Top 10 Things NOT To Do When You Visit Japan

Apr 21st, 2009 | By Shane Sakata | Category: Featured Articles

Imperial Palace Nijubashi BridgeHave you discovered the the top 10  things that tourists do when they visit Japan?  This is not be an article about what to do and see when you come to Japan but it will help you know what not to do when you visit and it may even make you chuckle.  Consider it a cautionary list…

Top 10 Things Tourists Do When They Visit Japan

Number 10 -  Visit the Imperial Palace in Tokyo and snap a picture of a pretty stone bridge rather than one of the Emperor. Shibuya McDonaldsWait, that’s all there is to see?

Number 9 -  Visit a local festival and snap a ton of pictures of the food vendors all the while saying “What’s that?” or “That’s gross” or “no way I’m eating that” and then heading to the local McDonalds for lunch.

Number 8 -  Head into a restroom stall and wonder what that urinal is doing in the floor and where the toilet paper is? Oh, and how the heck do you flush?

Number 7 -  Make a purchase at a department store only to find the store clerk walking way with their merchandise and their money and wondering where they’ve gone and if they are coming back.

Japanese ToiletNumber 6 -  Chase a Geisha down the streets of Gion in Kyoto trying to snap a picture of her and wondering why she is for not stopping for yet another tourist with a camera!

Number 5 -  Wonder what all those slippers are lined up for at the entrance to a tatami room and why everyone is freaking out and pointing at the slippers as they step in wearing their comfy walking shoes.

Number 4 -  Go for overly priced cocktails at The New York Bar overlooking the lights of Shinjuku in a lame attempt to recreate a scene from Lost in Translation.

Kyoto Toursits GeishaNumber 3 -  Stare forever at the map in the train station wondering how much the fare is or which exit they are suppose to take and praying that someone who speaks English will stop and help them?

Number 2 -  Attempt to order a California roll at a sushi restaurant and wonder why the chef is giving them a funny look – it’s sushi after all isn’t it?

And the Number 1 thing that tourists visiting Japan have been known to do…..

Slippers in JapanThink that if they talk louder and slower, in English, that the Japanese will finally understand them!

If you are planning a visit, don’t be one of these tourists!  Be sure to subscribe to the Nihon Sun RSS feed or by email so you won’t miss future articles discussing how to avoid some of these potentially embarrassing situations.

If you have ever lived in Japan I know you will recognize at least a few of these and probably have a few of your own to add.

Please add them in the comments so that we can all have a chuckle and save prospective tourists some time and even a little bit of embarrassment…

This top 10 list was featured on Episode 2 of the Japan Podshow.  If you haven’t had a chance to listen in, you should!  In addition to my Top 10 list, there will be  a competition where you can win tickets to the Tokyo Comedy Store Crocodile Show, an interview with Nick Ramsay, creator of JapanSoc,  and much more.

Check out the Japan Podshow today!

Image Credit:  Personal Collection, Flickr: McDonalds, Toilet in Japan, Cheezu & slippers

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  1. Really cool post. Very funny but at the same time very true. It makes me mad when I let someone in my house and they commit a Number 5 even though I warned them in advance. ..

    I actually want to do Number 4 though >_<

  2. Nice post Shane – just wanted to add to number 8 since this is a “helping” post.

    When I came I was under the impression that these were the only kinds of toilets in Japan but it’s not true! I have been here almost a year and traveled quite a bit and still have not yet needed to use one. My experience is that the Japanese (at least the women, since that’s my only experience) prefer western-style toilets as I have often stood in line with Japanese women waiting for the “western” style toilets when the other ones are free. I think most Japanese when thinking of a “Japanese” toilet would think of a washlet and of these hole in the floor ones as simply old fashioned – why they still build them I honestly don’t know and doubt they will for much longer. In the newer buildings in Nagoya, for example, they are by far the minority if they are present at all.

    Taking tissues with you in Tokyo is a MUST though – I’ve only found this an issue in train stations in other towns but it seems to be very common in Tokyo not to provide toilet paper.

  3. From somebody who has never been to Japan, I don’t get Number 7… anyone willing to explain? Thanks!!

  4. Lol I have to admit I am guilty of number 3! The subway system is complicated if you are not prepared..

  5. Funny that you mentioned number 3, because I really have helped a couple of visitors caught in that situation before… :]

  6. @ Samuel Oftentimes in a department store you give your money to a clerk and she takes it along with your merchandise to a cashier that is not in your direct line of sight. At first is is a bit disconcerting but they always com back with your change and a nicely wrapped package so there is really no need to be concerned :)

    @ Prometheus Once you get used to taking yor shoes off it only makes sense – I’m the same as you though.

    @Danielle I always carry tissue with me for the reason you cite ;)

    @Liz & @blaureiter I remember how overwhelming the train system can be as well and often stop to help if someone is looking a tad confused. Usually you get a big thank you after the look of relief passes over their face ;)

  7. Hey my fellow Gaijin! When you are in Japan, even though they sell corn dogs(American Dog)at almost every convenient store in Japan, that doesn’t mean that you can walk down the street eating them! If you do buy food or something disposable- don’t think that you will be disposing it soon! Rubbish cans are like diamonds in the rough in Japan. Then, when you do find one you better know which whole to put it in. If that whole is a circle attached to a vending machine….don’t try to put square shaped objects in it…it wont fit for a reason! Think Combustibles- Incombustibles and Other! If you cant decide just go for the other.

    Don’t use your cell phone on the train or bus!

    Oh and about number 7 I think its referring to them packing it up? I was confused as well.

    If you find yourself on a train with nothing but women starring at you don’t worry they’re looking at you for two reasons, it’s either because they know that you are a clueless gaijin or it’s because they think you’re a pervert! And if you’re Asian, most likely they will think the latter!

    They also have women only floors at the Arcades. So to my gaijin men out there don’t go looking around in the print clubs! You will look like a straight up sukebe!

    It’s so many rules in Japan it’s impossible to follow all of them. Sometimes you can’t help being a Gaijin. BUT Its O.K!. They see you as a foreigner and the Japanese don’t expect you to be Japanese. They do expect you to respect the land though, so we should try harder!

  8. never been to japan (yet) but number eight is prolly the first one I’d do -_-

  9. I think you should definately not be a 6 foot tall norwegian blond haired blue eyed guy in Kamekura. I was followed around at some points. by the way Ms. Shane, thank you for your advice when I was reading you back on the tokyo traveller. You limited my ugly american moments. (I only cringed a lot when they were passing me things to try which offended my host, but I got him an appropriate apology gift, and then in kyoto, my brother committed a number 6, only instread of trying to take a picture, he was trying to hit on them). So other than those mix ups, it was enjoyable and I’m not so scared that they are making me move to Tokyo for a while. btw, which district is best for a gaijin who isn’t loaded, but not dirt poor either?

  10. @joudan – good tips there!

    @Jamaipanese – We all need to use the toilets and it would be an issue of priority upon getting here. LOL

    @Tyr – thank you for your kind words. I’m still chuckling over the fact that your brother was hitting on the Geisha in Kyoto!

    Tall blonds do get a lot of attention here and you will never be able to travel “under the radar” in Japan.

    I’m not an expert on cheap Tokyo accommodations unfortunately and can only suggest that you ask your company and/or other foreigners in the Tokyo office for assistance.

  11. Surpised no-one has mentioned “Onsen Etiquette” here! Friends of mine (might even relegate them to friends of friends for this one) travelled to Japan with a running group. After checking in at their traditional lodgings dressed in their sweaty running gear, they headed straight for the “pool” and jumped in as they were. I am surprised they were allowed to stay after being hauled out the onsen and read the riot act.

  12. Wow, Helen, that sounds like appalling behaviour in any hotel even if it was a normal ‘pool’!! I’m not sure if a gentle blog post with some etiquette advice would help!

  13. Which way are you supposed to face in the Japanese-style hole in the floor anyway?

  14. Well sixmats, my research and this Flickr Shot tells me that you are supposed to face the plumbing. Good question!

  15. Lol. Good points. I travel a lot tokyo metro system and it does not seems complicated to me since 6 hours ago. I stucked in the transfer zone, all those machines starts to cloce me inside passage and I was under the sight two live clerks. They started to talk each other pretending not to see me. Funny. But when i aproach them they where the most polite and organized perosns in the world. They solve my situation in the second (my fault, Pasmo card is rather new). I really love japanese people but we must notice that we compare them to the europeans way of life and the story is much more complicated.

  16. [...] Top 10 Things NOT to do when Visiting Japan. Studying and Working in Japan – Resources Prejudiced? [...]

  17. When visiting a new country people are bound to make some mistakes. Even those of us who are very well travelled and do our research and learn some of the language….will inevitably make some mistakes. How does one know how to use the subway system if they have never been before? I found this ‘top 10 not to do’ very negative and unhelpful. Japan is a country that I can’t wait to see and yet you make me feel like I will look like a fool the moment I step off the plane. You could have made the list clear and helpful and explained what mistakes people were making. Instead, your ‘tips’ are obscure and make people feel stupid. I certainly would not want you on the ‘Japan Tourist board’. No one would come.

  18. Jen K:

    The list was intended as a humorous look at some things that tourists do when they visit Japan – I’m sorry that you found it negative in tone.

    I think that if you take a moment to browse around the site you will find a lot of helpful information like How to Take the Train in Japan that may help you overcome some of the items of the list and get information on a lot of interesting things to do and see when you travel around the country.

    I hope that you get an opportunity to explore Japan for yourself soon, it’s a great country!

  19. [...] Top 10 Things NOT To Do When You Visit Japan [...]

  20. Iconic Shibuya french fries are now gone. Heard they gave it away for free.

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