Are you planning to go to Japan? The right attitudes to adopt (and those to forget)

In Tokyo (here Shinjuku), but more so in the whole country, certain behaviors must be avoided in order not to offend the residents. tonephotography –

The excessive goodwill of the Japanese has surprised more than one globetrotter. Here are the habits and customs to respect in the Land of the Rising Sun, as it prepares to reopen to tourists.

Eating on the street, showing off your tattoos, talking loudly on the subway… What seems banal to Westerners can surprise or confuse the Japanese. Attached to girla concept that encompasses kindness, gentleness or kindness, Japanese residents sometimes find it difficult to welcome foreigners due to cultural differences.

They cannot get angry or reprimand, even if they feel hurt. The best way not to make mistakes is to imitate the Japanese people around us. You just have to observe them to understand them better.“, explained Thierry Maincent, president of the travel agency Japan Experience (formerly Vivre le Japon). The country is preparing to relax its entry conditions and welcome back international tourists.

On the road, every day

In the Shinjuku district of Tokyo in June 2022. CHARLY TRIBALLEAU / AFP

To say hello, thank you or goodbye, all you have to do is bow slightly in front of your partner. Avoid all physical contact: forget the kiss or the handshake. Smoking is prohibited on the street, except in areas designated for this purpose. As of July 1, 2019, smoking in public places in Tokyo will be punishable by a fine of 300,000 yen, or 2,100 euros. However, some restaurants have smoking and non-smoking areas. When crossing pedestrians, the Japanese carefully respect the red light, even if there is no car in sight.

Eating on the street is frowned upon. Forget the sandwich or the ice cream cone swallowed while running through the crowd. There are some garbage cans on the streets of Japan: bring a bag to put your garbage in, which you will dispose of at night when you return to your place of residence. In terms of dress, the Japanese are extremely neat and elegant, even outside of a professional setting, but they remain open to extravagance. Clothes that are too casual or sloppy may go unnoticed.

In public transportation

One of the most surprising things for travelers when they arrive in Japan is the silence. You have to respect it. In the metro, when almost everyone uses their smartphone, few people make loud calls. Vibrate mode is required. Before boarding, allow passengers to exit and line up in lines formed in front of the metro doors.

In public baths

In hot springs (onsen), people with tattoos are often asked to cover their tattoos. Rockzheart –

Thermal springs (onsen) and hot bath (sento) constitutes a moment of relaxation, almost meditation, for the Japanese. So it is necessary to be silent. You should also avoid going there if you have clearly visible tattoos. The tattoos refer to the mafia, the yakuza, and therefore enjoys a bad image. Some of these places (but also sports halls, spas, etc.) are forbidden for people to get tattoos, even if we move to more flexibility for tourists. Some establishments may offer to wear some type of plaster over the tattoos.


The Japanese are not used to inviting people to their homes, including relatives, especially because of the small amount of accommodation. When they go out with friends or family, it’s usually at a restaurant. Suffice it to say that foreigners are rare in apartment buildings. Things have changed in recent years with the increase in rents among individuals. But this trend is less in Japan due to cultural differences. The strict measures implemented since 2018 also make it difficult to use platforms like Airbnb.

Today, it is mostly foreigners or Japanese returning from a long expatriation who rent to foreign guests. This does not mean that they have no sense of hospitality, on the contrary. However, if a Japanese person invites you, it is necessary to remove his shoes before entering his house. Aside from questions of hygiene, it is a question of respecting the distinction that the Japanese make between outside and inside.

In the restaurant

In a restaurant in Tokyo, in June 2021. Charly TRIBALLEAU / AFP

A restaurateur may deny you access to his establishment, for example by placing his arms in a cross. You don’t have to force it. He may feel that he does not speak enough English to welcome you in good situations and he tries to avoid embarrassing situations. At the table, do not plant your chopsticks on the dishes, especially on white rice, and do not eat directly from the presentation dishes. Tipping is considered an insult, in restaurants, hotels, or your taxi driver. Note that the bill is often in the form of a small ticket with very little information other than the amount. Asking for an itemized invoice can be considered a lack of confidence.

Go to Japan (Les Arènes and Common editions), illustrated book by graphic artist Vahram Muratyan, will be released in bookstores on September 22, 2022. Editions Les Arènes and Common

Specialty tour operator Japan Experience (formerly Vivre le Japon) has created its own publishing house, Komon. On the occasion of the release of his first illustrated book, Go to Japan (co-published with Les Arènes), the travel agency invites you to discover the universe of its author, the graphic artist Vahram Muratyan. Until September 22, his shop at 30 rue Sainte-Anne, in Paris, has become a pop-up store that looks like a Shinkansen, the Japanese high-speed train. The exhibition presents plates from the book as well as emblematic places of Japan in the form of miniatures.

[Initialement publié en octobre 2019, cet article a fait l’objet d’une mise à jour.]

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