Travel: Customs To Follow In Japan

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For many, the idea of travelling to  Japan is a very exciting prospect.  Japan is a country built on its strong traditional values and customs but is also very progressive in its work attitude, tech industry and scientific research. The island is a metropolis of lush green plains, endless mountain ranges, highly skilled craftspeople, creative cities and a fast economy. There may be a portion of the country’s culture that looks to the Western world for inspiration but a lot of the traditional customs and values remain. 

If you're planning a trip to Japan soon make sure you take a few of these pointers on board.

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No Tipping

Tipping for services isn't a done thing within the Japanese culture. At restaurants and any other public or private event the price you are quoted is the price you should provide. If you try to leave with money left on the table, in a 'keep the change' kind of way you will be presented your change later on - even if you're half way down the street! It might not been seen as an insult, but it's just not the done thing to offer extra. 

Shaking Hands Isn't Necessary

Like many countries around the world a handshake is the polite unwritten code for hello. In Japan they do use the handshake but it isn't as common. The most common greeting is the bow; be it 15, 30 or 45 degrees, each showing a level of respect and should always be reciprocated. 15 degree is the most informal, a style commonly seen from people in a rush, casual friends or in retail. A 30 degree bow is probably the most common, everyday greeting between good friends, work colleagues and business settings. The 45 degree bow is seen as the most formal of them all and signifies the highest level of respect within formal settings and ceremonies, to elders, or if you are offering an apology or asking for a favour. 

One other note related to hands, you may find a lack of hand dryers in the bathrooms. This is quite common, therefore most people will carry a  handkerchief at all times. 
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Food Etiquette

There are lots of rules the Japanese follow when it comes to meal times and it can be quite confusing. There are many unwritten rules but here are a few to follow which will work in most settings: 

- Practice using  chopsticks before you visit Japan, they can be tricky but a couple of weeks of getting used to them should be enough. Most settings will provide them for you, but feel free to bring your own, as the wooden ones are only used once 
- You may be given food that you didn't order, as a sign of welcoming and good health. It may not always be something you like but try your best to give it a go. If it's something you really cannot eat, do your best to tell them you have an allergy 
- If you're stuck for words then use a translator on your mobile phone 
- Lots of restaurants ask you to cook your own food, on a hot stove, in front of you. Try your best to do as they say but they will always be happy to help 
- Always top up your  dining partner's glass if they have finished their drink 
- If you're eating from a communal plate use the other side of your chopsticks to pick up the food and eat from your own plate using the regular side 
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Taking Your Shoes Off

In many settings within regular Japanese day-to-day life you will need to take off your shoes. Most commonly seen in residential, business and hotel settings. It's seen a sign of respect, as well as a rule of cleanliness. Simply pop off your shoes, sitting them to one side and use the slippers provided. Never step on the mats provided at the door. 

Consider which shoes you take before travelling to the country. Big,  lace up boots might not be suitable: think easy-off, like  Vans Slip-ons, or  Nike Flyknit.
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Try To Blend In

General Japanese culture is geared up towards the 'group' rather than the 'individual'. This isn't seen as a knock on the culture, rather it's a polite way to show respect for the rest of the public, without bringing too much attention to oneself. They are humble people, after all. Masks are worn to prevent infections and bugs from spreading, so try not to sneeze in public. Don't eat on the move, rather take your time to sit down and enjoy the food you have. Another no-no is to answer your mobile phone in a busy setting. 

Always try to think of the people you're around and how your actions could affect the bigger picture.
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Crime Is Low, But Still Be Vigilant

The crime rate is quite low in Japan and when travelling around it does feel a lot safer and respectful than many countries. You may start to relax; after all Japan is considered to be a very safe place but you still need to be vigilant. Crime happens, pick-pockets are around and people get tricked, just like every other country. Try to jolt yourself back to regular travel-mode if you find yourself being very relaxed with your belongings or the routes you take. 

Just be careful and stay safe in groups. And don't forget to buy respectable travel insurance coverage before you visit. Pick up travel essentials before you leave:  padlock, sun cream, bug spray,  city guides etc. 

If you liked this article you may also like;  Planning a Trip to Japan
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WRITTEN BY:  bucketsandspadesblog
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