Rules to Follow in Japan

If you are planning to visit Japan for the first time, you must come to terms with the fact that Japan, culturally speaking, is the only non-European member of the G7. What does this mean? The Japanese may dress like you, consume your movies, listen to your music, and even eat your food, but they are not like you. Japan is a nation that dances to it own tune.

All Japanese people have a superpower that nobody else has, and it is called “Omotenashi.” Omotenashi is a basic level of respect for others that ultimately manifests as the world’s best customer-service culture. Pay close attention to how cash is given and received by a cashier in any shop, and you will get the idea. The Japanese go to extraordinary lengths to provide unparalleled hospitality, both in their homes and in their places of work.

Below, I offer 30 rules to follow while in Japan. Of course, you may already be following many of these rules, but it doesn’t hurt to remind ourselves of what good behaviour looks like. By following these rules, you give respect back to the Japanese, and that is good for all parties concerned. I know that many of these rules have nothing to do with being polite, but if you follow them, your visit to Japan will be a much more rewarding experience.


1. A group of foreign guests enter a ryokan hot spring hotel, but they just start walking in without removing their shoes:

Please remove your shoes before entering.

2. A foreign guest is standing outside the baths trying to decide which one he should enter:

Please be informed that beyond the blue curtain is the men’s bath and beyond the pink curtain is the women’s.

3. A foreign guest enters the bath with a swimsuit on:

No swimsuits in the bath, please.

4. A foreign guest enters the bath before washing:

Please rinse (wash) before you enter the bath.

5. A foreign guest takes his towel with him into the bath:

Please keep all towels out of the bath.

6. A foreign guest exits the bathroom dripping with water: 

Please towel dry before entering change room.


7. A foreign customer takes a shopping cart without picking up a basket:

Please use a basket.

8. A foreign customer picks up a doughnut in a bakery:

Please use tongs and a tray.

9. A foreign customer is waiting in the wrong place:

Please line up here.

10. A foreign customer starts removing things from his basket and puts them on the counter:

Please put your basket on the counter.

11. A foreign customer doesn’t have a bag to carry the items he has purchased:

Please use your own bag or purchase one.


12. A foreign customer is looking for a waiter in a restaurant:

Please press the button when you want service.

13. A foreign customer is looking for the waiter who served his meal:

Any waiter can help you.

14. A foreign customer leaves the cash for his meal on his table:

Please pay at the cashier.

15. A foreign customer leaves a tip on his table as he exits the restaurant:

Tipping is not required.

16. A foreign customer wants to pay with a credit card:

Cash only, please.


17. A foreign visitor is putting all his trash into the same container: 

Please separate your recyclables from your trash.

18. A foreign visitor is looking for a place to put his trash:

Please take your trash with you.

19. A foreign visitor is smoking as he walks on a busy street:

No smoking while you walk.

20. A foreign visitor is standing in the middle of the escalator:

Please keep to one side of the escalator.


21. A foreign guest wears his slippers on the tatami: 

No slippers on the tatami, please.

22. A foreign guest wears the toilet slippers around the house: 

Please leave these slippers in the toilet.

23. A foreign guest doesn’t know how to use a Japanese toilet:

Please ask if you need assistance with the washlet.

24. A foreign guest makes a mistake with his chopsticks:

Please do not leave your chopsticks standing in your rice bowl.

25. A foreign guest makes a mistake with his chopsticks: 

Please refrain from passing food from your chopsticks to another person’s chopsticks.

26. A foreign guest pours his own drink: 

Pouring drinks for others is a sign of respect in Japan.


27. A foreign passenger opens his own taxi door:

For safety reasons, please allow the driver to open your door.

28. A foreign passenger is talking loudly on his phone: 

Please refrain from making phone calls while on the train.

29. A foreign passenger is sitting in the seats reserved for disabled people: 

Sorry, these seats are reserved for elderly, disabled or pregnant passengers.

30. A foreign passenger gets on the local bus or train without picking up a ticket: 

Please take a ticket when you get on the (local) bus, (local) train.

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