Proper etiquette is extremely important in Japan. Though Tokyo is a popular tourist destination, visitors are still expected to follow many of the customs observed by locals. A modest bow in greeting is greatly appreciated, even if you’re not proficient with this motion. Make an effort to follow the appropriate etiquette and your time in Tokyo will be much smoother.
Casual clothing is appropriate for sightseeing, but you should wear modest attire if you’re visiting temples and shrines. For fine dining and nightclubs, men should wear a jacket and tie and women should don a dress or skirt. Always remove your shoes when entering a temple, shrine, or private home. You will usually find slippers waiting for you by the entrance.
Tipping in Tokyo
Tipping is not customary in Japan and is never expected. Though it may feel strange to forego a tip, rest assured that it is considered perfectly appropriate and polite. In restaurants, you will find your money is politely returned should you try to leave a tip. Taxi drivers and masseuses do not expect a tip either. If you’re staying in a Tokyo hotel, the staff will politely refuse your tip with a “no thank you.”
The one exception is a ryokan, or Japanese-style inn. Though you certainly do not need to tip, you may do so by leaving money in a small envelope. Do not hand a bill directly to the ryokan staff, as this is considered rude. Tour guides may also accept tips, simply because they work almost exclusively with foreign tourists and are accustomed to foreigners’ tendency to tip.
Smoking in Tokyo is a hot topic with the 2020 Olympics approaching. Smoking regulations in Japan are more lax than in other countries. A study among foreign residents revealed that 60 percent found it easier to smoke in Japan than in their home country. Smoking typically takes place indoors in restaurants and bars, though an increasing number are providing smoke-free environments. Smoking on the street is often prohibited unless you’re standing near a public ashtray.
Visiting the Bathhouse
Tokyo features many luxurious bathhouses beloved by locals and tourists alike. Proper etiquette is essential in this environment. Changing rooms are segregated with a red curtain for women and blue curtain for men. You enter the bath completely nude and take nothing with you save for a small towel. You may use the towel to discreetly cover the lower half of your body as you approach the bath, but you should keep it out of the water. Wear it on your head while in the bath.
The Japanese bathhouse is for relaxation, not cleansing. Beside the bath you will find an area with showers or a bucket and stool for rinsing thoroughly before you enter.
If you’re unsure about how to act in any Tokyo environment, your best plan of action is to mimic the locals. Quietly observe what others are doing and emulate them to the best of your ability. The effort will not go unappreciated.
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