Whether you are new to Japan this year or planning a trip to Japan in the future, knowing the “things not to do in Japan”, also known as taboos, will help you better integrate into the Japanese environment and enjoy your trip more.
We have summarized ten taboos to be aware of in Japan, let’s see if you are doing it right!
Kimono and yukata are left side up
When I go to shrines or temples, I see many Japanese people wearing kimonos. In summer, I would like to try to wear a yukata myself and participate in a big fireworks festival. However, it is important to note that both kimono and yukata have special requirements in terms of how to wear them.
When wearing a kimono or yukata, both men and women should wear the left side up, which is the outer layer. If you wear it the other way around, the right lapel is on top, which is the way the deceased wears it at funerals and is very unlucky.
If you can’t remember whether the left lapel is on top or the right lapel is on top, just try to see if you can easily put your right hand into the collar after you put it on.
Empty side of the escalator
This is an unwritten rule. Generally speaking, Japanese people stand on one side of the escalator and leave the other side open for those who are in a hurry.
In recent years, since walking on escalators can easily cause personal safety accidents, the government and the Transportation Bureau have started to promote the idea that people should stand on escalators instead of walking on them.
Which side to stand on varies depending on the area. For example, in the Kanto region, mainly in the Tokyo area, people generally stand on the left side of the escalator, leaving the right side empty. However, in the Kansai region, mainly in Osaka and Hyogo, you stand on the left side of the escalator. In Kyoto, which is not far from Osaka, it is possible to stand on both the left and right side.
If you have trouble remembering, the easiest way is to see what the Japanese people in front of you are doing. If they stand on the left, you stand on the left, if they stand on the right, you stand on the right, that’s it. After all, it’s the easiest way to follow the customs.
Don’t shout or talk on the phone when riding a train or elevator
Japan is a country that cares about social distance and is very careful not to cause trouble or annoyance to others. In a closed public place like a train or a small space like an elevator, if someone is talking loudly or talking on the phone, it will inevitably give people a sense of rudeness that offends other people’s territory and will make them feel uncomfortable. Therefore, avoid talking loudly or talking on the phone in a space like a tram or an elevator, and if you really need to make contact. You can do so by text message or email.
When you have to call, Japanese etiquette offers the following solutions.
- Get off the train after it stops at the platform, make the call on the platform, and continue the ride
- Hang up and text or email the person to let them know they are on the train and will call them back later
- Take the call as a last resort, but be sure to whisper that you are on the tram, and if things are more complicated you may need to call back later after getting off the tram.
If you are standing near a love seat, you should not answer the phone, or even turn it off. Because there may be people in the Love Seat who need to be kept alive with certain microchips, the phone’s waves are likely to affect them.
Whether it’s a restaurant, a museum, or an amusement park, you’re likely to see long lines when there’s a lot of people. People will spontaneously line up in order to enter in order of arrival. Queue jumping is considered rude and uncultured behavior.
In particular, when boarding and alighting from a tram, passengers must line up on both sides of the door and wait for the passengers to get off the tram before boarding in order, even at Shinjuku Station (the most crowded large station in Japan) in the morning and evening rush hours. This is a rare sight outside of Japan.
Don’t bring outside food into restaurants or movie theaters
Many restaurants and movie theaters in Japan have “Please don’t bring anything in” posted on their walls. After all, restaurants provide seats for customers who order food in restaurants, and the same goes for movie theaters, so it is rude to eat outside food in a restaurant or movie theater.
In addition, in the event of food poisoning, the restaurant may be shut down because there is no way to determine whether the food was brought in or caused by the restaurant’s food.
No eating on the go
The main reasons why you can’t eat on the go are generally three.
First, some foods have an irritating odor that may cause distress to others.
Second, eating while walking may cause food residues to fall on the ground and affect the environment.
Third, there are no trash cans on the streets of Japan except in special places (convenience stores, stations, etc.), so there is no place to throw away uneaten food, wrapping paper, and other trash, which can be troublesome.
As mentioned in the previous article, there are no public garbage cans in Japan except for convenience stores and stations. Therefore, it is a bit troublesome to throw trash on the street in Japan.
If you want to follow the custom, the Japanese practice is to prepare a plastic bag and put all the garbage you produce into this bag and take it home for disposal. It is recommended that you also carry a plastic bag with you to keep the environment sanitary.
Take off your shoes when you enter the house
In some countries outside of Japan, you can wear outdoor shoes to enter the house. However, in Japan, it is required to take off your shoes when entering certain indoor areas, probably due to the traditional tatami mats used to be used in houses.
For example, when you enter someone’s home, you must take off your outdoor shoes at the entrance and put on indoor slippers. In some hotels, ancient buildings, etc., you also need to take off your shoes at the door when entering the interior and put them in the shoe closet or carry them with you.
Observe traffic rules
Although we have been taught by our parents and teachers to stop at the red light and go through the green light since we were young, there are some places where it is not a good habit to “cross the street with a large group of people, so it doesn’t matter if the light is red.
In Japan, in addition to motor vehicles, non-motorized vehicles and pedestrians should also pay attention to the color of the lights when crossing the road.
In addition, although there are no dividing railings on the streets in Japan, crossing the street is a very dangerous and traffic violation. Be sure to cross the street at the crosswalk.
Some places cannot be photographed
Japan is a country where privacy and property rights are very important. Therefore, it is important to be aware of any signs or notices around you that prohibit photography.
In general, museums, exhibition halls, and art museums prohibit photography, especially with flash, in order to protect cultural properties. In cinemas, theaters, cultural performance venues and certain stores, photography is also prohibited in order to protect property rights.
If you are found taking pictures in these places, you may face not only moral condemnation but also legal punishment.
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