15 Japanese Customs That May Seem Crazy But You Need To Know

August 12, 2015

Japan is a place of contradictions. At once a land bound by ancient customs and traditions whilst simultaneously being a country of thriving and vibrant metropolises.

For the open minded traveller it has a lot to offer, from peaceful, serene villages, untouched by time right through to modern, bustling cities showing off the best of Japanese counter culture.

As fascinating as it is though those customs and traditions we mentioned are embedded within the Japanese mind-set and the wise tourist would do well to learn some of them before choosing to travel there…


If you’re addressing someone, bow!

Japanese bowing

Perhaps bowing, more than any other tradition, is the most well-known of Japanese traditions to Western travelers and bowing to others is drilled into young Japanese children from a young age. Whilst you’ wouldn’t be expected to conform, a small bend of the head will go a long way.


Don’t forget your slippers!

Slippers outside a temple, Japan

Anyone entering a house in Japan will be expected to remove their shoes and don the slippers provided. Not just houses either!

Temples, traditional restaurants and even some museums will expect it.

Basically if you ever come across a row of slippers in Japan make sure you put them on (unless you happen to be in a slipper shop – that could get a bit weird!)


Sleeping in a tube is completely normal

capsule hotel

Don’t panic, these aren’t de rigour for all Japanese hotels. They are pretty common though for traveling business people or those who have stayed out to late and missed their train. We’re not sure we’d spend our whole holiday here but if you’re visiting a big city like Tokyo it might be worth giving it a go just so you can say you’ve sampled the ‘real’ Japan.


You can’t ever use the number four

No.4 is unlucky in Japan

The Japanese word for death is almost identical to their word for four so has become an unlucky number, much like our number thirteen… just worse.


Or eat and walk

eating ice cream

Eating whilst walking is considered a sign of low status and is seen as slovenly or rude… so don’t do it. (Although you’ll be glad to know ice creams are considered an exception to the rule – phew!)


Although slurping is ok…

Not only is slurping your food OK, it’s actually considered polite! It’s a sign that you’re enjoying it apparently.


But you can’t blow your nose in public

blow your nose

To most Japanese people blowing your nose won’t just be considered rude… It’s totally disgusting as well. Instead you’d be expected to snuffle it out till you reached somewhere private (like a public toilet or your hotel room).


Or use your mobile phone in public!

Using your phone in public

We’re not quite sure what the point of a mobile is that can’t be used in public but using it in a crowed public area like a bus or train will be considered the height of ill manners.


Feel free to pick up your bowl

eating rice from a bowl

If you’re struggling with your chopsticks, raising your bowl to your mouth (and slurping we guess) is completely acceptable – especially if you’re eating rice.


Don’t be offended by this lady

There are people in Japanese railway stations whose only job is pushing packed commuters onto trains to make room for others.


Speaking of trains

Asleep on the train

On Japan’s crowded trains it’s perfectly acceptable for a stranger to lay their head on your shoulder and go to sleep (but it’s not acceptable for you to snuggle them).


Tipping is considered rude

No tips

It’s not just that it’s considered rude, in a lot of places it will cause a lot of confusion as the server will think you’ve misunderstood and overpaid… quite often chasing you down the street with your excess change.


You can’t touch the cashier!

Perhaps it’s only natural that in a big city the fear of bugs and colds being passed on becomes common place. In many shops in Japan you’ll find a small tray next to the till. If you see one never hand your money directly to the cashier; instead place it on the tray for them to pick up.

We’re sorry t say it but the tray means they don’t want to touch you!


Don’t ever pour your own drink

japanese drink

Even if you find yourself in a social setting pouring drinks for others never fill your own glass. Instead put the bottle down… someone else will fill your glass.


It’s not a napkin!

Japanese towel

Eating out in a foreign country is always fraught with peril… What should you eat; what should you say; what should you do? Surely you can’t go wrong with a napkin though?

In most Japanese restaurants you’ll be given a small, wet cloth to clean your fingers. Use it, fold it neatly and lay it on the side of your plate – Never use it to wash your face!

What do you think, are the Japanese Customs rather odd?

Have you ever fancied traveling to Japan? It’s a fascinating place, steeped in tradition and if you’d like to learn more you can here…