How to Not Look Like a Foreigner in Japan

year ago

Japan is known for its unique culture, customs, and traditions. While many people vacation there to experience its beauty and uniqueness, it is not uncommon for foreigners to stand out in a crowd. From the way they dress to their body language and mannerisms, there are several things that help the locals spot an outsider in the blink of an eye. In this article, we’ll discuss 13 of them.

It’s inappropriate to show shoulders in Japan

Invision / Invision / East News, Van Tine Dennis / ABACA / EAST NEWS

Revealing the collarbone and shoulder area in public is considered too revealing. This is due to the cultural belief that showing a lot of skin is inappropriate and disrespectful. However, wearing crop tops is socially acceptable for both men and women.

Foreigners care about their posture less.

Gregorio T. Binuya / Everett Collection / EAST NEWS, SIPA / EAST NEWS, AFP / EAST NEWS, © ERIC FEFERBERG / AFP / Getty Images

The Japanese can easily spot a foreigner by their posture. Local people say that many tourists have a so-called “cat’s back” or slouch, to put it simply.

Japanese people themselves are usually very attentive to their posture and almost never slouch that’s why it draws their attention so much.

The Japanese use perfume more rarely.

Local people are very sensitive to scents which is why they oftentimes find perfume to be too strong. According to the founder of a perfume boutique, Franco Wright, the Japanese can even perceive these scents as insulting. The best scent for locals is the absence of any scent.

The perfume market in Japan is pretty small and there are very few perfumes available in cosmetic stores. Local brands produce perfumes with the smell of cleanness — a washed body, hair, and freshly washed clothes.

It’s customary to hide tattoos in Japan.

Tattoos in Japan are not as widespread as in the rest of the world. People who have them hide them with the help of clothes or special bands and elastic stockings when they go to work or to a public place.

A tattoo can slightly complicate the life of a tourist. For example, a person with a tattoo won’t be allowed to enter a swimming pool, a spa, a gym, or a traditional Japanese bath. Though if a foreigner shows their tattoo on the street, in the metro, or in a restaurant, they will likely get a compliment.

Try not to extend your arm when meeting people.

Many tourists in Japan get trapped when it comes to greeting people. The Japanese don’t approve of close body contact, that’s why you shouldn’t touch anyone, hug them, or pat them on the back. The somewhat acceptable gesture of physical contact is handshaking and it’s better to wait until a Japanese person stretches their hand out first. Otherwise, you should limit yourself with a bow.

It’s better to not pick up things someone has dropped on the street.

The Japanese are extremely strict when it comes to finding lost items like scarves, sunglasses, children’s toys. A tourist might unknowingly pick up an item to try to identify its owner, but it’s better to not do this. The maximum you can do is to relocate an item to a more noticeable place so that it’s easier for the owner to find it when they return searching for the item. Valuable things can be taken to the nearest police station.

It’s ok to not give up your seat on public transport.

As strange as it might sound, Japanese people don’t give up their seats to other people in the subway, on buses, or on trains. Some people might even perceive it to be insulting because you are enhancing a person’s weakness by offering them your seat. Moreover, there are special seats in each wagon for elderly people and for handicapped people.

You’d better not eat or drink in public places.

It’s not forbidden but still, it’s not something that is welcomed, especially if the products are packaged. The Japanese are very sensitive about cleanness, that’s why they might be worried about whether the eater will remove their trash after they finish eating or not.

Recently, this rule has lost its popularity and young Japanese people allow themselves to have a snack on the go. But they do it modestly and definitely not in an overcrowded space.

You don’t need to open the taxi doors by yourself.

Tourists often trip themselves up when trying to catch a taxi in Japan. And it’s not surprising because local rules differ a lot from the rules we are used to. When trying to catch a taxi, one needs to lift their arm up high instead of stretching it to the side. Also, make sure to not touch the door of the car — it’s the driver who opens it for the passenger.

You won’t be able to eat in silence.

The Japanese prefer to have meals with some noise in the background. If a tourist enters an empty and quiet restaurant, the host will immediately turn on the TV or music. Foreigners who are used to having meals alone with their thoughts might find it weird because eating in silence is considered to be a manifestation of good manners in western culture.

At the same time, the Japanese don’t like loud talking.

Many Japanese people consider foreigners to be too noisy, too loud-speaking, and too actively gesticulating. In order to not seem like a bad-mannered tourist, you’d better not talk on the phone amidst crowded transport (only if there are very few passengers and it’s better to turn away or cover-up while talking).

It’s not customary to express your attention toward the opposite sex in Japan.

There is still a certain gender split in Japanese culture. Friendships between men and women are not a widespread thing, especially when one has a partner.

  • One of the biggest shocks I experienced is the general relationship between men and women. Past a certain age (8–9), boys and girls seem to be embarrassed by the presence of individuals of the opposite sex. An illustration is how, in any “circle” or “club activity” I’ve been to, even among adults, men and women end up being naturally “separated” with men on one side and women on the other. Any attempt to speak to the other side is met with giggles and jokes along the line of “Wow, such a womanizer.” Don’t people believe in friendship between men and women here? © Olivier Tarteaut / Quora

It’s not customary to leave tips in Japan.

Attention, travelers to Japan: leave those extra yen at home. In Japanese culture, service is an integral part of the job, and it’s not necessary to tip as a way to show appreciation. In fact, it may be seen as a sign of disrespect, as it implies that the person providing the service is hoping for some extra money rather than doing their job with pride.

Preview photo credit AFP / EAST NEWS, Gregorio T. Binuya / Everett Collection / EAST NEWS


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