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Japanese Etiquette

Japan is warm and welcoming to travellers, but correct manners are very important among the Japanese. To help create a faux-pas-free journey, arm yourself with a few of these handy etiquette tips before your trip, from when to bow and take your shoes off, to what not to do with your chopsticks.


Perhaps one of Japan’s most well-known customs, bowing is considered a sign of respect. When greeting one another, people bow instead of shaking hands. The deeper the bow, the more respectful it is. Bowing is also used when thanking or apologising to someone. Be sure to keep enough distance to avoid bumping heads!

Hot Springs (Onsen)

Hot springs, or onsen, are a big part of any Japanese holiday and a great addition to your Rugby World Cup 2019 experience. Tattoos are uncommon in Japan and can be associated to ties with the Japanese mafia, so check the guidelines of the establishment you are planning to visit before entering. There is just one thing to be ready for, and that’s getting naked in front of total strangers. In most cases, wearing a swimsuit / clothing of any kind is not permitted whilst using the baths. Some resorts offer a choice of private onsen facilities, mixed gender and separate male and female options.

Bathroom Slippers

You may notice that slippers are provided outside most bathrooms, toilets and some restaurants. It is therefore recommended to take a pair of slip on shoes or shoes that are easy to take on and off. When you enter, leave your own shoes outside and switch to the bathroom slippers. These are for sole use within the bathroom so be sure to change back to your own shoes upon leaving.

Chopstick etiquette

There are a number of dos and don’ts related to the use of chopsticks. The main ones to keep in mind are to not leave chopsticks standing upright in a bowl of rice, or use them to pass food directly to another person’s chopsticks. Also avoid anything that might be considered ‘playing’ with your chopsticks. Knives and forks are sometimes available upon request but are not commonly used.

Passing money

Money is very rarely passed directly from hand to hand in Japan. When paying for any item or service, place your money on the small tray provided rather than handing it to the cashier. This is where your change will also be placed. If you are faced with the prospect of handing anything of value directly to someone (such as a credit card), clutch the item with both hands and deliver with it a subtle nod. It demonstrates that both parties are exchanging something of value and they respect both the item and each other enough to entrust it to the other.

Removing your shoes

A lot of rules regarding indoor manners in Japan are related to footwear. These rules not only apply to most Japanese homes, but also to many traditional ryokan, some restaurants and the indoor sections of historic buildings. You should line up your shoes at the edge of the lower side of the floor, but if there is a kutsubako (shoe box) or locker available then leave your shoes there. Slippers may sometimes be provided for you, however even these must be removed when entering a room floored with tatami matting.


Tipping in Japan is not common and can be considered as rude and a little insulting to the service provider. If you do leave a tip, be prepared for staff to hand back any money that you left behind. The only exception to this rule is if you are staying in an extremely high class ‘Ryokan’ (a traditional Japanese Inn). At a Ryokan, tipping etiquette is to leave a small tip in an envelope and to never give the tip directly. Aside from this, hotel staff in Japan will not expect you to tip and are trained to say "no thank you" if you offer.