How To Behave In Japan: Dos and Don’ts For First Time Travellers

Visiting Japan? From modern Tokyo, to Hakone with its majestic views of Mt. Fuji, or the ancient capital of Kyoto (a land of temples and traditions), this is a country that tops many people’s bucket lists. While visitors are always welcome, it’s important that you respect basic Japanese etiquette.

Luckily, Kyoto Traveler’s Inn has some handy tips on key Japanese etiquette for sports fans heading to Japan this autumn for the Rugby World Cup 2019.

Here’s the need-to-know on Japanese etiquette

1. Remove Shoes and Slippers Before Entering a Traditional Tatami Room

For those looking for an authentic Japanese experience, stay in traditional accommodation with futon bedding and tatami flooring. Tatami is a type of mat traditionally made from rice straw that is used as flooring in Japanese rooms. It was originally a luxury that only the wealthy could afford.

Before entering a tatami room, shoes and slippers must be removed. A futon bed is provided for guests and these are kept folded during the day and set out in the evening after dinner. Large cushions are used for sitting at low tables in tatami rooms and travellers should note that it is considered impolite to step on cushions other than your own.

2. Getting to Grips with Chopsticks

Japanese cuisine is some of the best in the world and so no trip to Japan would be complete without dining out – and using chopsticks. Japan takes chopsticks seriously so knowing a little about local manners can go a long way when dining.

When sharing dishes in a group, diners should make a note not to eat directly from common dishes and understand that it is considered rude to hover their chopsticks over dishes when choosing what to eat.

Chopsticks should not be licked or used to give food to others. When taking a pause during a meal, the utensils should be placed parallel to each other on a chopstick holder. Never place them crossed or upright in rice as this resembles a ceremony performed at Japanese funerals.

3. Respect the Geiko and Maiko in Kyoto

Spotting a geisha sits high at the bucket list of many visitors who visit Japan. For the best chances of spotting one in Kyoto, travellers should head to the city’s historic Gion district. While they’re known as geishas in Tokyo, in Kyoto the correct term is ‘geiko’, which means ‘women of art’.

Geiko have to spend at least five years in training as an apprentice – also known as a ‘maiko’. They perfect their abilities to play musical instruments, dance and host games for guests.

While photographs of geiko and maiko are fine, visitors to Kyoto should respect the personal space of the women and make sure they do not interrupt their journey.

Japanese etiquette 

4. Dare to Bare in a Communal Bath

The hot spring communal baths in Japan are probably the most daunting part of Japanese culture for most travellers! They are super rewarding for those who are brave enough to take to the geothermally heated waters at onsens, ryokans and daiyokujos. Travellers must be ready to dare to bare… You can’t wear any clothing or swimwear when bathing in an onsen or public bath.

Next, a seated (not standing) shower must be taken prior to entering the bath. Those with long hair should tie this up in a hairband or towel.

Lastly, there’s a zero alcohol policy inside public baths. Since tattoos are somewhat of a taboo in Japan, those with ink should make sure to cover their body art with plasters or bandages.

Japanese etiquette 

Sarah Clayton-Lea

Co-founder of Big 7 Travel, Sarah created the company through her passion for championing the world's best food and travel experiences. Before her career in digital media, where she previously held roles such as Editor of Food&Wine Ireland, Sarah worked in the hospitality industry in Dublin and New York.

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