In Japan there are many unspoken rules, whether it is on your commute to work or at a restaurant. I will highlight some of these rules to enhance your experience in Japan.
Public transit is essential to life in Japan because it is the most practical and affordable way to get around. Commuters deal with trains, buses, and sometimes taxis everyday. Whilst in a train station, you will find yourself utilizing the escalator quite often and occasionally the elevator. If you wish to stand on the escalator, stay to the left; the right side is for walking. If you are standing closest to the elevator buttons, it is important to hold the doors open for others coming in and out of the elevator.
You’ve made it to the train platform, and it’s rush hour. You will notice that the platforms have lanes printed on the ground. These are to guide commuters in to forming lines; commuting in Japan is very organized, Japan even has a platform operator. Although there are not lanes at bus stops, commuters in Japan will still line up in an orderly fashion. When taking the bus, try to bring exact change if you are paying in cash.
In a busy train cart or bus, it is important to place your backpack in the front of your body to maximize available space and so that you are not bumping into others with your bag.
Taxi etiquette is similar to most countries except in Japan you can only board the car from the left side, and don’t bother reaching for the handle as the door is automatically controlled by the driver.
Eating and Drinking
Everyone has felt hunger during their hectic schedule, which is why convenience stores or “Konbini”s are another fundamental part of life in Japan. Food or drinks that you get from the Konbini should be consumed in one place, in other words, do not walk and eat. This same rule applies for any food that you wish to eat, regardless of where you purchased it. It is not illegal to walk and eat or drink, but you will definitely get a few stares.
Like eating or drinking, you should not smoke and walk. This rule is less of an option due to the fact that Japan has designated smoking areas. In some areas, it is actually illegal to smoke and walk so bear that in mind. Above all, it is very inconvenient to smoke and walk either way because there is no where to dispose of your butts. Cigarette butts belong in a cigarette receptacle and tossing your butt on the ground is absolutely not an option!
Moreover, littering of any garbage in Japan is not recommended. I suggest that you keep a plastic bag on you to store your garbage because you will not find garbage cans on the street. You will usually find recycling bins for plastic bottles and aluminum cans.
Restaurants and Paying
As you may have heard, Japanese, like other Asian cultures, are non-tipping. The total that you see is what you pay; any services or additional charges are all encompassed in that total. Another similarity to other Asian cultures, is having to waive down the server. Unlike some other countries, in Japan the server will not continually visit your table. To get the attention of a server or cashier, you can use the phrase “Sumimasen”, which means excuse me.
Building off the server-customer interactions, the check will be brought to you, but payment is typically at the front of the house. In Japan, money is placed in a change tray opposed to being handed to the server or cashier. This rule carries over convenience stores and most stores; even when you are paying with card you are expected to place the card in the tray.
When eating noodles like Ramen, Soba or Udon – you’re more than welcome to slurp loudly as you tackle the boiling hot bowl of noodle. Traditionally, as well as a convenient way to cool them down, this was known as a way to let the chef know that you’re enjoying the meal. During the course of your meal, do not stick your chopsticks into your bowl of rice or noodles, this is considered to be rude or unlucky. Many restaurants will even provide a chopstick rest.
Japanese people bow instead of shaking hands. As in most Asian culture, removing your shoes in homes and other places is crucial. In households there is a “Genkan”, which is a designated area for your shoes. There are some restaurants that require you to take off your shoes; if you are not sure do not hesitate to ask.