10 Things Not to Do in Japan

Common sense changes when the place changes. There are cases in which rules that must be followed in your country may not be necessary in Japan, but there are also cases where the opposite exists. Japan is known as a manner country with many unique manners and rules that everyone is supposed to follow. Since it can become a big problem sometimes if you don't follow these rules, it is recommended to check the etiquette and rules you need to know before taking a trip to Japan.

Talk or Make Phone Calls Loudly on the Train

Many people take out their smartphones to kill some time when they feel bored on the train or other public transportation, such as playing games, watching videos or chatting with friends. Talking on the phone on the train seems to be commonplace overseas, but it's considered bad manners in Japan. Japanese people often only use e-mail and chatting apps on trains. There is no problem exchanging messages, but if you make a phone call on the train, most people will think that you are rude. If you must talk on the phone, remember to lower your voice and it is better to do it after getting off the train.

When talking to people on the train, also should be careful of the volume of your voice. This rule depends on the region in Japan, and it is especially important on crowded trains. In the case of Tokyo, the more people there are on the train, the fewer people talk loudly. It is also important to turn off mobile phones near priority seats.

Japan Train SationJapan Train Sation

Enter the Train Tracks

In Japan, it is forbidden to enter train tracks. This is the same even when the train is not running, and entering the premises is prohibited by law. Taking pictures on the railroad tracks might give you a nice view of the scenery, but you should never take pictures on train tracks in Japan. It is also prohibited to place stones or objects on the tracks. Please be careful if you are traveling with children because behaviors that sabotage the trains such as laying stones are very serious sins.

In Japan, trains in Kamakura are very popular with foreigners, especially fans of Japanese manga(anime) "Slam Dunk" since Kamakura is the main stage of the story. Many foreigners stay on the tracks until the train comes, or hold the camera so close that they almost hit the train. This problem is considered very serious and there are even security guards standing at railroad crossings.

Such behaviors may lead to train delays and may cause inconvenience to many people, and the railway company may demand a large amount of compensation for damages.

Smoke in a Non-Designated Area

In Japan, it is polite to smoke only in designated areas to avoid secondhand smoke and to respect nonsmokers. However, many foreign tourists are confused about where to smoke. In Japan, smoking is illegal in public indoor spaces (restaurants, cafes, bars, etc.), partially enclosed spaces (buildings with open roofs or walls, bus stops, etc.), and in the workplace.

Although you can smoke indoors in some designated areas, you can't smoke while walking the streets of Tokyo. There are places where you will be fined if you smoke while walking. You can also be fined for throwing cigarettes or garbage on the street.

Street of TokyoStreet of Tokyo

Take Photos Without Consent

Before taking a photo, be sure to check the places where you are not allowed to take pictures in Japan. If you want to know if you can take pictures, ask the people around you. Photography is often prohibited in museums and galleries in Japan. This rule is made to protect copyright, and Japan is a very strict country against "copyright". Also, please note that some shopping malls and cafes may not allow you to take pictures of other people. In addition, it is prohibited to photograph books and magazines in bookstores, libraries, cinemas, etc. In Japan, this is called "digital shoplifting".

It is also prohibited to take pictures in hot springs. If you want to take pictures, remember to ask someone else for permission first. Even if you are allowed to take pictures, do not take pictures of other bathers, or make them uncomfortable. Also, do not post such photos online.

Enter Someone's House With Shoes On

In Japan, one way to clearly distinguish between the inside and outside of a building is the practice of not wearing shoes indoors. The act of "taking off one's shoes" means being the owner of the building or submitting oneself to the rules that apply within the building. In other words, it shows a lack of animosity, respect, and trust in the other person.

Of course, there are also hygiene reasons. Therefore, most Japanese still don't wear shoes inside their homes. Instead, they may wear indoor shoes such as slippers, but they are clearly distinguished from shoes for outside. Even if you may not have so many opportunities to visit Japanese houses, be careful with the rules regarding shoes when entering Japanese-style spaces such as shrines and temples, inns, and restaurants.

Japanese-style TeahouseJapanese-style Teahouse

Take Food From Shared Plates With Your Chopsticks

Eating together with lots of people can be fun for some people. But the question is when a dish or assortment comes out, how do you divide it? It is considered bad manners to use your chopsticks to take food from a shared dish.

When dining with a large group, meals are often served on platters. The restaurant has prepared extra chopsticks for everyone to use. If you may tend to use your chopsticks, keep in mind that using your chopsticks for a shared dish is a bad manner. In some countries that also use chopsticks like China and Korea, such behaviors sometimes may not be considered violations of manners. If you are used to a different custom, do remember to adapt it to Japanese manners.

Leave the Food at the Restaurant

In Japan, it is considered bad manners to leave food behind in restaurants. This is because leaving something that was made for you is considered disrespectful to the person who made it. Thus, in Japan, leaving food behind has been viewed as bad manners due to the spirit of waste and disrespect towards the person who made it.

The take-out style has become popular in many countries, but it has not yet spread in Japan. This is probably due to cultural differences between countries. In Japan, if something goes wrong with the food brought back, it could be a disadvantage for the restaurant since it may be fully responsible for the problems. However, depending on the restaurant, it seems that guests may be able to take it home if permitted. If permission is given, you are responsible for the food you bring home, and you need to be careful not to disturb the restaurant while asking for take-out.

Japanese FoodJapanese Food

Eat While Walking

For some people, one of the pleasures of sightseeing is eating while walking. In some famous tourist cities such as Kyoto and Kamakura, eating while walking is strictly forbidden by law. According to the local government, so many complaints have been made about food staining clothes while others are eating nearby. Another reason you should be careful about here is littering after meals. Many places in Japan do not have trash cans. Such behaviors would ruin the scenery. Moreover, it causes trouble for the people who live there. 

Older Japanese people may stare at or warn you when you are eating while walking. On the other hand, the younger generation seems to have no problem eating while walking. However, if possible, stop in front of a convenience store and eat instead of eating while walking.

Not Follow the Rules When Damp Garbage

Japan has received high praise from the world as a clean country with little garbage on the street. Tourists visiting Japan are often amazed by the beauty and cleanliness of the cities. In Japan, you don't often see trash cans on the streets due to the anti-terrorist measure. If you find a trash can in the city, please dispose of it according to the sorting sign. Sometimes different places may have different rules for sorting garbage.

Most trash cans in train stations are open so you can see inside. Garbage sorting methods vary from station to station, but often there are four types: newspapers/magazines, cans/bottles, plastic bottles, and other garbage. Some places have instructions written in English, but there are also trash cans written only in Japanese, which you can use the icon to distinguish.

To save space, hotels do not have bins for each category of garbage, and often there is only one bin per room. In such a case, go straight to the trash without worrying about sorting. Especially when checking out, be sure to throw away unnecessary items in the trash. Items that are not in the trash cans may be left as forgotten items for a certain period.

In any case, if you prepare a small plastic bag as a garbage bag, it will be convenient to keep garbage out of the way when sightseeing.

Enter Onsen Without Taking a Shower or With a Towel

Here are some tips before entering the Onsen. The first thing to do when entering a hot spring is to pour hot water on your body. This is for everyone to take a bath comfortably. By doing so, the body prepares to enter the hot spring and reduces the burden on the body. Then you must cleanse your body and prepare to enter the hot spring. Washing your body first can prevent dirt from floating in the bathtub.

When using a towel in a hot spring, be careful not to soak it in the bathtub. If you soak a towel in the bathtub with the towel wrapped around you, the bathtub will become dirty with dirt, soap scum, dust, etc.

Shower before OnsenShower before Onsen

If you travel abroad, you will be regarded as a "representative of your country," so please be careful not to damage your country's image. But it is perfectly fine even if you can't follow all these cultural rules since you are a foreigner and don't know Japanese manners so well. It would be always nice to understand the basics of manners concerning the local people. If you're planning a Japan trip but don't know how to start, please don't hesitate to contact us, just simply tell us your interests and needs, and one of our travel experts will create a tailor-made itinerary for you within 24hrs.

Customize Your Dream Tour

  • 1-on-1 Travel Expert
  • Reply Within 24 Hours
  • Private and Tailor-Made Service

What Our Clients Say

"Great Service and Value", "Exceed All Expectations", "Highly Recommend".


1-to-1 Service | Reply within 24hrs | Expert's Advice


Subscribe to our newsletter for a chance to win a free 12-day China tour! And more insider travel news, exclusive offers, and inspiration will be sent straight to your inbox.

We respect your privacy. You could unsubscribe at any time.