5 mistakes first time visitors make when traveling to Japan

YOKOHAMA, JAPAN - FEBRUARY 11: Mount Fuji is seen behind the Yokohama skyline on February 11, 2020 in Yokohama, Japan. (Photo by Carl Court/Getty Images)
YOKOHAMA, JAPAN - FEBRUARY 11: Mount Fuji is seen behind the Yokohama skyline on February 11, 2020 in Yokohama, Japan. (Photo by Carl Court/Getty Images) /

Japan is an amazing country to visit and spend time. It is made up of ancient history, an astonishing arts and culture scene, and a seemingly endless selection of restaurants to enjoy. That’s why it welcomes millions of tourists almost every year.

That being said, Japan is also filled with a variety of cultural idiosyncrasies that many first time visitors to the country do not see coming. While this list is a good start, keep in mind that you should do some more research before heading to the Land of the Rising Sun.

There is no tipping in any restaurants

What a lot of travelers from North America don’t realize is that tipping isn’t the norm in most of the world. If gratuity is expected, it’s usually included in the menu prices. And that’s a big if as some countries don’t use the practice at all.

Japanese culture takes this to another level. Tipping in Japan is not only frowned upon, it is considered to be offensive. Just keep your money in your pocket, and just appreciate the meal in a a different way.

Japan has a cash over cards culture

MIYAKOJIMA, JAPAN – APRIL 30: A woman enters a restaurant on an empty street on April 30, 2021 in Miyakojima, Japan. Normally one of Japan’s most popular tourist destinations attracting millions of domestic and international visitors annually, Miyakojima has seen a huge drop in travellers as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to halt almost all foreign travel. Within Japan, prefectural leaders have urged residents to avoid unnecessary journeys as the country grapples with a fourth wave of the coronavirus with less than three months to go until the Tokyo Olympics. (Photo by Carl Court/Getty Images) /

When traveling, a lot of tourists tend to rely on their credit cards rather than other forms of payment. Let’s be honest, it’s just easier to keep track of and deal with when you get home. But that might not be the best choice in Japan.

Yes, there are places that accept credit cards. But there is a definitive and unmistakable preference for cash in Japanese culture. Fortunately, there are a lot of 7-Eleven’s around with ATMs. Also, never hand the cash directly to anyone. Just put it down in the provided tray.

Some restaurants are Japanese only

For the most part, Japan is one of the most welcoming cultures in the world. There are rarely bad attitudes towards tourists, and you will inevitably have some of the best customer service experiences you have ever had in your life.

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That being said, there are some restaurants that are Japanese-only. These are not places for tourists, though there’s nothing on the outside indicating this. If you do accidentally go into one, don’t be offended when you are politely asked to leave.

Cover up your tattoos if possible

TOKYO, JAPAN – MARCH 01: Rapeseed flowers bloom in front of commercial buildings at Hama-rikyu Gardens on March 1, 2016 in Tokyo, Japan. About 300,000 rapeseed flowers are in full bloom at the park located in the central district of Tokyo. (Photo by Tomohiro Ohsumi/Getty Images) /

There are a lot of odd cultural foibles to be aware of in Japan, beyond the cash preference and the tipping thing. Tattoos are a big deal in Japan, mainly because they usually indicate an association of some kind with a criminal organization.

If you have a lot of tattoos that you can’t cover, don’t be surprised if you get some odd looks when you’re walking around. Additionally, there are a few traditional Japanese experiences you might not be able to partake in.

Some restaurants require no shoes

It’s a well known fact that in Japan everyone must remove their shoes before entering someone’s home. This is an issue of respect for that person as well as one of cleanliness and not dragging outside dirt inside.

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But this rule is also observed at several restaurants, as well. Some of them require you to remove your shoes before dining. They are even known to provide special slippers to wear while you’re inside, which is a small price to pay for incredible food.