How to be a respectful traveler in Japan
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I am sure you will already have a good general image of what Japan is like, manners-like. I bet you are picturing the figure of an employee bowing in front of you, or the many kind smile on the faces of polite women. Behind the stereotype, I think the most important thing to remember about Japan is that it is a country that follows the rules and the etiquette, so if you are considering to visit it you should follow its rules to.

Here there are the first, basic indication to keep a proper behavior in Japan, according to my personal experience, in order to avoid presenting yourselves as the usual unprepared (and disrespectful) tourist:

Don’t be loud

Nowhere, for no reason. Ok, sometimes you can hear Japanese people screaming to, of course (for example, at dinner…), but in the daily life, in trains, in the streets, people around you will keep a very private, silent behavior. So please, silence your mobile, and lower your voice!

Never cut a queue

How to be a respectful traveler in JapanJapanese are very ordered, very organized in this sense. In the stations (expecially for the Shinkansen) you will see specific indication as how to place yourselves while waiting for the train. Same goes for every shop, every restaurant, every bus stop and so on. Don’t be pushy, don’t play smart. Be nice and respect the order.

Don’t obstruct escalators

I can say that Japanese people, expecially in the bigger cities, tend to have a quite speedy pace. This is why on escalators, if you are not going to rush up or down, you should always remember to keep the right side, to stand still (within limits of course) and to keep your luggages behind or in front of you, not at your side. This way, people in a hurry will not stumble on your bags, or on you, and everyone will reach the end of the stairs safe.

Don’t smoke while walking on the street

(but limit your self to the proper locations)

This may sounds a little strange, since in general, when you are outdoor, you are used to smoke pretty much wherever you want (at least in Italy). Well, not in Japan: here you are forbidden to smoke while walking in the street, and if you really can’t help yourself, you will have to find specific areas (marked by indications on the ground) within which you are allowed to have your cigarette. You will then throw your cigarette but in the specific ashtray, and only after that you will be allowed to continue your stroll. On the other hand, you will be allowed to smoke in several pubs, cafes, restaurant and so.

Don’t throw rubbish in the street and respect the separate collection of garbage

While the notion of avoiding littering around id common sense, it took me a while to figure out properly how to manage the separate collection and the recycling (mainly because it is still not so popular here in Italy). While you walk around the street, keep all the garbage you have in your pockets or in you bag, and empty them in the proper bins you find at train platforms, or just outside the train stations (these are probably the places you will visit most, and the most useful for this purpose).

Reciprocate the bow

You’ll see this happening a lot during your trip: while you buy some stuff at the conbini, when you ask for some indications, or also while observing two people meeting outside the station. In Japan, bowing (o-jigi) is a big thing. It is one of the deepest form of respect and greeting, much like our handshake. It is also revealing of the power relationship among people, since a deeper bow indicates a lower social (or working) position. Be sure to reciprocate the bow whenever they address one to you, do not exaggerate it, and keep it delicate. However, you’ll see that after the first day, your body will act on its own, and bow will become natural as a smile, and if you want to learn more about the proper bowing etiquette, I suggest you visit this page

Don’t seat in reserved seats (if you haven’t reserved it)

Shinkansen are expensive trains; while travel with them you will have the option (a little more expensive) to reserve the seat or to save some money and use the unreserved-seat carriage. It can work just fine for you, unless it is a very busy hour or some holiday is approaching, and you will find yourself squeezed inside without any chance to seat for your all trip. In any case, if you decide to travel in the cheapest way, do not try and seat in one of the other carriages; you will appear very rude and disrespectful, and playing the “dumb-turist” card will not do. Check carefully the dates and times of your travel, and once again respect your place.

Take off your shoes where indicated (pubs, temples, shrines, ecc.)

How to be a respectful traveler in JapanI love to go around barefoot, so for me this was a little heaven. Many of the traditional Japanese restaurant will require you to take off your shoes before entering the room, or before getting to your table; the same goes for some shrines and temples that will allow you to visit their inner spaces only with your naked feet. Ryokan too will ask you to leave your shoes in the hall or at the of your room.

Don’t try and take picture to the inner areas of shrines and temples

…and be aware of the proper etiquette in each place of worship

Shinjuku shrine, TokyoI made this mistake, and I was quickly scolded by the shrine attendants. The inner areas of a shrine or a temple are the most sacred places of the whole cultic center; they require particular respect and silence, and you should not treat them as a an amusement park. You will have to sacrifice some amazing pictures, I know, but in the end you will be able to enjoy a fuller and more real experience.

Learn some basic Japanese

Japanese people have many qualities: they are nice, funny and hospitable, and they will try and help you in many different way. But remember this: they DO NOT speak English. Nothing. I mean, of course there are exceptions, and of course you may be very lucky and find the guy who will talk to you in fluent english; however, generally speaking (as for italians) they are not comfortable with the english language (also given the fact that it has a very different sounds and pronunciation rules than the Japanese), so as early as at your landing you will have to face the wall of kanji and the recurrent sound of the local language. Therefore, I suggest you live with a very basic japanese knowledge, and a phrasebook for the emergency, just for you to avoid panicking and start crying in the middle of Ikebukuro station.