Since writing my last post on some of the cultural quirks and customs of Japan I went back (for a 4th time!) and realised I had barely scratched the surface. Every day in Wakayama I’d scribble something else in my notebook that I wanted to remember if I was lucky enough to have a next time.
But if you’re heading off to Japan soon here’s a heads up on some of the customs you may want to know about beforehand.
1.Come Bearing Gifts
Each time I’ve been to Japan my guide has so sweetly greeted me with an immaculately wrapped box of Japanese snacks or something I might find useful for my trip. (Like self-heating socks – seriously!) I’m so embarrassed that yet again I forgot to bring a gift from Australia with me for my host in Wakayama.
Whilst in Wakayama I noticed that there are whole sections of department stores dedicated to gift boxes of cookies, crackers and red bean sweets. Look out for them on your trip – it’s like a lesson in the art of presentation.
And if you’ve arranged any homestays or private guides for your visit, maybe pack some Tim Tams so you’re prepared if a gift is forthcoming.
2. Don’t Touch The Taxi Doors
Incredibly, Japanese taxis are designed so that you don’t have to open or close the doors. The driver will release the doors if he wants to take you and they’ll open automatically. Similarly, they spring open again once you’ve paid so don’t mess with the handle beforehand – it gets awkward!
Also of note is that if you’ve purchased a travel card for Japan – like the Pasmo – you can use this to pay for taxis as well as food in convenience stores like 7/11.
3. No Need To Tip
Tipping is not a Japanese custom, in fact it’s considered rude if you try to give your driver or waiter extra money and they’ll often try to refuse it. You’ll also find the concept of ‘keep the change’ is not a done thing and that a driver might chase after you with coins if he thinks you’ve forgotten them.
4. Japanese Pillows Are Hard As
I’m talking stuffed with pebbles – or at least that’s what it feels like. Of course, in luxury hotels like Park Hotel Tokyo they have super soft hotel bedding but at most of the traditional guesthouses I stayed in the pillows were a thin collection of lumpy things. I’m by no means suggesting you carry your own plump pillow around the country, just don’t throw your head onto the pillow with any force coz you’ll regret it, trust me!
5. Food Is Often Underground
In the cities I visited outside of Tokyo I often found that the best food is underground. In the basements of train stations and department stores, in particular, you’ll often find a dining street or food hall that puts Selfridges to shame. Train stations are also a great place to grab Ekiben – bento boxes made specifically for train journeys – and department store food halls are great for grabbing hot food on the go. Just remember not to eat as you walk though – I learned that lesson the hard way in Osaka!
6. Put Your Bits In Baskets
And finally, as another shining example of the way the Japanese have thought of everything, you’ll notice in many restaurants and cafes that there are baskets under the table. They are there for you to pop your bags and scarves in neatly rather than them spilling all over the busy restaurant. It’s a pretty common thing to do in everything from an izakaya to chain cafes, so if you see baskets stacked up in the corner don’t be afraid to grab yourself one.
Have you been to Japan? Is there anything else you wish you’d known beforehand?
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