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TokyoTreat Japanese Snacks Blog10 Japanese (unwritten!) rules that you probably didn’t know about!

10 Japanese (unwritten!) rules that you probably didn’t know about!

By Jojo Morsche
August 25, 2018

Every country has their own customs, manners and (unwritten!) rules, these are the ones you don't read about in a travel guide. There are so many things to do in Japan, only in Tokyo there are at least 100 things to do! Or what about places outside Tokyo? It's important to know how to behave when you visit a country so you can leave a good impression as one of the few people visiting from your country! The majority of people probably know about rules like taking off your shoes in Japanese houses and the famous bow instead of handshake. But what about the following list? Did you know about any of these?

1. Eating in public places

Japanese people don't like to eat outside especially when walking. At some convenience stores you can eat your snack inside at a table and at smaller ones you have to stand outside. Since there are not many trash cans it is also more convenient to throw away your trash right away at the convenience store. A thing that is considered the worst is eating in the train. In the Netherlands it's very common to eat anything in the train from a sandwich to french fries, in Japan this is a no go! Especially food that smells and causes inconvenience to other passengers is frowned upon.

2. Other train manners..

In the Netherlands, as soon as the train arrives everyone rushes to get a seat! In Japan everyone waits in line orderly and enter the train when other passengers have gotten off. People who wear a backpack take it off and carry it in their hands or put in on the racks above the seats. Sitting with your legs crossed is also considered rude when the train is crowded. And last but not least: Japanese people are quiet! At least… when they haven't been drinking yet!

3. No thank you??

This one is definitely strange to most visitors' Japanese people don't say thank you to cashiers or waiters! When doing groceries in the Netherlands you have to greet the cashier and thank them afterwards, sometimes even make some small talk and wish them a nice day. In Japan it's mostly the cashier talking, greeting the customer, asking if they need a bag and thanking them for visiting the store while the customer occasionally nods and bows. When going to a restaurant in the Netherlands we usually thank the waiters when our food arrives, in Japan a mere 'gochisosama desu' (thank you for the food) when leaving is considered enough. Why you might wonder? In Japan thanking someone for doing their job is considered a bit strange, that's what they're getting paid for right?

4. Bring your trash home!

This one goes hand in hand with eating manners in public places. You're supposed to throw your trash away at the convenience store right away. But what if you don't do that? You might have a problem because trash cans are nowhere to be found in Tokyo! Japanese people never break the rules so that means that even though it's annoying, you might have to carry your trash around until you get home to throw it away! Most vending machines have trash cans but ones that only bottles and cans can fit in so if you have anything else, you're unlucky.

5. Clothing store etiquette

If you decide to shop at a usually smaller, Japanese brand store you might notice that they're quite different from your usual H&M or Zara. The shop staff in these kind of stores are called charisma store clerk and have to work extra hard to sell you something. Through small talk , compliments and (unwanted) fashion advice they will try to persuade you until you either go crazy or buy something. When you want to try something on you have to ask the staff first, who will guide you to the fitting room. You have to take of your shoes to enter the fitting room and girls have to cover their faces to prevent getting makeup stains on the new clothes. If you take longer than 10 minutes the shop staff will come knocking at the door and asking if you're OK. Once you buy an item the staff will walk you to the exit of the store and thank you for making a purchase. Some people enjoy the extra customer service and special treatment, personally I rather shop in peace!

6. Japanese 'punctuality'

Japanese people value punctuality so don't you dare to be late for an appointment even a minute! Especially at work arriving late multiple times will give you a bad name. At the station they provide official papers to prove that your train was late but even then your boss won't let you easily off the hook! Broken leg? No excuse! You should leave your house earlier. Yet, when it comes to finishing times, Japanese people are anything but punctual. Dutch people start packing their bags at exactly 6 PM but Japanese people stay longer, either to finish work or just because they don't want to be the first person to leave the office.

7. No omiyage no life!

When you go on a trip even if it's close to home you are supposed to bring omiyage (souvernirs)! Especially if you're visiting the family of your Japanese (boy/girl)friend be sure to suprise them with a bottle of sake or snacks from your town. Now we're not talking about Japanese candy or snacks that you can buy at the konbini like kitkat but luxurious looking wagashi like these usually sold at big department stores or traditional stores. And then what do should you bring for ALL your coworkers when you return to the office? guess!

8. Smoking rules

When it comes to smoking Japan and the Netherlands are nearly the opposite! For years smoking inside restaurants, bars and clubs has been banned in most European countries because of safety measures. People go out for an occasional cigarette break and you can find cigarettes on the street anywhere. A large percentage of Japanese men and also some women are smokers and people are still allowed to smoke at most cheaper izakaya's, bars and clubs. Outside however, you're only allowed to smoke at specific smoker areas usually near stations or parks. Walking and smoking is absolutely frowned upon!

9. Tipping etiquette

Japan's tipping etiquette? Yeah the non-existing one! Tipping in the Netherlands is not always done and usually the amount of the tip is based on how pleased the customer was with the service and the food. In Japan it's just not done! Try to leave money and the waiter will just run after you and try to give it back, safe yourself from an awkward situation and don't tip!

10. Don't drink before saying kanpai!

Japanese people love drinking and often go for a beer, whisky or sake after work or with their friends at the weekend. In the Netherlands we also say cheers but usually for special occasions in Japan the 'kanpai' is a holy word said at every drinking party. People wait for everyone to get their drink and say kanpai so don't drink before that!

Japan probably has more unwritten rules than most countries because Japanese people always try to 'read the air' and try to not bother other people and cause inconvenience for anyone. People respect public places and keep them clean, even most rebellious teenagers! Keep in mind though that there should be exceptions to these rules. Being a tourist and visiting many places in a day you might find yourself hungry or thirsty so don't stress too much and take a sip of that bottle if you have to! Japanese people are kind and understanding with foreigners. Also don't forget to study a bit of Japanese before your trip to safe yourself some trouble! Learn these 10 useful verbs and travel prepared.

Did you know about any of these rules? Let us know in the comments!

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