The social etiquette in Tokyo

queuing up at the metro station
Updated 2022-12-21 12:16

Moving to Japan, or more specifically to Tokyo, is a great adventure. Here is a non-exhaustive list of do's and don'ts to make your stay in Tokyo even more fulfilling.

In the streets of Tokyo

  • Smoke only in authorized areas (smoking area). 
  • Avoid eating or drinking while walking. 
  • Do not throw your garbage on the ground. 
  • Do not cross at the red light at the crosswalk. 
  • Avoid talking loudly in public.

In public transport in Tokyo

  • In the train station or at the bus stop, line up and do not pass people. 
  • Respect the travel directions. 
  • Avoid talking on the phone when using public transportation in Tokyo
  • Turn off the sound when playing a game so as not to disturb passengers. 
  • Do not listen to music loudly. 
  • Give your seat to the elderly, pregnant women, and disabled people.
  • Speak in a soft tone.

At the restaurant or during a meal in Tokyo

  • Do not tip: this is not customary in Tokyo. 
  • Avoid sticking your chopsticks into your rice bowl: it is a funeral ritual. 
  • Don't use your chopsticks as Western cutlery. 
  • Don't point your chopsticks at anyone. 
  • Do not touch the dishes with the tips of your chopsticks. 
  • If your chopsticks touch a food item, pick it up. Do not put it back in the dish. 
  • Do not cross your chopsticks: place them flat on their chopstick rest or in front of you. 
  • Finish your plate: it's a sign of respect and a much-appreciated anti-waste gesture. 
  • "itadakimasu" and "gochisôsama (deshita)" are the equivalents of "bon appétit" and "merci pour ce repas" (thank you for the meal)

In your relationships in Tokyo

  • Don't say hello with a kiss. A nod is enough. 
  • Don't shake hands, either, unless, of course, you see someone reaching out to you. This can happen in professional settings. Observe and apply the rules.
  • At business events in Tokyo, make sure to always have your business cards with you. Learn how to hand them out properly. 
  • Avoid public displays of affection with your partner. 
  • Do not be late. 
  • Blow your nose discreetly. 
  • Don't say "Jap": this term, massively used by the Western media during World War II, is considered racist. 
  • Avoid saying "iie" (no), considered aggressive. Prefer "chotto".

When invited at someone's home in Tokyo

  • Leave your shoes at the entrance (genkan). Do the same at home.
  • Bring a small gift (temiyage).

At the onsen (hot spring) or sento (public bath) in Tokyo

  • Beware of tattoos. Make sure to enquire whether they are accepted before you go to such places. 
  • Wash yourself before entering the onsen or sento bath. 
  • Do not enter the bath in a bathing suit. You must be naked. The most modest will keep the small towel given to hide their intimate part. Since the towel is usually very small, it will be convenient to choose what you want to hide.

In the fitting room in Tokyo

  • Remove your shoes before entering the "fitting" area. Your booth consists of two areas: the entrance and an elevated area. Take your shoes off before entering the elevated area. 
  • People wearing makeup: use the protectors you are given so as not to stain the clothes you are trying on.

You will discover many other things as you meet the Japanese. Many of them are logical. Japanese people will forgive you for a few blunders and will be happy to help you understand their culture better. They will be even more delighted when they see that you are making an effort to learn and speak their language.

We do our best to provide accurate and up to date information. However, if you have noticed any inaccuracies in this article, please let us know in the comments section below.