Japan welcomed 19.8 million visitors between January and October of 2023. While learning a few key phrases can help tourists navigate, understanding Japanese etiquette is equally important. Here’s a guide to help you make the most of your visit to Japan while respecting local customs.


Key Tips for Visiting Japan

COVID Etiquette and Regulations

While Japan has relaxed its COVID-19 regulations, including the need for tests and vaccine proof, mask-wearing remains common, especially in crowded areas and on public transport. Respect individual choices regarding COVID-19 measures.


Greetings and Bowing

In Japan, bowing is the most common form of greeting. Bows range from a nod to a deep bend at the waist, depending on the context and social status. Tourists aren't expected to master the intricacies but should follow the lead of locals.


Restaurant Culture and Table Manners

  • Traditional Seating: Many restaurants have low tables and cushions on the tatami floor. Always remove your shoes before stepping onto the tatami and avoid stepping on any cushions other than your own.
  • Oshibori: Use the hot steamed towel provided to clean your hands.
  • Meal Start: Wait until everyone has their food and start with “itadakimasu” (“I gratefully receive”).
  • Chopsticks: Follow these rules:
    • Never stab your food.
    • Don’t place chopsticks upright in the bowl.
    • Use the opposite end to serve yourself from communal dishes.
    • Don’t point with chopsticks.
  • Serving Drinks: Pour drinks for others, and they will do the same for you.
  • End of Meal: Return items to their original position and place chopsticks on the holder.

Etiquette on the Street

  • Avoid Loitering: Move to the side if you need to stop, especially if you have luggage.
  • Eating and Drinking: Don’t eat or drink while walking. Use designated areas, often provided by convenience stores.
  • Smoking: Use designated smoking areas and carry a portable ashtray.
  • Cleanliness: Carry your rubbish until you find a bin.
  • Respect Geishas and Maiko: Don’t approach them for selfies as they are often working.
  • Public Hygiene: Avoid blowing your nose in public.

Travel and Public Transport

  • Follow Traffic Flow: Pay attention to signs and arrows.
  • Politeness: Be observant and wait your turn to board trains.
  • Priority Seating: Respect these seats for the elderly, disabled, or pregnant.
  • Phone Usage: Keep phones on silent and avoid taking calls.
  • Conversations: Keep them quiet and respectful.
  • Eating and Drinking: Generally not accepted on local trains, except on bullet trains.
  • Space Consideration: Do not take up more than one seat with your belongings.

Expert Tips for Visitors

Haroun Khan, Founder of JRPass, emphasizes embracing Japan's unique customs. “Experiencing a different culture is an exciting opportunity. Japan is incredibly welcoming, and while no visitor is expected to know every custom, learning some basic etiquette is appreciated. These tips are just a starting point, and we encourage further research to fully enjoy your visit.”

By understanding and respecting these customs, visitors can have a more enjoyable and respectful experience in Japan.