Before your trip to Japan, it is important to know basic etiquette and common social rules and norms to avoid any trouble and offending the locals. Below are some cultural faux pas that you should avoid to make your time in Japan stress-free and fun:
Do not litter.
If you cannot find a trash can nearby, keep your sandwich wrappers, empty soda cans, and other trash in your bag. Do not just leave them on a park bench or on the train seat. Take them with you, and get rid of them when you find a trash can. At department stores, train stations, and tourist attractions, there are garbage bins for burnable, non-burnable, and bottles and cans where you can throw your trash.
Do not use your phone or talk loudly in trains.
Trains in Japan are usually quiet, even when packed. They have signs that tell passengers to keep their phones on silent mode while on board. On the Shinkansen, if you really have to make a phonecall, you should go to the area by the toilets or between the train cars so as not to disturb the other people on board. Even talking in loud voices with your companion is frowned upon when in trains. To avoid bothering others speak in a low volume or just wait until you get off
Do not stick your chopsticks vertically into your bowl of food.
There are many rules to using chopsticks in Japan, but one of the most important among them that you should strictly abide by is not sticking your chopsticks into a bowl of rice. In Japanese culture, this is considered taboo as it is similar to a practice typically done at funerals where a bowl of rice with two chopsticks stuck upright in the middle is left at the ceremony. It is also believed to bring bad luck. If you are not using your chopsticks, you can place them horizontally on top of the bowl.
Do not cut in line.
Whether you need to buy a train ticket from a vending machine or use the toilet at the train station, you should learn to queue. Check where the line is and walk to the back. It is incredibly disrespectful to jump to the front of the line when there are several other people who got there first and are patiently waiting for their turns.
Do not rush to get on a train.
During rush hours, train stations can get very busy and packed. To not cause chaos or injure yourself or others, fall in line and wait. Do not block the doors once the train arrives. Give way to the commuters that are getting off. Do not push the people in front of you or fight your way through the crowds just so you can get on the train first. Be patient and be considerate to others.
Do not eat while walking.
It is considered rude to eat food while you are walking the streets of Japan. For example, in Asakusa, there are many small food shops where you can enjoy a wide variety of snacks and sweets. And, if you look closely, you will see that they have signages that say you have to consume your purchase right there in front of the store or at the eating area next to it. Doing so prevents people from dropping food bits everywhere or spilling food onto others if you accidentally bump into them.
Do not wear your shoes indoors.
At museums, castles, temples, and other tourist attractions, watch out for signs informing visitors that shoes are not allowed indoors. If you see one, you must leave your shoes by the entrance or carry them in a provided bag while you explore inside. When visiting Japanese homes, you also have to take your shoes off once you enter and leave them by the door. This is done to keep the floor clean and also to not ruin the tatami mats in the rooms.
Do not tip.
Unlike the US, Japan has no tipping culture. So, when eating at restaurants or drinking at bars, you do not have to leave tips even if you are extremely happy with their service. You will only cause awkwardness and confusion. Any extra amount that you will try to give your Japanese waiter/waitress will just be returned to you.
Do not smoke in non-smoking zones.
Smoking is not allowed in many public places across Japan. If you need to smoke, look for designated smoking areas that are typically found at train stations, and outside department stores and business establishments and offices. If you are caught violating the anti-smoking laws, you will be slapped with a fine that can range from 1,000 yen to 5,000 yen.