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CULTURE AND ETIQUETTE IN JAPAN

The TOKYO OLYMPICS are set to be a huge event for Japan, with more than 1.4 million international visitors expected to travel to the tournament. With that in mind, Japan is focusing it’s attention on how to ensure a warm welcome for sports fans who may not know what to expect from being in Japan - a unique cultural experience.

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Taking this into account, we’ve put together a by no means exhaustive, but nonetheless useful list of things you might wish to consider while traveling to Japan during this once-in-a-lifetime event. Check out the list below.

Don’t wing It (Plan ahead)

With a population of 128 million people, Japan has significant transport, hotel and hospitality infrastructure, however this also means things get busy and fill up. The Japanese are great planners and plan ahead when they travel within their own country and you should too. During OLYMPICS transport and hotels will be incredibly busy. Don’t expect to turn up on the day and get a seat on a bullet train as you might be disappointed. Do as the locals do – plan ahead.

The rules are the rules

When it comes to rules, the Japanese can be pretty rigid. With such a large population, people need to follow the rules to make the society work. This is one of the reasons Japan is one of the safest countries in the world. This sense of following the rules extends from waiting for the green man at a street crossing or when checking into a hotel. If check-in time is 15:00, you cannot get into your room until precisely 15:00.

No tipping

Japanese businesses do not accept tips for services provided. Why, you may ask? That would be the word ‘omotenashi’ or as we say in English ‘exceptional or quality service’ which basically means Japanese people believe in providing 100 per cent quality customer service 100 per cent of the time, without requiring monetary incentives.

Public transport manners

Many Japanese people use their commute as a time to relax or sneak in a quick nap before they clock into the office for the day. So, it goes without saying that commuters on trains and buses in Japan are expected to keep noise to a minimum, which includes talking on the phone. If you have an urge to make a call or talk about to your friend next to you, try and keep your voice down where possible.

Tattoos 

In Japan, tattoos carry a certain stigma as they are traditionally associated with the Yakuza, Japan’s organised crime groups. This can prove to be a minor inconvenience for tourists whose ink can stop them from entering some gyms and hot springs. However, it's nothing that a covering or long sleeve t-shirt can’t fix so there's no need to let it affect your travel plans. Knowing many rugby players and fans may have tattoos, many hot springs in and around Olympic cities are relaxing their rules during the tournament. If in doubt, it's best to confirm with the establishment beforehand.

Queue up like a pro

The massive population of cities like Tokyo and Osaka mean that creating an orderly line is the most efficient way to get things done. If you see people queuing up for the train, bus, ticket counter, make sure to respect the queueing system and pay attention to markings on station platform floors as they’ll guide you right to where you need to wait for the train doors to open.

Eating on the go

With the exception of festivals and sporting matches, eating on the go is not encouraged in Japan and snacking on trains or in crowded spaces is frowned upon. This is mostly to do with the potential for spillage onto another person and the propensity for this to create litter. The general consensus around eating in public is that you should sit down, enjoy and respect your meal without focusing on getting from A to B. If you find yourself in a situation where its unavoidable, try your best to consider those around you.

Take your trash home

Japanese sports fans are world famous for cleaning their mess at stadiums around the world, often leaving them tidier than when they arrived. The same concept extends to all public places. You will notice a distinct lack of trash bins in public, while at the same time, absolutely zero trash/rubbish on the streets. This is because the Japanese hold onto their rubbish and dispose of it at home or when they come across public trash bins.

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Take off your shoes

Japanese people associate the outside world with uncleanliness so don’t be surprised if you get asked to take your shoes off if you enter a friend’s home, a traditional Japanese restaurant or even some hotels. If you’re not paying attention, it can be easy to step into a no-shoe zone without taking them off so keep an eye out for signs and also whether or not there is an elevated step leading into the area as this signifies that shoes are to be taken off before entering.

Bring a gift

It’s best to bring a small gift if you’re invited to visit a Japanese house or if you will drop in on friends or colleagues while you’re in Japan. The Japanese love giving and receiving gifts. They don’t need to be fancy or expensive as its mainly the thought that counts.