Etiquettes and Behaviors, Tokyo
If you are in Tokyo, you MUST dine in a sushi bar. Not only is raw fish a staple of the Japanese diet and not only is it delicious, but there is an entertainment to the sushi bar that is unlike any other restaurant I've ever been in. Whenever a new customer comes into the restaurant, a celebratory cry rings out from the chefs behind the counter. Whenever you leave, all the chefs yell at the top of their lungs "Arigato gozaimasu!" as you head towards the door. In a medium sized place, this opera of saluting creates an audio rhythym that goes with the artistically prepared dishes and the delicate texture of the fish to delight most of the senses. So, even if you hate the taste, go for a beer and just listen to the sounds.
By the way, if you're eating alone like I often do in Tokyo, sitting at the sushi bar increaseds the chances you'll have someone to talk to over dinner (even if they don't understand you!).
As a single female traveler myself, i would like to say this to other similar travelers. When in Japan, do dress down and more. NO baring of shoulders, though short skirts seem acceptable. NO loud colours, best would be earthy tones. Most people there dress quite simply, mostly in dark colours. Unless of course, you want to make a statement. But from what I see, only teens do that in Tokyo.
Tipping is not required anywhere. The only place we saw that "pushed" tips were in the bars at night, and even then it really isn't neccessary.
One night when going to a restaurant, the waiters were so kind and nice we decided to leave 500 yen (5 dollars), even though we knew that tipping wasn't normal practice. To our surprise we heard "Matte yo! Sumimasen!" (Stop! Excuse me!). Our nice waiter was running with our bill note in his hand! We gestured him to keep it, but he firmly gave it back.
I've been told that in upscale restaurants and hotels they do allow tipping, but since we never went to those places I can't be too sure!
Here is a short reference list of some do's and Dont's
1. Take your shoes off when necessary. Make sure your shoes are taken off and properly placed in a ' ready to exit position'
2. Slurp noodles.
3. Try and practice a few Japanese phrases to help get around.
1. Tipping is NOT a custom here. Taxi, Bell people, restaurants etc.It is not to say that you can't or shouldn't --it just isn't customary.
2. Eat and walk. Drink and walk.
3. Pass food with chopsticks.
If you come to Japan for a few weeks you may not get a true understanding of the Japanese mentality but if you come from the Europe and the West and stay here for longer you will see that Japanese people tend to think a little differently here...
A few observations from me;
1/ Japanese people in general do not travel abroad and if they do it will usually be to places that other Japanese people are... e.g Hawaii or Guam. The Japanese people I met that have travelled seem more down to earth and globally aware to me..
2/ In general Japanese people are very organised and like to do things in a set way or routine
3/ It is considered rude to eat whilst walking along or generally in public places - not that it stopped me!
4/ I sometimes got the feeling that rules here are to be obeyed and not questioned as to the reason...
5/ Shoes should be removed and slippers worn in homes and other establishments
6/ Any complaint or confrontation is better made through a third party...
7/ Rubbish is sorted into many different criteria - cans, glass bottles, plastic bottles, combustable, non combustables blah blah blah
8/ The work ethic here is still alive and well. The younger generation may be changing that.. Kids still have to go to school followed by cram school and then homework which explains why many are asleep at school and not actually learning anything!
9/ Women often open the door for men here and enter afterwards rather than before - in contrast to the West... Not sure what happens if a ship is sinking, maybe Id get to get off 1st for a change!
10/ Japanese people can be afraid to make a mistake in public. Many may be not bad at all at speaking English but not confident to try
11/ Tokyo is not multicultural compared to many cities in the world (for example - London) and there is a debate as to whether there are higher levels of racism here - there is certainly some..
12/ Karaoke is a great stress reliever - try it sometime!
13/ Someone asked me if I could wear less deodorant once!
Japan is an extremely polite country, where shouts of "Irasshaimase" ring out when you enter any shop, and salespeople thank you profusely for making a purchase.
When paying for your purchase, you will usually see a little tray where you're supposed to lay your o-kane (money) or credit card. So don't hand over your cash; instead lay it on the tray and the staff will pick it up.
Ordering food is not as difficult as you would imagine, because the shops usually lay out models of their dishes in the front, so you can see what you order. In some shops, you should be able to get a menu in English, if you ask.
Business travellers should take note always to bring an ample supply of namecards, particularly when you are being introduced to new people. Name cards should be handed over with both hands, with the card facing your recipient.
When addressing people, regardless of gender, you should call them by their last name, and add an honorific -san behind. E.g. Honda-san, Oda-san....
And as you would for any business occasion, remember to be punctual. Always make allowance for travel times, particularly if you're braving the morning crush on the trains.
One very useful word I've picked up is "sumimasen", which could mean anything from "excuse me" to "thank you" to "can I have your attention please". It's especially useful in restaurants or shops if you want to attract the staff's attention.
In Japan, you don't have to rate or express your gratitude by giving tips in the hotel and restaurant, if you still think of giving them some tips, tell them that you are doing this, otherwise, they will think that you have forgot to collect the money and will put it into the box of donation, then the money will go to Afghanistan or to the WHO.
Don't be surprised if you receive a hot towel before being served, this is to be expected. Just whipe your hands with the towel, it is meant to clean your hands before the meal, however, most restaurents understand that many do not know what the towels are for and surely won't be offended.
I had someone run out of a bar after me when I left a nice tip, I had forgotten that you do not need to leave a tip for the waiters and waitresses in restaurents, they almost don't know what to do with it sometimes. I was wondering why I kept getting weird looks the first few days I was there! LOL
I found this odd, especially when going through the subway stations. There were few guards around when I was going through the subways, so much so that you could have easily gotten through the barriers with ease without paying a dime to ride. I don't recommend this because you could be caught and I never tried to not pay, but you could easily run in behind someone else dropping their ticket to get out of the subway and let yourself out too. I'm just suprised people don't get watched more closely?
Say no to fraud :)
You would think that movies in Japan would be the same as those in the US of A. But no, it is very different.
The most obvious difference is reserved and assigned seating. Unlike in America where you can just go wild and pick any seat you want, your seat in Japan will typically come with a seat number. It is reserved and a guy with an odd hat will show you how to get there. Don't be alarmed, it is normal.
The best seats in the theater are often in the special reserved area. You pay a little more, but you will be in the center of the theatre, and towards the back. In America, I love the back row and in the very middle. In Tokyo, that is an extra 3 bucks I am not willing to spend.
Odd theatre snacks. They have the typical candy and popcorn in Japan too, but bowls of noodles and beer can be found in some of the theatres, especially the nice ones in the Ginza. Slurping of the noodles is done before the movie, and the theater is dead silent durring. Talking in a movie is strictly frowned upon, as is excessive entering and leaving for restroom trips. Once you are in your seat, sit down and shut up.
Finally comercials play before and between movies, you will sit through hundreds of them.
There are a lot of things a Westerner needs to know about riding the subway in Tokyo. Where to begin? First of all, if you are non-Asian looking, people on the subway will automatically be nervous about you. You are disturbing their chi (a mystical energy, sense of calmness, etc.) Just try to fit in, don't talk to the people on the train (unless you are with someone, preferably a local).
Seating. If you are western and sitting on a seat while Japanese are standing, you will probably get a lot of strange looks (unless you are female, then it is somewhat ok.) Western men are just expected to stand. And if you give up your seat to an old lady who is standing, don't be surprised if a Japanese man jumps into it before the lady can. It is just the culture.
Porn, don't be surprised to see people reading what appears to you to be pornography on a subway. Many of the magazines feature full nudity or sex in them, even comics. It is considered rude to look over someones shoulder at them, and the fact that you are western and looking will make people uncomfortable too.
The most important rule, never touch a Japanese person, especially women or schoolgirls. You are cruising for a beating that way. There are many Japanese perverts on the subway who already touch the women inappropriately, don't be that person. Plus, as a westerner, the locals already think you are going to rape or kill them in the back of their minds. It is just their overall impression of Americans, and they are afraid of them for the most part.
Play by the rules and everything will be ok on the subway.
When I worked in Japan, a frequent question around the office was what my blood type was. At first it worried me, especially when the young ladies were the one who asked. But, hey, I didn't know the culture then. I just figured there were sharp objects and they wanted to know in case I needed a transfusion or something... yeah, I am a dork!
The blood type question is usually asked by someone who has romantic interests in a person, as a way of measuring compatability. It is so common that many of the J-pop stars, models, actresses and other celebrities list their blood types on their promotional materials. I seriously saw a campaign poster for Junichiro Koizumi (The prime minister as of 2004) which had his blood type on it.
Do you know that APPEARANCE is terribly important here in Japan?
Well, fortunately for me, I knew about this fact before I stepped foot on Japanese soil. (Phew, huh?). Japanese aren't known as one of the world's greatest dressers for nothing, ya know. In short, dress to impress.
Wherever you go in Tokyo, you'd notice that the men there are almost always clad in conservative business suits. And women should not wear pants in the business setting. Japanese men tend to find this offensive.
Japanese men generally don't like women to tower over them. Poor tall women... So, in order to rectify this 'problem', try and wear low-heeled shoes.
Many foreigners don't realize that it is considered rude to blow your nose in public. This, despite, the mountains of tissues with advertising on them handed out free at train station entrances.
Go to the wash room or other private area to blow.
Note that it *is* perfectly acceptable to sniffle endlessly...