Amy's Guide to Best Behavior in Japan: Do It Right and Be Polite!

Amy's Guide to Best Behavior in Japan: Do It Right and Be Polite!


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This guide to common courtesy, acceptable behavior, and manners is essential for any visitor to Japan. Japanese are unfailingly polite and will never tell you if you've crossed the line. But by knowing how to act in every situation you'll gain the respect of your hosts and in the end get even better service and enjoyment during your travels. Covered here are all the essentials—like travel, greetings, dining—plus subtle niceties like tone of voice, body language, cell phone usage, city vs. country styles, and attire (and what to do about your tattoos!).

The author, a 25-year resident of Japan and tourist adviser who lives on the fabled Inland Sea, knows just what foreign visitors need and delivers it in a smart, compact, and delightfully illustrated package for quick use and reference.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781611720433
Publisher: Stone Bridge Press
Publication date: 06/19/2018
Pages: 144
Sales rank: 1,235,231
Product dimensions: 4.50(w) x 6.90(h) x 0.30(d)

About the Author

Amy Chavez has lived in Japan for 25 years, and is proprietor of the Moooo! Bar & Cafe on Shiraishi Island in the Inland Sea, where she helps tourists with reservations, language support, and cultural guidance. She has lived in Japan for 25 years and writes about cultural differences between Japan and the West for the Japan Times, Huffpo, and RocketNews24.

Read an Excerpt

The genkan--Or, the holy entryway

Everyone knows to take off their shoes before entering a Japanese house. Yet, few people do it properly. What could be improper about taking your shoes off? Plenty. "I could write 200 pages on how to take your shoes off in the genkan," rails my friend who is a Kyoto tour guide. "The point is," she pants, "that your feet never touch the dirty genkan floor before stepping into the house." In other words, you step out of your shoes and into the house, rather than taking off your shoes, putting your unshod foot on the genkan floor, then stepping into the house. This can be a little tricky if you balance isn't very good, but in that case, just apologize and sit on the step to take your shoes off.

The Tipping Point

Japan is not a tipping country. Yet people do tip. Like everything else in Japan, there is a proper way to do it. But don't tell the waiter to keep the change. Don't leave money on the bar top for the bartender. And please don't tip the bellhop. So, who tips? Regular customers who are loyal to a particular establishment. Tipping comes from the geisha world and the less sophisticated "hostess bar" trade. Men bring gifts to their favorite geisha or bar hostesses. They may lavish them with fancy name-brand goods such as Louis Vuiton, Chanel or Prada. They take them on outings to high class restaurants. In turn, they are overcharged for their drinks by the establishment, in what is a cozy pre-determined arrangement. Men are happy to oblige. No need to leave a tip, you see. And nowadays, there are some host bars for women to frequent and lavish attention on the male hosts.

At my small bar on the beach, I've been a recipient of many tips, among them a brand new air conditioner. Another customer gifts us cases of local wine which he insists we sell. Make a profit! he demands. Yet another ex-company president comes for one drink once a month, and each time pays with a 10,000 yen note and insists I keep the change. This is tipping in Japan.

"It never hurts to ask" but, don't ask!

Omotenashi dictates that Japanese hosts must do everything possible to make their guests comfortable. Therefore, they will go out of their way, even jump tall buildings, to provide what you ask for. To keep your poor host sane, try to minimize petty grievances or requests. "I wish I'd brought my light pink nail polish" may seem like an insignificant observation said on the end of a exhalation, but your Japanese guest is hearing, "Would you mind going to the trouble to buy me, or find somewhere, maybe even ask your friends, if they have any light pink nail polish?" Suggestions that a room is hot or cold, will send them flying off their seats to adjust the air conditioner. Japanese people know not to let all of their feelings known, so that they can spare their poor hosts who will feel obliged to appease them. Refrain from any request that starts with, "If you don't have it that's fine, but..." or "You can say no if you want but... can I.....?" because Japanese protocol dictates that they cannot say no, so if they don't have "it" will feel obliged to go get "it" for you. I can't tell you how many Japanese people have driven down to the nearest convenience store to get "it" (toothpaste, bottled water, throat lozenges, etc because they didn't have what their guest requested).

Taking photos

The Japanese themselves are famous for taking photos of everything, so for the most part, you needn't worry about whether you can take photos or not. However, for photos that will be published somewhere, even on a blog, you'll need permission from any person who appears in the photo. As a result, you'll often see Japanese blog posts that mosaic people's faces so they can't be identified or so the blog won't be challenged legally. In addition, always ask before taking photos inside temples or shrines as some images are considered too sacred to be photographed. Public places usually have a "No photos" sign. If you're unsure, ask: Shashin o totte ii desuka?

When taking photos of people, please be aware of the status of individuals. The easiest way to do this is to leave the line up order to the Japanese, who will automatically line everyone up according to age and status. The main thing to remember is to put the highest status person in the middle. In most cases, since you are the guest, you will be given the highest status and someone will physically drag you into the middle of the photo. Think of wedding photos in your own country where the happy couple is always in the middle of the photo, with family or friends around them. In Japan, every photo is like a wedding photo.

Table of Contents


  • Hospitality and Thoughtfulness in Japan

  • The Role of the Outsider (You)

  • Manners = Gratitude

10 Things You Should Never Do in Japan

10 Things You Should Always Do in Japan


  • talking about money

  • money envelopes

  • tipping

  • monetary gifts

  • paying the bill at a restaurant

  • paying someone for their time or for a favor

  • Anecdote/commentary

Bowing & Shaking Hands

  • when to bow

  • how to bow

  • the head-bow

  • kowtowing

  • bowing while exchanging business cards

  • shaking hands while exchanging business cards

  • Anecdote/commentary


  • when to speak

  • voice level

  • adjusting you speech for non-native speakers

  • listening

  • good topics

  • bad topics (see Taboo Subjects)

  • making suggestions

  • how to be firm but polite

  • asking for help

  • expressing interest without creating obligation

  • apologizing

  • expressing disagreement

  • expressing disappointment

  • dealing with embarrassing situations and mistakes

  • Anecdote/commentary

Taboo Subjects

  • burakumin

  • yakuza

  • suicide

  • racism

  • gays/lesbians

  • foreigners

  • money

  • about tattoos and piercings

  • Anecdote/commentary

Showing Appreciation

  • thanking

  • gift-giving

  • turning thoughtfulness into a habit

  • returning favors

  • omiyage

  • gifts of anticipation

  • thanking someone the next time you see them

  • Anecdote/commentary

Romance and Flirting

  • dating

  • holding hands

  • visiting someone's house

  • dating

  • sex

  • texting and use of emoji

  • Anecdote/commentary


  • waiting to get into a restaurant

  • queuing on the train platform

  • middle-aged women who don't que

  • giving up your seat on the train to an aged person

  • Anecdote/commentary

Eating in Public

  • on the train

  • eating while walking

  • standing while eating

  • what to do with your garbage after eating

  • foods you shouldn't eat on the train to not cause offense (kimchee

  • etc)

  • how to put your bento box back together before throwing it away (chopsticks back in sleeve

  • uneaten food covered with lid and bound with elastic

  • all that put back into plastic bag)

  • Anecdote/commentary

Eating in Restaurants

  • letting your host order for you

  • choosing shareable dishes

  • eating leisurely

  • chopstick etiquette

  • types of food and protocol (nabe

  • okonomiyaki

  • etc)

  • vegetarians

  • Anecdote/commentary


  • in public

  • at parties or functions

  • ohanami parties

  • kompai etiquette

  • pouring beer

  • refiling others' beer glasses

  • wine

  • sake

  • Anecdote/commentary

Drinking Establishments

  • izakaya

  • bars

  • hostess clubs

  • cafes Asking for waiter/waitress

  • paying

  • tipping

  • who pays

  • Anecdote/commentary


  • the genkan

  • taking off shoes

  • properly taking off shoes

  • lining up shoes

  • using slippers

  • bare feet & tatami mat

  • toilet slippers

  • outdoor slippers

  • using shoe boxes

  • Anecdote/commentary


  • J-style

  • Western style

  • washlets

  • hygiene

  • big and small flush

  • how to knock on stall door

  • the "sound princess," old style pit toilets

  • Anecdote/commentary

At the Hotel

  • tipping

  • how to complain

  • dealing with staff

  • letting yourself be taken care of

  • using the bath and other common facilities

  • Anecdote/commentary

On the Subway/Train/Bus

  • finding a seat in an unreserved compartment or train

  • eating

  • sound levels

  • use of electronics, headphones, and cell phones

  • making conversation (or not) with fellow passengers

  • asking for help

  • solving ticketing and reservation problems

When You “Take a Meeting” in Japan

  • greetings

  • basic workplace etiquette

  • to bring a gift or not?

  • to receive a gift or not?

  • who pays for lunch?

  • where and when to use your phone

  • thank yous at day’s end

  • how to listen

  • how to say no or “I’ll think about it”

Bringing Good Manners Home With You


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