Japanese Etiquette When Travelling!

Japanese Etiquette When Travelling!

As Japan slowly opens up the borders again, who else is looking up flight dates to Japan? Finally, we can visit our favourite country again! But when we do get there, let’s not forget that we have to be on our best behaviour, since Japanese customs and etiquette are very different from the rest of the world.

Japanese mannerisms are abundant, and some might say that there are a bit too many to remember in a short period of time for a short trip. So to get you prepared for your trip, we’ve done up this article for travellers in a rush to get into the minimal Japanese manners mode for that week-long Japan trip we all hope to be on this year (like finally).

There are three parts of this episode: public manners, indoor manners and holy grounds etiquette, indoor manners. This article is a snippet and recap of our Season 10 Episode 7 of the Nihongo Master Podcast! The whole season focuses on Japanese mannerisms, so tune in to that for your on-the-go learning of Japanese etiquette!

Japanese Public Manners

The first category of mannerisms for travellers we’re going to touch on is public manners. This is arguably the most important category in this collection of manners. In Japanese culture, unspoken rules are a big thing, and everyone abides by them. The concept of “public” and “private” in Japan can be quite different from other cultures, so if you don’t exactly know if it’s a private or public space, just treat it as public just to be safe.

There are tons of unspoken rules for how to act in public, but don’t worry, I’ll loop you in on the 5 most important ones.

1. Keep volume down

The Japanese people are really mindful of their space, especially when out in public. Speaking in a high volume is not encouraged in Japan, as you would affect others around you. This is seen as respecting the space that you share with other strangers.

When you’re with a group of people, try your very best to keep your volume down, especially so when on public transport. Even when you’re alone, you’re expected to not blast music too loud on your headphones, as this might disturb the person next to you. 

2. Queuing

The next unspoken rule in public spaces is the queuing system. The Japanese love their queues! They queue for the ramen shop, outside of a store before it opens, and even for the escalators and lifts! Even on street pavements and public transport platforms, there are signs to indicate which side to stick to or where to queue so as to not cross paths and walk into each other. 

With that in mind, follow the queue system for everything in Japan. I think this etiquette is extremely convenient during rush hours and crowded streets. Fall in line and you won’t have to dodge people’s shoulders like it’s a game of dodgeball.

3. Stop to eat and drink

Eating and drinking while walking on the streets are not taken positively. This is because when you do this, it’s considered as disrespecting others walking in the same area as you. That being said, don’t drink or eat on the trains either, for the exact same reason. Oh, this excludes long-distance train rides like the Shinkansen (新幹線), which are Japanese bullet trains. 

So what if you’re hungry or thirsty? Japan is scattered with convenience stores and vending machines, and the Japanese would eat or drink there and then. They would be standing outside the store and finishing their food before walking. This is the same for cans from the vending machines. Finish up your food or drink before continuing walking. 

Indoor Manners

Now we’re moving on to indoor manners. You might think you wouldn’t need this, because you think you wouldn’t be in someone’s house during your time in Japan, but trust me, this also applies to ryokan (which are traditional Japanese hotels) and events like tea ceremonies. 

4. Leave your shoes at the door

The first one is a crucial one to remember whenever entering any indoor space, and that is to leave your shoes at the door! Some of us come from cultures and countries where it’s normal to wear your outdoor shoes in your house, but in Japan, there’s a very clear distinction between soto (外, outside) and uchi (内, inside).

In fact, you might find yourself taking off your footwear quite often. Traditional places like shrines and temples, ryokan and izakaya, and even restaurants would require you to take off your shoes before entering. If you don’t know if you need to take them off, ask a staff member. You could also observe the people around you to see if they’re taking off their shoes. 

Oftentimes, when entering an indoor space, you will find a genkan, which is the entrance area. This bit is considered as soto, even though you’re indoors, and it’s where you remove or put back on your outdoor shoes. The indoor space is usually elevated and can be covered by a different type of flooring, so that’s your best way to differentiate the two. 

In some cases, you’ll be given indoor shoes, most likely slippers. I’ve picked up the habit of wearing indoor shoes in my home too.

5. Wear socks if possible

Now the next rule isn’t exactly a hard-and-fast rule, but it’s linked to the first one. Wear socks if possible, because they’ll be on display quite a bit. Some places don’t offer indoor slippers, and the Japanese believe that having socks on in the house is better than bare feet so as to not carry dust around.

One time you should definitely consider wearing socks is when you’re visiting a traditional indoor space. Say, for example, you’re going to a traditional tea ceremony in Japan. Most of the time these events take place in a tatami mat room, and it’s better to walk on tatami with socks so as to not damage the flooring.

6. Bathroom slippers

Now the third rule for indoor spaces is to take note of bathroom slippers. Sometimes in bathrooms, there will be bathroom slippers offered. In this case, leave your house slippers (if you have them on) outside the bathroom and switch for the bathroom slippers when you enter. Don’t forget to switch back after you’re done!

Visiting Holy Grounds

The third category of Japanese mannerisms for travellers is when visiting holy grounds. Temples and shrines are scattered all around the island — so many that you might even find yourself on holy ground without even realising! 

Now you might not find these pointers on any of the articles you Googled online, because these three tips are from my own personal experience and observation. 

7. Don’t touch

The first rule of this category is don’t touch anything. I know, curiosity kills the cat, but refrain from mindlessly touching things you don’t know about on holy ground, out of respect. If there’s something on holy grounds that looks unique and intriguing, it’s because it’s meant to be there for a purpose. You can admire something’s beauty without having your fingerprints all over them!

But of course, there are also things that you can touch, and oftentimes there are signs to signal that you can.

8. Ask if you don’t know

The next thing to remember when visiting holy grounds is that it’s okay to ask if you don’t know something. In fact, I recommend asking. Say for example you want to know if something is okay to touch, go up to any official staff worker on premises and ask them. In smaller, more local temples and shrines, there aren’t that many signs that explain things, so I found myself always asking if I could enter a space, or if I should take off my shoes. It’s so much better to get that clarified instead of wandering around and potentially misstepping. 

9. Behave respectfully

Now the last rule, the general rule, is to behave respectfully. The first two points actually fall under this one, because if you think about it, the reasoning behind those two rules is because you’re respecting the holy grounds.

If you’re entering a church or a mosque, you’re going to behave respectfully just naturally, right? Similarly, with shrines and temples, you should do the same. Keep these things in mind: keeping quiet, whispering instead of talking at a normal volume if you want to talk to your friend, observing what others are doing to give you a sense of what you can do.

Vocab Recap

In the podcast episode, we used a lot of useful and related vocabulary words. Here we summarise them in a list for listeners to refer back to!

Koukyou no basho (公共の場所) — public space. Koukyou (公共) is public, and basho (場所) means place

Densha (電車) — train

Sasuga (さすが) — as expected 

Narabu (並ぶ) — to queue

Konbini (コンビニ) — convenience store

Shinkansen (新幹線) — Japanese bullet trains 

Uchi (内) — inside

Soto (外) — outside

Ryokan (旅館) — traditional Japanese inn

Izakaya (居酒屋) — Japanese style pub

Genkan (玄関) — the entrance bit in homes and other types of establishments

Seiza (星座) — the proper way of seating in Japanese culture

Tera (寺) — temple

Jinja (神社) — shrine

Shitsumon (質問) — question

Sonkei (尊敬) — respect

Safe Travels to Japan!

These are the absolute minimal, essential Japanese etiquette that you should know when you travel to Japan. While these are general rules for travellers, it doesn’t mean you should ignore them if you plan on living in Japan. In fact, you should know more than just these mannerisms! So tune in to the other episodes of Season 10 of the Nihongo Master Podcast for all you need to know about Japanese Mannerisms! 

Japanese Etiquette for Popular Destinations According to Japan Guide!

Japanese Etiquette for Popular Destinations According to Japan Guide!

If you’re excited to plan your next trip to Japan (and who isn’t dreaming of visiting once visitors are allowed again?) then japan-guide.com should be an integral part of your planning process. This site is an amazing resource for those hoping to visit Japan. Use the interactive map on their homepage to see some of the most popular locations Japan has to offer. Once you click on your desired destination, you will be taken to a page filled with information on the topic. From there, you will find out about the culture and history of your destination. You will also learn the most popular activities, transportation methods, and more! What else could a traveler need to plan the best trip ever?

We’ve compiled a list of five popular destinations in Japan and used the resources in Japan Guide to learn more about them!

Japan Guide’s Interactive Map

5. Sapporo

Sapporo is the capital of Hokkaido, Japan’s northernmost prefecture. Sapporo is known for its beer, winter activities, and ramen–which was created in Hokkaido! The top rated activity in Sapporo, according to Japan Guide, is the Sapporo Snow Festival or さっぽろ雪まつり (Sapporo Yuki Matsuri). Japan Guide also has a great feature that tells you which activities are most recommended using a point system, and Sapporo’s Snow Festival made the list!

Japan Guide’s Point System

The Snow Festival is held annually for one week in February. Its main site is located at the Odori Site, which Japan Guide helpfully links information to. It also gives a history of the Snow Festival and information on Sapporo.

Like many other matsuri (Japanese festivals), the Snow Festival has delicious food. Hokkaido is well known for its seafood, especially crab, so its most popular matsuri food is crab miso soup. Cooked potatoes, takoyaki, and ramen are also common. These treats keep festival-goers warm during the cold Hokkaido winters.

In Japanese etiquette, it is frowned upon to eat while walking in public. Matsuri are an exception to this rule. You will often see people walking through the festival while enjoying a warm snack. Even so, miso soup or ramen may be difficult to enjoy while walking. You will find many places at the Snow Festival to stop, eat, and marvel at the amazing snow sculptures!

4. Osaka

Next, I used Japan-Guide’s interactive map to “travel” to Osaka and learn more about the beautiful city! Japan Guide has a helpful tool that will list the area’s highest rated activities. Osaka’s top attractions are the Osaka Aquarium and Universal Studios– I didn’t know this existed! It’s so great to explore the destination you are interested in and learn more about them too!

One of Osaka’s most iconic landmarks is the Osaka Castle. Through Japan Guide I was able to learn the history of the castle and what it is like to visit today. There are even ticket prices listed and recommendations for cherry blossom season! The castle–like much of Japan–becomes very popular and crowded during cherry blossom season. Remember to be respectful of others and to stand in an orderly queue as you wait to enter. Orderly lines are very important in Japanese etiquette. They show respect, patience, and organization.

If you plan to be around the castle for the cherry blossom season, you will want more than just a day trip to Osaka! Japan Guide can help you out. You can easily find recommended hotels listed on the site. If you plan to stay long, use Japan Guide’s feature to find nearby day trips to make sure your visit never has a dull moment!

And if you are visiting Japan to witness the cherry blossoms, Japan Guide has you covered there too! You can search destinations by season, and specifically find cherry blossom related activities!

3. Kyoto

According to Japan Guide’s rating system, Kyoto rates as one of the “Bests of Japan!” Also rated as one of the “Bests” is the famous Fushimi Inari Shrine. This is the famous Shinto shrine made from thousands of 鳥居 (torii) gates which line the pathways. It’s not surprising that this destination is so highly recommended. It is beautiful and lets visitors truly immerse themselves in Japanese culture.

There is plenty of etiquette to follow when visiting a shrine like the Fushimi Inari Shrine. Most shrines, like Fushimi Inari, have a water basin outside where visitors should wash each hand. It is also common etiquette to bow before entering the shrine to show your respect.

If you have any questions about visiting the shrine or anything related to your trip to Japan, you will find a list of common questions on the side of Japan Guide’s pages. They also have a very helpful forum where you may go to ask your specific questions.

2. Mount Fuji

Mount Fuji, known as Fuji-san in Japan, is also rated one of the best destinations in Japan. In fact, it is within the top 25 most visited locations! Hiking and climbing are very popular activities in Japan. This is due to the country’s mountainous terrain. Many visitors flock to Mount Fuji just for that! That is what the mountain is known for–but it definitely isn’t the only thing you can do there! You can learn more with the commentated animation Japan Guide provides on what to do near or on Mount Fuji and what to expect! You can find equally helpful videos for most of their destinations!

If you do enjoy the outdoors, you can search Japan Guide for similar activities to add to your itinerary. Go to Interests on the top header and you can find outdoor activities like skiing, snowboarding, hot springs, nature walks, and more in Japan! You can also search for other interests like history, art, food, and entertainment!

  1. Tokyo

Japan Guide’s number one most visited destination is, unsurprisingly, Tokyo! Who doesn’t want to visit the bustling capital of Japan? By filtering Japan Guide’s most popular destinations, I found that the Shinjuku and Shibuya districts are Tokyo’s most visited locations. There is so much to see and do in Tokyo, it may be hard to narrow it down. Luckily, Japan Guide makes it easy. You can find local events, or even search by your interests!

Tokyo, like many cities, can be daunting when it comes to getting around and not getting lost. With Japan Guide, you can learn about how to get to and from airports, which trains to take, and how to get passes. They also provide helpful links and resources too. Just make sure you know public and travel etiquette in Japan! Check out our recent post on Japanese etiquette for train travel!

We’re sure you are now even more excited to plan your next Japan trip. Japan Guide is an invaluable resource that will guide you along every step of your journey. From finding destinations that fit your interests, to researching destinations, even helping you book hotels and find transportation. On top of all that, they can even help you prepare for traveling abroad! Traveling to Japan has never been easier–or more exciting!