Translated by Allie
4 Japanese Customs That Visitors To Japan Will Want To Know
A Taiwanese writer who has visited Japan many times let us know what he should have known before visiting Japan. We will introduce 4 things we learned from him. These are good tips that travelers should know. It is also useful information for the Japanese
Written by MATCHA
The number of visitors to Japan has been increasing year by year, and with this, the probability of troubles and misunderstandings arising between Japanese people and visitors has also increased.
Cultural differences are a part of life in a global world; no one has the same worldview as you and what might be common sense in one place may be completely unexpected in another. So, what are some of the cultural do's and don'ts when it comes to visiting Japan?
We asked Eric, a MATCHA writer from Taiwan who has been staying in Japan for some time now, "what should he have known before going to Japan". We will tell you the four things we learned from him.
If you are from abroad, please consider this article as a series of tips for making your stay in Japan go more smoothly. And if you are Japanese, this article should give you some useful information on how to treat visitors from other countries.
1. Walk on the Right Hand Side of the Sidewalk
In general, "walk on the right hand side of the sidewalk" is one of the rules in Japan. If you live in a country which has the opposite rule, you might get confused or caught up in a crowd.
Walking on the left except in areas with signs indicating which side to walk down could get you pushed off course, or block others from reaching their own destinations. It's just an overall unpleasant experience, so it's a good idea to keep this rule in mind if you want to avoid unnecessary stress when walking about in Japan.
This is a rule not only on sidewalks but also on paved roads. So if you ride a bike, especially in Tokyo, you need to be careful. Bikes and cars should keep to the left, and in most places bikes are not permitted on the sidewalk, no matter what you may see others doing. Please do not ride your bicycle on the right side of the road.
Furthermore, manners regarding escalators and stairs might be different from your own country. In general, if you are facing the stairs, the left is the up-side, right is the down-side and, on an escalator, you should not stand in the center of the step. Just watch what those around you are doing and you should be fine.
2. Carry Your Backpack in Front of You on Packed Trains
Visitors are always surprised by just how crowded trains during the rush hour are in Japan.
You might notice that people around you are staring at you once you manage to crush yourself into a crowded train. It is most likely because of your backpack.
If you wear your backpack on your back, it will occupy more space than you need in a train where there is barely enough space for all the people trying to ride it.
You might get a cold stare or on particularly crowded trains, get shoved a bit more aggressively than needed. But you can solve this easily. You just need to remove your backpack from your back and wear it on the front or hold it in your arms when you get on the train. If for some reason you cannot hold your backpack in front, if it is small enough you can just wear it on one shoulder. Ideally you should try to put it up on the rack over the seats if it is that bulky. The people around you will really appreciate it.
3. Wait To Be Guided by the Staff in Restaurants
In the majority of restaurants in Japan, you do not go straight to an empty table and seat yourself, even if you don't see anyone else waiting in the restaurant.
It is better to ask a staff member first to guide you to a table when you enter a Japanese restaurant.
There are various reasons for this, such as the fact that they haven't yet cleaned the table up, they might be closing between lunch and dinner, or are not ready yet to serve tea or water.
Guiding customers to a table after everything is ready is how the Japanese restaurant staff usually do things. They need to make sure everything is alright before customers sit down in order to give each customer the best experience possible.
4. The Bill at a Japanese Bar Could Be More Expensive Than You Think
Are you interested in izakaya, Japan's version of a pub?
"I would love to go to an izakaya while in Japan" is something that many visitors to Japan think. But do you know about otōshi and sekiryō which will be added on to your bill? You might be so confused when you get the bill, that you will think you are being ripped off.
Otōshi is a small portion of an appetizer you receive before you get the drinks or dishes you ordered in an izakaya. It is automatically given and charged for when you order alcoholic drinks. Usually, you cannot avoid paying for otōshi even if you don't eat it. If you are confident in your Japanese speaking abilities, you could try to ask the staff if it is possible to not have otōshi brought to your table.
Sekiryō is a table charge, sometimes called chājiryō (charge fee) or nyūjōryō (entrance fee). You might be charged this at higher quality restaurants and bars, or after a certain time at night; it depends on the establishment. You should ask before being seated or ordering if you will be charged for your table or not.
Things which are common for the Japanese could be uncommon for visitors from other countries. There are a lot of social rules to follow if you want to get around smoothly in Japan, many of which aren't immediately obvious to newcomers to Japan. If you keep these points in mind and try to be as respectful as you can of cultural differences, you shouldn't have anything to worry about in Japan. If everyone respects each other's cultures we can all increase our levels of intercultural understanding.