Japan is a beautiful, intriguing country, but it is also a country where the faces of the people never give you much of a clue as to whether you are behaving correctly – if you are doing things the right way. After spending a month backpacking around Japan and staying with local people, we learned about lot about things not to do in Japan — here are 30 of the most memorable.
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Things NOT to Do in Japan (If You Don’t Want to Look Like a Complete Wally).
The House Don’ts
1: Don’t wear your shoes in the house.
- Shoes are to be left outside the door, and you will be given (or you can bring your own) a pair of house slippers. 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 into 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!
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.
- Not true.
- I had some of the most comfortable night’s sleep I’ve ever had while in Japan, The Futons are soft, and usually, there are more than one; meaning that if you are like the princess and the pea, you can double up.
The Train Don’ts
3: Don’t forget to pre-order your Japanese Rail Pass
- Annoyingly, you can’t buy a Japanese Rail Pass once you are in Japan meaning that if you don’t pre-order one then you will have to buy tickets as you go. This will work out very expensive for you. Be organized and pre-order the 7, 14 or 21 day Rail Pass. It is worth it. Don’t even think about not experiencing the fantastic bullet 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 the 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
- Traveling 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. We used this company to hire our router, and they were fabulous. It cost us around $25 a day.
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 in Japan on a budget as we were, then I can highly recommend the Nagashima Spa Land. We visited this theme park 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
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 traveling with a teenage boy, I know.
12: Don’t worry about slurping your noodles as loud 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.
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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.
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The Japanese Culture Don’ts
18: Don’t walk around the streets eating
- 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. recein=ving 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.
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 Japan, all of which 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 will find that you are 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.
- 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 Fujji, 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.
If you don’t believe me, take a look at this video that my Son made while we were in Japan!
There you have it. The top 28 things not to do in Japan. 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, until then, behave yourselves and enjoy Japan!