There are endless interesting things to do and see in Japan, no doubt about that. On the other hand, there are many things that you never try to do here. Does it sound weird? Probably it does when I say “many things”. I will sort them out in an appropriate manner so that you could understand them and properly use them when traveling all over Japan. When you think of visiting Japan first, and then think of its culture as well. You have to deal with certain manners as Japanese people do in their daily life.

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Spring beauty and Shinjuku, Tokyo. Photo Credit: mrhayata at Flickr.

Every culture is different so is the Japanese culture. Maybe what you do in your country is acceptable, but here in Japan the same thing maybe seen as unacceptable and rude. I am sure you don’t want to be rude here knowing that Japanese are very friendly and know how to respect their guests.

Do take it seriously along with where to visit, eat, shop, stay in Japan. In fact, there is certain etiquette when visiting, eating, shopping and staying throughout Japan. Get ready to know them all, let’s explore!

1) Don’t Drive on the Right Side

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Walk and Drive on the left side! Photo Credit: hildgrim at Flickr.

When most people travel to Japan, they go for many things and one of the things they like is walking. We have so many gardens and parks located in various cities all over Japan. Gardens and parks have a number of designated walking trails which were made in order to give you to have a pleasant morning and evening stroll.

They are quite amusing while viewing colorful autumn leaves, plum blossom, cherry blossoms and other beautiful flowers. You are advised to walk on left side always when you see someone is approaching from the opposite direction (right side).

If you want to drive a car, make sure you drive it on the left side. This is the right direction to drive a car. With this in mind – If you drive your car on right side then you may cause an accident or will be arrested, fined and put in jail. Make sure you follow all the traffic rules and have a valid International Drivers Permit (IDP). Learn Japan traffic rules here.

2) Don’t Talk and Smoke on Public Transport

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Passengers are busy and tired. Photo Credit: Jim Fischer at Flickr.

Japanese are well mannered and they expect foreign travelers have the same kind of manner they have. Smoking, talking and listening to music loudly is strictly prohibited, especially on public transport. In Japan, people hardly talk with others on public transports. So, don’t ask anyone to know something from.

Though in case of emergency you can do it and ask for someone’s help. Don’t talk loudly on your cell phone when you are on a public train or bus. It is a kind of public disturbance you should avoid in Japan. If you have to smoke then do it in a designated area where it is allowed.

3) Don’t be late, NEVER!

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Don’t make someone to be like this, she is tired of waiting for you! Photo Credit: John Gillespie at Flickr.

When you are to meet with someone in Japan, especially with Japanese, please don’t be late to come on time for your scheduled meeting. Japanese are quite punctual and know the value of time.

It is looks very awkward waiting for someone when he/she is waiting for you to meet. Be on time just like locals. When someone invites us to meet with them in a certain place, locals always get there on time. Don’t make yourself that you don’t know the value of time.

4) Don’t lose Attention when Speaking with Someone

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Be always cool when talking with someone. Photo Credit: Hiro – Kokoro☆Photo at Flickr.

You will always have to stay cool and attentive. For example, in Japan, a local is just speaking with you while you are just listening to his/her talks without expressing that you have a real attention to his/her words, then thing would sound you are impolite and rude.

When I talk to you but you are not talking back to me then I would definitely feel uncomfortable talking to you. You at least have to response with “Oh, yeah, Ok, that’s good, nice, I got it, I see”. Oh, please no yawning during a conversation, hold it!

5) Don’t Receive a Gift or Visiting Card with one Hand

If you are in Japan for an official or business matter and you are to receive a gift or visiting card from a person, just don’t take it with one hand. It looks pretty odd in terms of Japanese culture. Use your both hands with a bow and say thank you when receiving a visiting card or gift from someone.

Just to tell you that exchange of visiting card in Japan is typical, you have to take a good look at the card that you receive. This reveals that it is important to you and you value it. And one thing I must tell you, Japanese don’t open a gift that you present until you leave him/her, so don’t be offended. Do the same thing when you receive a gift from them.

6) Don’t shake and tap your leg

Shaking and tapping leg is a habit which you should avoid doing in the land of the rising sun. These happen while talking to someone sitting on a chair.

These could make a bad noise which Japanese really don’t like to hear. If you have a habit like this then it will be easy to shake and tap your legs very often. So be aware of it and respect Japanese culture and manners.

7) Don’t Forget to Say “Thank You” and Bow

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Japanese Bowing. Photo Credit: ThisParticularGreg at Flickr.

Whatever you do in Japan, a simple verbal “Thank you” could make you a polite person. Say it right after when a waiter/waitress serves food to you. Say it right after making a purchase at a store in Japan. It is the best way of expressing your gratitude, don’t you think so?

When it comes to talking about “Bowing” – make sure you are familiar with it, if not then learn how to bow properly. Bow as many as time you want and then say “Thank you”. In fact, it is a must thing to do when meeting with elders. Show your respect please!

8) Don’t Enter a Bathtub without………..

You are advised that don’t enter a bathtub without washing your body clearly outside the tub first. Follow this golden rule especially at hot springs or public baths.

It is a top Japanese custom which has been carried out from a long time ago and it does still exist! Please learn Japanese bathing etiquette if you have no idea how to deal with it.

9) Don’t Do it! Things you can’t do with your Chopsticks

There are many things you can’t do with your Chopsticks in Japan. One of the things you must know about Japanese chopsticks etiquette is hitting a bowl with your own chopsticks, just stay away from doing it.

Also you can’t tap, rub, share food from chopsticks to chopsticks, point it to someone and etc. Please learn all the chopsticks etiquette here.

10) Don’t write name in Red Ink

Say goodbye to red ink pen as long as you stay in Japan. Don’t even think of it to write something else with. Writing someone’s name in red ink is considered to be inauspicious and disobedient.

You may accidentally write your Japanese friend’s name in red ink on envelop before posting it at a post office in Japan, I hope you don’t do it.

11) Don’t Tip even when you are a Millionaire

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Respect and politeness is expected, NO TIPPING! Photo Credit: m-louis .® at Flickr.

In Japan, money can’t buy someone’s heart but good manner can. Ok, I understand that you are quite happy taking some service from a person and you want to make him/her happy by tipping. If you are going to do that, STOP right now! Don’t do it man, it is a complete insult!

Don’t tip to any taxi driver or waiter/waitress, hotel bellboy. Japanese don’t like it and accept it. You don’t have to make us happy giving extra money, in fact, what you are requested to pay is enough to make us happy. No extra payment is required. Thank you.

12) Don’t enter the house/temple/shrine wearing your Shoes

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Don’t forget to take off your shoes. Photo Credit: Andrés Monroy-Hernández at Flickr.

Please, take your shoe off before entering a house/ryokan/shrine/temple. It is one of the “Must not do things” in Japan. Be careful before someone asks you to take your shoe off. If you are reading this now, I hope you won’t do it, I am 100% sure of it. Thanks for doing that!

Though, you always put bathroom slippers before get in there. You will find a pair of slipper at the entrance of a bathroom, so no worries.

13) Don’t Eat and Drink while walking Outside

You would hardly see any people who are eating, drinking and walking at the same time. Probably, in your country you see a lot of people do it, but here in Japan, locals don’t do it.

Japanese have certain places to eat and drink. For example, during hanami season, people enjoy picnicking underneath sakura trees. There are plenty of benches for people to site around. Therefore, choose one and enjoy  your meal.

14) Don’t take photo everywhere unless….

Photo can’t be taken everywhere in Japan even though its four season’s natural beauty attracts you much to take a lot of photographs. Please bear in mind that you have got to ask someone before taking photographs of others and places you visit.

You can’t take photos where you are not allowed to, for example, there are museums, temple and shrine, in which you can’t take photos inside unless you are permitted.

15) Don’t throw your trash away

Follow these guys! Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

Japanese do put their trashes in a trash can/garbage can. If you throw your trash somewhere, especially in a park or temple/shrine area, it will pollute the environment for sure. Tourists and locals alike here like eating street foods from food carts or food stalls which take place in various places especially during a festival time.

A various types of street foods, sweets, snacks, including bento lunch box can be found there. I request you not to throw any trash away, please keep the place clean. Eat as much as you want, but make sure you put your trash in a trash can instead of throwing it away somewhere.

16) Don’t communicate in wrong body language and gesture

It could be frustrating communicating with Japanese when you can’t speak their language. In that case, you need to use some Japanese body language and gestures. This could save your time and you will be able to make someone understand you properly.

To avoid this, I highly recommend you to use a translator device. Find more info here.

You may encounter a bad experience when you use them (hand gestures) in a wrong way. Please avoid wrong body language and gestures and apply the correct ones, here.

17) Don’t bite or clean your fingernails

It looks pretty bad cleaning and biting fingernails outside in front of others. I think in many societies it is seen as a very bad habit so is in Japanese society.

This could reveal that you are a complete idiot and impolite at the same time. I don’t care if your fingernails are well cleaned or not, just don’t do it outside when visiting places in Japan.

18) Don’t go out without wearing surgical mask if……..

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

Why do people in Japan wear mask in public places? You will get the answer right away. They wear it because it shows that you are sick and it is worn for hygienic matter. It lets keep germs away when you walk outside.

It also does not mean people would avoid you if you wear a mask rather they will avoid you if you don’t wear it knowing that you are really sick. Therefore, if you feel sick then please wear a mask; it is essential for you and for others.

19) Don’t blow your Nose

Don’t sneeze or blow your nose at the table when you are about to eat or eating or when you have a conversation with others.

It is a common sense which does matter! You even should not think of doing it in many public places in which people walk around.

20) Don’t be shy

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Sumo Wrestler – Don’t be shy to ask for help, I can help too! Photo Credit: Ogiyoshisan at Flickr.

The last one is not that much important as you think it is though.

Japanese are very friendly, trusted and helpful. Probably you don’t believe me right now, but you would, time will tell. However, don’t be shy when you have to ask for help. They would listen to your problem and will try to help you as soon as possible.

If they can’t they would refer someone who could solve your problem. If you ever accidentally leave a thing such as umbrella, bag, wallet, or etc. somewhere else, then no one would take it. You would find it where you left it, nothing is stolen and taken!

These are the 20 must not things to do when traveling and living in Japan. Always try to be polite, stick to rules, truthful, peaceful, and respectful. There is a book which is very useful for foreign visitors to Japan, please read this: Etiquette Guide to Japan: Know the Rules that Make the Difference!

It will be great to see your kindness when you offer your own sit to an elder who has not got a seat to sit on a train/tram. As you are a foreign traveler, there is a possibility of making some mistakes, in that case, don’t forget to say “SORRY or Gomen-nasai”. Make your Japan trip unforgettable not doing the above 20 things and make us feel about you that you are – well-mannered, modest and respectful.