrines are for the Shinto religion. If you plan to visit one, and you really should, there are some rules to follow. Shrines must always be entered through a torii gate. After that, you enter and purify your hands at the temizuya, water pavilion. At the altar, first quietly toss a coin into the offering box, ring the bell once, bow twice, clap twice, with hands still together give a prayer, bow one last time.
Temples don’t have as strict a procedure. If there is a temizuya then use it, and if there is an offering box make an offering. The main difference is do not clap your hands, you must pray silently.
We hope these tips help you make the most of your Japan trip!