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5 Things You Should Be Careful About When Visiting Japan

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Maya is fascinated by cultural etiquette and likes knowing how to make a good impression wherever she goes!

These tips will help you avoid making a bad impression while in Japan.

These tips will help you avoid making a bad impression while in Japan.

5 Ways to Make a Good Impression in Japan

When you hear about Japan, the first thing that comes to mind might be how different and unique it is, especially when we talk about culture. There are lots of actions and behaviours that may seem normal and harmless where you're from, but that you should avoid in the land of the rising sun if you do not want to make a bad impression or get into trouble.

Here are five things that you should be very careful about during your stay in Japan.

Being late is a huge insult in Japan.

Being late is a huge insult in Japan.

1. Always Arrive On Time (or Early!)

This is one of the first things that I learned about Japanese culture. Being late is something that is considered rude in most cultures, but in Japan, it is extremely disrespectful. Japanese people are very sensitive in terms of punctuality.

Maybe if you are going to meet your Japanese friend, you can arrive right on time or even be a few minutes late and be more relaxed, since it is your friend and you are both close enough to do that. But if you are going to meet your boss, teacher or anyone with whom you do not have a personal relationship, don't even think about being late. Always try to arrive 5–10 minutes early to avoid any inconvenience.

Why the sensitivity about time? Because the sequence of events in a day are all connected by time, so being late for one thing means the others are delayed too and you keep everyone else waiting.

Of course, not all Japanese people worry about being on time. There is a small percentage that does not care about this issue, but even then, it is still better to always arrive on time to avoid bad situations or give a bad image of yourself.

Properly greeting people and being polite is very important when in Japan (or anywhere, really!)

Properly greeting people and being polite is very important when in Japan (or anywhere, really!)

2. Always Say Hello and Thank You

When you go to see a person at their house, a restaurant, a park or anywhere, you have to remember to say "konnichiwa" (''hello'' in Japanese). You can't just see the person that you are meeting and start a conversation right away without saying ''hello'' first; that would be totally impolite.

And of course, never forget to say "arigato" (''thank you'' in Japanese) or "arigato guzaimas," which is even more polite, when you interact with people who serve you in a restaurant, hotel, hospital, etc. You should also say it when someone gives you a present or lends you something or even before leaving some places like restaurants or small establishments.

You will notice that Japanese people bow and say thank you often because it is a way of showing their gratitude and respect.

Playing with your chopsticks is a serious faux pas in Japan.

Playing with your chopsticks is a serious faux pas in Japan.

3. Never Play With Your Chopsticks

When you go to a Japanese restaurant in your city, you might play with your chopsticks or unknowingly use them in an improper way. But there are many things you can't do with your chopsticks in Japan. Here are the top five.

  1. Don't rub the chopsticks together. This is seen as an insult, since it implies that you are trying to get rid of splinters because the chopsticks are cheap.
  2. Don't pass food to another pair of chopsticks. It's seen rude to pass food from your chopsticks to someone else's. If you want to pass food to someone, put it on a plate so the other person can take it with their own chopsticks.
  3. Don't stick your chopsticks into your food. Sticking your chopsticks upright in your food in any establishment or house is seen as a lack of respect because it is traditionally done at funerals.
  4. Don't point at someone with your chopsticks. Just don't do it. It's considered very rude.
  5. Don't cross chopsticks in an X shape. Not only in Japan but in many countries of Asia, holding your chopsticks in an X shape or setting them down so that they cross each other is seen as a symbol of death and bad luck. So be very careful with that.
When in Japan, don't use pens with red ink.

When in Japan, don't use pens with red ink.

4. Don't Use Pens With Red Ink

You need to be very careful while using red ink in Japan. Why? There are several reasons.

  1. It is believed that the person whose name is written in red ink will live a shorter life.
  2. There was a period when prisoner's names were written with red ink, so doing that to a person in Japan may be seen as treating them like a prisoner as well.
  3. When a tomb is built while a person is still alive, their name is written on it with red ink and overwritten with black ink after they die.

There are other theories that I have not mentioned above. But if you want to avoid any bad circumstances related to that, then it would be better not to use red ink at all during your stay in Japan.

Leaving a tip is often perceived as an insult in Japan.

Leaving a tip is often perceived as an insult in Japan.

5. Don't Leave a Tip

While it may be normal to leave tips in your country, it is not customary in Japan. In fact, it can be considered rude and insulting in many situations. Also, in most Japanese restaurants, you have to pay for your meal at the front register.

There is a good chance that you will receive fantastic service in Japan, whether in a hotel, restaurant, taxi, etc. But it is all about people doing their job in the best way with pride and not expecting you to give them a tip.

Good Luck!

Of course, there are many more interesting things that you should know about this country, but in my opinion, these five are the most important. Have a great trip!

© 2021 Maya K

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