Japan is a country deep-rooted in its culture and traditions. When you travel to Japan for the first time, you’ll notice meticulous attention to detail. For the most part, everything ticks along smoothly – so it’s important to know what to expect during your visit.

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So before you jet off to Japan, here are some top tips you should keep in mind.

1. Follow the crowd (and the signage)

The saying ‘when in Rome’ doesn’t only apply when you’re travelling to the Italian capital and its surrounding areas. Metaphorically, it’s relevant no matter where you go. So when you travel to Japan, follow the lead of the locals. High-traffic pedestrian areas, like station walkways and staircases, often have arrows dictating the direction of travel. Don’t ignore these – because the locals religiously abide by them.

In busy parts of Japan like Tokyo, you’ll get to your destination quicker if you go with the flow, rather than against it – and you may get some quizzical looks if you’re on the wrong side. Similarly, when waiting for a train, signage on the ground will indicate where to line up. Just be sure to let arriving passengers off first.

Japan train station - Point Hacks
Follow the signs at train stations – they’ll let you know where to hop on when the train arrives. [Photo: Will Wright, Pexels]

2. Use the tray

For the most part, cash transactions take precedence over cards in Japan – though the latter is becoming more widely accepted. When you go to pay for your meal at a restaurant or on your latest shopping spree, you’ll notice a small tray by the checkout. While in Australia it’s common to hand your cash directly to the employee, this is a rare occurrence in Japan. Instead, you can place your cash or card onto the tray.

This makes it easier for the cashier to count the money, and it’s especially useful when there are plenty of coins. Unnecessary contact is also minimised – though some places will return your change to your hand, but with the receipt or notes on your palm so you won’t directly touch the coins. From here, you can simply use the notes or receipt to funnel the coins into your wallet.

3. Hold off on tipping

In some parts of the world, tipping is customary. Even when it’s not, you may feel inclined to show your gratitude for great service or a delicious meal. But hold off on doing this in Japan, as tipping isn’t part of the culture here. As well-meaning as it may be, your tip will be politely declined – because excellent hospitality is a given.

4. Leave your umbrella outside

Japan is particularly prone to wet weather year-round, but especially when you travel during the rainy season. You’ll want to carry an umbrella with you – they can be purchased inexpensively at convenience stores – but figuring out where to store it when you head indoors can be a problem.

Thankfully, there’s a solution that saves you from leaving an undesirable water trail for staff to clean up. Outside many shops and restaurants in Japan, you’ll find an umbrella stand. These can range from simple devices like a bucket, to a full-blown holder with individual slots and a key so your umbrella doesn’t get taken. But not because it got stolen – petty crime is rare. Rather, it’s because most of the population favours the same clear style of umbrella, so it’s easy to get mixed up.

Japan umbrellas, Tokyo - Point Hacks
Clear umbrellas are popular in Japan, but be sure to leave them on the stand outside. [Photo: Fred Rivett, Unsplash]

5. Dispose of your rubbish thoughtfully

Japan is surprisingly clean for a country that doesn’t have many public rubbish bins. It’s not common to walk around eating or drinking, so there’s less waste to dispose of on the go. While it sounds odd, most people hold onto their rubbish until they find a bin – which is usually located outside convenience stores, next to vending machines, or in public restrooms.

6. Store your handbag in the basket

There’s an incredible selection of food in Japan, and dining out is a great way to get a taste of the hospitality and culture. When eating at a cafe or restaurant, you’ll often notice a small basket under your chair or table. The purpose of this is to store your handbag or other items that would otherwise rest on the table or chair such as a jacket. This simple gesture ensures your belongings don’t get dirty from sitting on the ground.

7. Keep noise to a minimum

When getting around Japan on public transport, you’ll notice that buses and trains are eerily quiet, despite often being packed to the brim. The only sound you’ll hear is an announcement of the next station, and the gentle whizzing of the tracks if you’re on a train.

It’s important to be considerate of those around you, so noise is kept to a minimum on public transport. This includes putting your phone on silent, talking quietly, and ensuring sound isn’t leaking from your earphones. Because there’s nothing worse than a muffled version of the latest Taylor Swift track to disturb your fellow riders.

Crowded train in Japan - Point Hacks
Trains in Japan can get crowded – so consideration for your fellow riders is always appreciated. [Photo: Hugh Han, Unsplash]

8. Stick to designated smoking areas

Tobacco is a prevalent part of the culture in Japan. So, unsurprisingly, cigarettes are one of the things you can get from a vending machine. But unlike in some other countries, you can’t walk and smoke. Rather, Japan has designated areas for smoking. Many restaurants have a designated smoking room and smaller bars and establishments allow smoking indoors, provided minors are not allowed in.

Similarly, you’ll find public outdoor spaces with signage on the ground to indicate a smoking area. It’s important to stick to designated spaces for smoking in Japan, as you could otherwise land a hefty fine.

Take off to Japan

Japan’s culture is best experienced while you’re there – so why not get stuck into planning your trip today?

If you’re looking for more tips to make the most of your holiday, check out all of our guides to Japan, including where to stay and weird but cool things to do in Japan.

And don’t forget to let us know in the comments below what you’re most looking forward to during your Japan holiday!

Featured image: Liam Burnett, Unsplash

8 tips about Japanese culture every tourist should know was last modified: August 24th, 2023 by Victoria Kyriakopoulos