DO bow your head when meeting someone in Japan, it is their traditional form of a greeting. No need to feel awkward, just follow the lead of the person you are meeting if you are not sure how far or for how long you have to bow your head.
DON’T offer to shake hands unless a Japanese person offers their hand to you. The bowing of the head is the traditional Japanese greeting.
DO try and use chopsticks when appropriate. Most Japanese will be thrilled to see a visitor try to get to grips with them.
DON’T stab your food though, this is rude as it is to play with your chopsticks.
DO take and offer business cards in Japan. It is a common everyday practice to hand over business cards in Japanese society and is a good way of not only understanding your name, but also who you are.
DON’T immediately place the business card in your back pocket. This is seen as incredibly rude. Either place the card down in front of you or place in your wallet, purse or handbag only after you have exchanged and looked at the card.
DO queue correctly and respectfully. Come on, we’re British and should be very good at this! Seriously though, in public places the Japanese are very courteous and queuing at railway stations for example is an art form. They always know where the door to the train will be and form a queue in a straight line back from there. It’s very organised and works very well!
DON’T tip in Japan is the normal way if you were thinking of handing over some extra cash in bars, restaurants or to taxi drivers. There are occasions where the service you receive is so spectacularly good it is appropriate and not offensive to tip, however it’s quite common for a taxi driver or bar worker to walk or even run after you if they haven’t returned the exact change.
DO use public transport in Japan. It is well organised and always on time! In Tokyo for example most stations and trains have signage in English along with announcements in English.
DON’T speak on your mobile phone on Japanese public transport though. It’s seen as a little rude. If you have a call, answer it, but hang up quickly! Texting, emailing etc, no one has a problem with that.
DO remove your shoes when visiting some restaurants, the restaurant will provide footwear and store your shoes.
DON’T go to some public places like beaches or swimming pools openly displaying large tattoos. While the younger generation won’t be offended as many young Japanese have tattoos, there is a historical link in Japan between tattoos and organised crime syndicates, most infamously the ‘Yakuza’. Best advice if going to a restaurant, cover up any large tattoos as it shows respect.
DO take any earthquake or tsunami warnings seriously. No need to be alarmed if you see signs and information on what to do in case of an earthquake or tsunami, Japan is in a region of the world where earthquakes are a daily occurrence. Most quakes you will not notice, but they educate children in schools on what to do as well as all office workers in the big cities. Expect to see some information in your hotel or hostel. If you are concerned just speak to the hotel manager or tour guide.
DON’T be alarmed to see people wearing face masks. Back in the UK it can be slightly disconcerting to see someone wearing a mask in public, but in Japan more often than not it is the person wearing the face mask who is trying to be polite as there’s a good chance they may have a cold or a snivel and want to protect you from catching it.