Be careful in Japan. It can catch you out. My family and I spent a month backpacking around Japan and we learned a lot about the things not to do in Japan (and sometimes those lessons weren’t pretty hence the reason for me sharing this with you!).
You can find lots of information all over the internet about things to do in Japan, but for some reason, travellers tend to keep the things not to do to themselves.
Hmm. Lucky for you I’m not that kind of traveller. In fact, I’m the kind of woman who likes to share the good the bad and the ugly so that when you visit Japan, you will be as prepared as you possibly can.
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What Not To Do In Japan? Why is it Important?…
Knowing what not to do in Japan is important because not only do you want your visit to Japan to be as smooth as possible but you want to be as respectful. This post will help you understand what not to do. Along with that, I suggest that you brush up on some culture facts about Japan before you arrive.
After all. You don’t want to ‘lose face.’ (The Japanese phrase translation for ‘lose face’ is Mentsu wo ushinau!).
The Japanese people are so very polite.
They would hate to think they were being rude or upsetting you in any way by telling you that you weren’t behaving correctly – instead, they will just giggle to themselves and maybe take you quietly to one side.
That’s how life in Japan is. Japanese people do things quietly and politely. But they get their point over.
So, to save you from having to find out yourself about the do’s and don’ts in Japan I’m sharing with you what I learned when visiting the land of the rising sun with two kids.
Here are 28 things not to do in Japan (so you are not exposed to giggles and whispering). Ready? Let’s go…
Things NOT to Do in Japan (If You Don’t Want to Look Like a Complete Wally).
*If you are the sort of person that can read while they listen then why not play our latest travel podcast episode! How to cope in Japan by knowing a few of the culture facts!
The House Don’ts in Japan
#1: Don’t wear your shoes in the house
There are many Japanese culture facts that you should be aware of and this is a biggy.
Shoes are to be left outside the door.
Make sure when you visit Japan you bring your own house slippers. These Japanese-style slippers are the ones we wore in Japan, and they were perfect (we also wore them on the plane once we had left Japan too!)
Don’t do what my teenage son did and try walking around in socks. Not acceptable. Get the slippers on.
Don’t wear the same house shoes in the bathroom.
If you are staying with a Japanese host or in an Airbnb, then you will notice that outside every Japanese bathroom there is a pair of rubber sandals. These are your bathroom shoes. Do not go into the bathroom in your house slippers!
*As a side note, Japan is very similar to New Zealand in this way. When people ask me is Japan like New Zealand? I will often refer to this shoe tip. No shoes in the house in New Zealand as well as in Japan!
#2: Don’t believe people when they say a futon is uncomfortable
After listening to the many horror stories of how spending the night on a futon is like sleeping on a board, I was expecting to come home from Japan with a broken back.
I had some of the most comfortable night’s sleep I’ve ever had while we travelled around Japan, The futons are soft, and usually, there is more than one, meaning that if you are like the princess and the pea, you can double up.
#3: Do NOT rule out Housesitting in Japan! (You’ll save a fortune!)
We are HUGE fans of housesitting. We do it whenever we travel. If anyone ever tells you that you can travel for FREE by housesitting, they are absolutely right. Spot on. We have saved $$$ (approximately twenty grand – yes you read that right!) by housesitting throughout the world.
Japan is the perfect country in which to housesit because there are many ex-pats (mostly Americans and British) who live there. When they take a vacation back home, they look for English-speaking sitters to take care of their property while they are away.
Honestly, I can’t understand why more people don’t do this!
How to housesit in Japan
We spent three days housesitting in Kyoto Japan in a very nice house (and with a beautiful little cat!). The owners were taking a business trip and needed someone to look after their place and cat and lucky for us they gave us the job.
So you can see why I’m so passionate about housesitting in Japan!
Housesitting is VERY straightforward: You sign up (this is free) to Housesitters from here you can view many beautiful places around the world (including Japan) that are available and waiting for travellers like YOU to take care of them.
If Housesitting seems like a good fit and you too would like to join us, and thousands of other savvy travellers who get to travel the world without paying for accommodation then sign up for a year’s membership (for less than the cost of a night’s accommodation in Europe) and be sure to use the SPECIAL DISCOUNT CODE “SITTERLIZ” to get an extra 20% off!
Available Houses for you to stay in (for FREE!) in Japan
You make a profile and then twice a day you are sent emails (such as the screenshot from my phone below) listing available properties in Japan.
As we all know, accommodation in Japan isn’t the cheapest in the world so if you want to travel to Japan on a budget then become a Housesitter!
I have enclosed a screenshot that I received this morning.
Click here to see all the current house sits in Japan.
These are the kind of offers that I get weekly. At least consider housesitting! You will save a fortune and get to stay in places that are unbelievable!
If you are planning a trip to Japan, do not rule out the possibility of Housesitting!
It’s not hard and is a fabulous way to experience living in beautiful parts of Japan in return for looking after someone’s property (and maybe a pet!)
Click here to see all of the current housesits in Japan and remember that if you do choose to sign up, use the discount code “SITTERLIZ” to get your 20% discount!
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Japan Train Don’ts
3: DON’T forget to buy a Japanese Rail Pass!
When we visited Japan, we were told that it was cheaper to by individual train tickets rather than use the Japanese Rail Pass.
So that’s what we did. And we lost money.
It will not only save you a stack of money but (more importantly) it will save you the stress of having to line up and hope that trains have the availability that you need.
Riding the Shinkansen from Tokyo to Osaka is an experience you cannot miss when in Japan!
How to buy a Japanese Rail Pass
There are a couple of other companies that sell JRP tickets but please. Do yourself a favour a buy them straight from the legit company.
Buying a Japanese Rail Pass is super easy.
- Order the Japanese Rail Pass here
- The company will send you an exchange order. This will be couriered to your chosen address (usually takes no more than 3-5 days).
- You must sign for it.
- You arrive in Japan with your exchange order.
- You find a JRP office (these are in all the major train stations in Japan and also in most airports!)
- Bring your passport. Fill in a form. Exchange the order form for the real deal rail pass
- Off you go! Super secure and easy!
If you have any more questions about taking the train in Japan then check out the Japanese Rail Pass Forum. It is a free resource and gives you invaluable advice about travelling in and around Japan by train.
4: Don’t worry about taking a snack with you for your long train journey
On every Shinkansen train (bullet train), there is a tray and cup holder provided with every seat.
Eating on long-distance trains in Japan is acceptable as long as you do it neatly and quietly and make sure to take every last scrap of litter with you.
5: Don’t use your mobile phone on the train
Travelling by train in Japan (or indeed any form of public transport) is quite perfect.
Nobody talks on their mobile phone, nor is there any music blasting from the person’s headphones sitting next to you, no. Text, by all means, but don’t talk loudly, in fact, don’t make a peep.
Just enjoy the scenery.
The Wifi Don’ts
6: Don’t come to Japan and expect to get wifi wherever you go.
Apparently, some cell towers in Japan work on different frequencies meaning that not all phones (even the latest iPhones and Samsungs) will work with a local SIM.
If you can’t be without wifi then there is an easy solution to this.
Hire a mobile wifi router. It is straightforward and convenient; depending on which company you use they will either deliver it to your hotel, or you can arrange to pick it up.
7: Don’t miss the opportunity to make your own chopsticks.
If you are planning to travel around Japan try and get to a chopstick factory. We spent a few hours with the kids planing, designing and polishing our own chopsticks which we then got to take home as a souvenir.
8: Don’t miss the chance to spend the day at a Japanese theme park.
If you are looking for things to do in Japan, you love thrills and want to keep your budget looking healthy then I can highly recommend the Nagashima Spa Land.
We visited this theme park in Japan, and it was superb value, pretty empty and it had the best rollercoasters we have ever experienced.
Japanese theme parks have to be experienced to be believed, they are craaazzy!!
9: Don’t forget to go to a Karaoke venue and have a good sing-song!
Japanese people love Karaoke. I think that is why the Japanese people are all so calm. Businesspeople take clients to Karaoke venues to relax them and teenagers go there on a first date.
As an introverted Brit, this was hard or me to get my head around, but I am so glad I did. You are provided with your room, served tea, coffee or alcohol and left to sing for a few hours I loved it, and you will too!
The Eating Don’ts
10: Don’t freak out if you are taken for dinner by a Japanese host and the portions are tiny.
Unlike the Western society, where it is customary to pile your plate with food as high as you can in case there is a famine before bedtime, the Japanese eat a little, slowly and then order more.
We were taken out to a restaurant and the food just kept coming and coming. It was my teenage son’s dream come true. We later found out why…
11: Don’t finish everything on your plate; the host will assume that they haven’t fed you enough.
Self-explanatory really. Unless you want your host to keep plying you with food, leave a small amount on the plate and in your glass to indicate that you are satisfied. Hard for those travelling with a teenage boy, I know.
12: Don’t worry about slurping your noodles as loudly as you can
Slurping your noodles in Japan is not considered bad manners, quite the opposite. Make sure you let everyone in the Ramen Bar know that you are enjoying the food by joining in with the slurping.
13: Don’t play with your chopsticks
There is a certain etiquette when using Chopsticks in Japan, and there are many things you must not do. Chopsticks do’s and don’ts would need a post of its own, so I’ll give you the most important things you mustn’t do.
Don’t point with chopsticks, or leave your chopsticks to rest vertically in your food.
Do not stick your chopsticks upright into a bowl of rice. Do not use one chopstick at a time and don’t spear your food with a chopstick.
14: Don’t tip the waiter or pay the bill at the table
The waiter may very well leave the bill on the table, but don’t throw a wad of notes down and expect him or her to arrange payment, this is considered very rude in Japan. Always take your bill to the counter and pay after your meal.
If you are wondering do you tip in Japan? The answer is no.
15: Don’t pour your own wine
It is considered polite in Japan for you to pour your host’s wine but never your own. Let your host do this. And remember what I told you about leaving a small amount in the bottom of the glass.
Never down the dregs and wait for more. Just saying.
For Pinterest ⇓
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The Shopping Don’ts
16: Don’t mistake the 7 eleven’s for being the same as everywhere else In the world
The 7 elevens in Japan are like nothing you will have ever experienced before. They are amazing, and if you are travelling in Japan on a budget, they will soon become your best friend.
Freshly made sandwiches cut to perfection, cabinets with bottles of hot coffee and tea, small bottles of wine, cakes, ready meals (with a microwave provided) the list goes on.
17: Don’t disregard the 100 Yen shop for buying essentials
The 100 Yen shop is the equivalent to the Dollar shop back at home, but, as always the Japanese, tend to do things a lot better and more sophisticated than the rest of the world.
The best things to buy in Japan can be found at these little treasure troves. Rather than find cheap, tacky plastic toys and silk flowers you will be met with an array of excellent quality, everyday Japanese essentials. Don’t let the name put you off, if you need anything, you will find it in the 100 Yen shop.
For Pinterest ⇓
The Japanese Culture Don’ts
18: Don’t eat in the streets
The Japanese people do not eat ‘on the go’ and neither should you.
Instead, stand outside the many convenience stores or train station booths and eat your meal. Here you will also find garbage bins to dispose of your rubbish.
19: Don’t receive a gift with one hand
Always accept a gift from a Japanese person with two hands. receiving it with just one is considered rude.
20: Don’t make last-minute arrangements
Japanese people are planners. They arrange with each other weeks ahead to go out for the evening. Don’t make last-minute arrangements and expect your Japanese hosts to be happy about it; they don’t appreciate spontaneity.
Check Out Our Video That We Made Of Our Life in Japan!
21: Don’t be late
Similarly, don’t be late for anything. Life in Japan runs like clockwork, and you won’t be a popular person if the schedule is of course because you couldn’t find your wallet.
22: Don’t believe what everyone tells you about no one speaking English.
If you are worried about going to Japan without speaking Japanese, don’t worry. There are many things that ‘well-meaning strangers’ will tell you about life in Japan, most of which will usually turn out to be utter tosh.
While English isn’t spoken as widely as some countries, the Japanese people will try their hardest to help you out, and we found that in major train stations, airports and especially in Tokyo, most people could speak enough English to get by.
If you are really worried about speaking in English in Japan, then you could always try using Google translate.
23: Don’t cross the road unless the little Flashing man tells you to do so.
There are lots of rules in Japan, and one thing you must not do is break those rules.
You may find yourself standing at the side of a junction on the street in a town, with not a car to be seen for miles around, and still, nobody will cross the road until they are told to.
If you do make a quick run for it and hope nobody notices then you will be frowned upon. Go with the flow and don’t break the rules.
24: Don’t try to push in when there is a long line
Japanese culture encompasses patience.
Remember this when you are queuing up for something.
The Japanese people will never push in front of a line. They will wait their turn, and because of this, things run a good deal smoother.
If you see a long line for something, fear not, it will be gone before you know it. Do not be tempted to push in.
25: Don’t expect the toilets to be like any other toilet in the world
I could write forever about my love for the Japanese toilet. seriously, they are divine. They have to be experienced to be believed.
The Japanese toilet will play music to you, warm your backside and then shower you in the softest of water at just the right temperature. Never mind Mt Fuji, where’s the nearest bathroom?
26: Don’t Blow your Nose In Public
Not the thing to do in Japan, sniffing is ok it seems, but if you need to blow then best to do it in private.
27: Don’t Be Spitting In The Park
This is a law in Japan so watch out! Spitting in the public park can land you with up to 30 days in jail or slapped with a 10,000 Yen fine. Either way, not very pleasant – the spitting, not the fine. Don’t do it!
28: Don’t come to Japan expecting everything to be high tech, bright neon crazy, crazy, crazy.
If you are in Tokyo then yes, there will be lots of neon signs and the feel of the place is very modern, futuristic almost, but out in the country, it is quite the opposite.
You can visit lots of towns in Japan – including the pretty mountainside village of Yoshino, and you will quite literally feel as though you have stepped back in time.
It is wonderful.
Japan is full of ancient temples, wooded hillsides and people who have time to stop and talk to you.
Here’s a video of us walking the streets of Tokyo to give you an idea of the neon lights:
29: Don’t forget your travel insurance!
The Japanese health care system is one of the best in the world and the crime rate is reasonably low; even so, do NOT think about visiting Japan without travel insurance.
Make sure that you have excellent Japan travel insurance.
We recently travelled the world and as you can imagine, my husband did his research thoroughly. You won’t find better travel insurance than this one.
Whichever company you choose to use make sure that you are covered for delays with baggage on arrival, medical and dental costs and car hire excess.
NOW!! Why not listen to our latest travel podcast episode where I discuss with my teenage son the culture facts of Japan and how they took us by surprise (literally)! Click below to play!
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Remember, to make your life easier when booking trains, buses or taxis in Japan, do not hesitate to use 12GoAsia. Yes, I am an affiliate for them but that’s because they saved my bacon so many times while we were in Asia – they are brilliant.
Of all the countries we visited in the world (we went to 32 in total) Japan was right up there as being one of our favourite places – ever.
Japan is clean, calm, has amazing food, lovely people, and gorgeous scenery. It is on my list of the worlds most unique destinations.
As long as you remember your manners and follow the list of things not to do in Japan you will love it! If you can think of any others and would like me to add them to the list, then please feel free to leave a comment below, and please remember: PLEASE share this post with someone who would enjoy it!