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Do’s & Dont’s in Japan

Introduction

The reputation of Japan’s culture and etiquette precedes them. Some of us have been there — breaking an unspoken yet mutual rule of Japan unintentionally. At some point, the topic of how things actually work in this culturally rich country is bound to pop up. 

If you’re not born in Japan or have lived long enough in the country, you wouldn’t necessarily know the ins and outs of it. That applies to most, if not all, countries but it’s even more prominent in Japan. The unique customs, social norms, and rules that regulate the society and relations can be pretty far off compared to what some of us are used to.

Even if foreigners tend to get a “free pass” in most situations, it’s best to not take advantage of that. Knowing a few basics here and there can go a long way, especially if you’re considering settling down (or already are) in Japan. Discover the top things foreigners should and should not do in Japan!

The Top 5 Do’s In Japan

The first few things you’ll notice in Japan are the acts that the Japanese do that you won’t witness anywhere else in the world. The Japanese have special customs unique to their culture. We, from the outside, may see these acts as intriguing, but to the Japanese, some of them are conventional and normal.

Instead of being straight-up lost in the translation of body language when you’re on the receiving end of these customary acts, why not learn about them prior to your trip to Japan? You might even end up doing some of these acts as well! You know what they say when in Japan, do what the Japanese do!

1. Do be early

I don’t know about you, but I personally have experienced being late even though I was actually on time. In Japan, being on time is considered late — being early is being on time. The Japanese value their time. When there is a scheduled appointment or even just a meet up with a friend, they’ll arrive earlier than the agreed time. This is their way of showing respect to the other party, regardless if it’s a client or a peer.

Even buses and trains in Japan are always on time. There’s the rare occasion of midday maintenance or circumstantial delay, but those happen once in a blue moon! If public transportation can afford to accurately arrive on time at their scheduled stops, why can’t we? 

In Japanese culture, it’s quite embarrassing to be late. Generally, it’s awkward when someone else is waiting for you after the passed arranged time to meet. Save yourself from these unwanted feelings by being punctual. Better yet, be early!

2. Do follow the queues

Queuing systems are implemented all across the world, but you’ll only see every single one of the citizens abiding by these rules in Japan. Whether it is queuing to go into a restaurant or waiting in line behind the cashier of a supermarket, the Japanese are all for lining up. In fact, they even queue for the lifts and escalators!

The Japanese obeying such a mutually implemented cultural rule stems from the group harmony mentality that the citizens love so much. Jumping and ignoring queues is equivalent to rebelling against this peaceful harmony of the Japanese culture. You wouldn’t want to be that gaijin (外人, which means foreigner), do you?

It might sound ridiculous to stand in a queue for something as mere as an escalator or lift but you’ll end up being more grateful than finding the Japanese’s obedience for the queuing system odd. Just follow the queues, it’s way better than getting dagger glares and stares from all around you.

3. Do respect the chopstick etiquette

Don’t be surprised if and when you’re not served a fork at a restaurant in Japan. In fact, expect no forks and only chopsticks instead. Even a restaurant that offers forks for cutleries offers chopsticks as well — no doubt about that. Chopsticks are quite significant in Japanese culture. Everything from how to use it to what not to do with it is clear and understood by the locals.

Because it takes up such a huge part of the Japanese culture, it sure has more than a few rules in the chopstick etiquette handbook. There are so many that it’s impossible to list them all in this write-up. It needs its own article (maybe even two)! Most of the do’s and don’ts aren’t unreasonable. They have proper reasons as to why it shouldn’t be done.

An example is sticking a chopstick upright in a bowl. This act resembles a funeral ritual which is why it’s prohibited to place the chopsticks in that manner. Placing chopsticks across the bowl signifies that you don’t want to eat anymore. If there’s still food left or you’re not done eating, it may come across as rude to the chef. It’s also considered unclean and dirty to use your chopsticks to pass food to someone else or use it to pick up food from a sharing platter. That’s because you’ve already used the chopsticks and placed them in your mouth, so it’s unhygienic to use them in the mentioned situations.

Don’t be scared to hold a pair of chopsticks now! Of course, the Japanese wouldn’t expect us, foreigners, to know every chopstick etiquette in the Japanese culture. When in doubt, just do one simple thing: don’t play with the chopsticks. That’s as simple as it gets. For a step further, as a sign of respect to the chopstick etiquette, it’s always best to ask! Whether it is the staff who’s serving you or a Japanese friend, they’ll be more than delighted to help you out!

4. Do mind the public spaces

The Japanese are all about respecting one another — from close acquaintances to strangers on the streets. Every corner of Japan is oozing with this respect and that’s because the Japanese are extremely mindful of public spaces. One of the most significant public spaces that the Japanese are extremely particular about is public transportation.

If you’ve seen pictures and videos of the packed trains in Japan, you wouldn’t believe when we say that even during such a crowd, the train is so quiet you can hear a pin drop! Groups of people will lower their voices as they step on the trains — some even end their conversations! Phones are on silent mode, no one is on the phone and even music played on headsets is at a level that wouldn’t bother the person next to them.

This mutual, unspoken rule of silence on public transportation is just out of respect for others who are commuting on the same transportation as them. You don’t know what others are going through — they might be having a rough morning or have had a long day. Join the bandwagon and mind the public spaces! 

5. Do shower first before entering the public baths

 

Japanese hot springs known more famously as the onsen (温泉) is a must-stop for locals and foreigners alike! These public baths are more often than not used as a form of relaxation rather than to cleanse oneself. Some people even go to the onsen for health reasons! The water in these public baths are always clean, and that’s not only because of the painstaking maintenance done by the staff. 

There’s an unspoken rule of showering first before entering these public baths. Similar to the previous rule, this is more because of minding the public spaces, and onsens are considered public space. You’re likely to see a showering area either right next to the hot spring bath or somewhere nearby. Be sure to use it before dipping your toes in the relaxing waters of Japan!

The Top 5 Don’ts in Japan

I bet you’ve heard of all the things you can’t do in Japan. Japan has a fair share of its don’ts, but loads of countries are the same as well! Fair enough, there are some unspoken rules here that aren’t the same as anywhere else in the world — but that’s what makes Japan even more special, doesn’t it?

Many foreigners, regardless of expats or mere tourists, can live their time in Japan being quite oblivious to the strict no-nos in Japan. While the Japanese are polite enough to give us a pass for that, why not be in the know of a few of them just to save yourself the awkward stares and encounters?

1. Don’t tip

The first and foremost don’t in Japan is tipping. Definitely no tipping in this country! Tipping is a huge part of the culture in some countries — it is even mandatory for countries like the United States! It isn’t the same in Japan, though. It’s strictly not part of the culture.

Service charge is already included in the bills of restaurants, and the Japanese are already expected to deliver only the best and highest quality of service in their work. It doesn’t matter if they’re staff at a restaurant or a taxi driver. The Japanese don’t see the need to be praised in monetary terms as that’s the bare minimum service for them.

In fact, if you do tip, you might even offend someone! Tipping can be rude for two reasons: it can imply that the staff is only providing good quality service for monetary rewards, and the other implication is that the staff aren’t paid well by the employer.

If you really insist on praising the staff for their excellent service, the best way to do that is by complimenting them in-person or even review the restaurant online. I found out that reviewing a restaurant for their exceptional service significantly helps them in terms of their ratings and getting more customers. Who knows, if you mention the individual staff in your review, that might even get them a raise!

2. Don’t wear shoes indoors

For some of us, we might wear our shoes indoors. When in Japan, never — and I repeat, NEVER — ever wear your shoes into someone’s home regardless of whose home it is. Outdoor shoes are unclean and dirty, and for this very reason, they are not to be brought into the house. Everyone wants their home to be clean. Having their indoor and outdoor shoes separate is one way for the Japanese people to go about that.

Japanese homes have an entryway called the genkan (玄関), and this is where outdoor shoes are placed. At this special entryway, the shoes are lined up neatly. Be sure to take off your shoes before entering the house. If there are indoor shoes which you’ll be able to see at the genkan, switch to those. 

This no-shoe rule does not just apply to homes. It extends to most ryokans which are traditional Japanese-style hotels, some temples and shrines, schools, and hospitals. Don’t be surprised if restaurants request you to take off your shoes before entering — especially traditional ones with tatami mats since they’re extremely delicate and can be damaged. It’s just the norm in Japan.

3. Don’t litter

One thing every foreigner notices about Japan is the lack of bins on the streets. Yet, regardless of this, the streets are almost always sparkling clean and litter-free. Amazing, isn’t it? That’s the beauty of Japan — quite literally. This is only possible because the people in the country don’t litter.

Preserve the litter-free image of the country by holding on to your rubbish if you have any. Only get rid of it when you see a bin nearby. It’s best to have a spare plastic bag with you to store all your trash and dispose of it at one go — that’s what most of the Japanese people always do! If not, they’ll hold on to it till they get home and then get rid of it then. 

If you want to be even more involved in the Japanese practice, separate your trash by plastics, papers, cans and other waste, and dispose of them accordingly. You’ll be surprised at how often these all come in a row together!

4. Don’t jaywalk

The Japanese love obeying the rules, which is why everything is almost always run so smoothly in the country. So of course, there’s no such thing as jaywalking in Japan! Plus, that’s not the only reason you shouldn’t be jaywalking. There’s the obvious one and that is because it’s dangerous!

There’s no harm in waiting for a bit. The plus side is that the traffic lights in Japan don’t take long at all! If there’s construction work or breakdown of sorts, there’s always a road worker to assist the traffic flow. Save yourself the danger as well as others’ danger of following your lead to jaywalk by simply not.

5. Don’t eat or drink on-the-go

Konbinis (コンビニ) are extremely popular in Japan. They have everything — they are called convenience stores for a reason. You’d expect tons of people grabbing a wrapped onigiri and munching on them casually as they get a step on towards their next destination. After all, it is killing two birds with one stone that we’re all guilty of.

On the contrary, you won’t catch a local Japanese chomping away as they take a stroll down the pavements. To the locals, the streets are considered dirty as hundreds of people walk on them daily and leave trails of dirt behind. Why consume food on these unclean surfaces? 

You’ll see the Japanese people standing right outside these konbinis to finish up their quick snack or lunch. It’s not just konbinis but also vending machines! Loitering around them makes it easier to bin the wrapping and cans or bottles in the respective bins before heading off. If you don’t fancy the standing and eating way, find a nearby bench or park to finish up your quick treat.

Conclusion

Japan is not Japan if it’s not for its order and system. Who knows if we’ll ever be fully familiar with the ins and outs of the Japanese culture, but we can only try! At the end of the day, the Japanese are extremely understanding of foreigners and every effort is greatly appreciated. Even the bare minimum like the do’s and don’t mentioned in this write-up is good enough, so let’s do our best! Ganbatte (頑張って)!

The Salon and Barber Culture in Japan

Introduction

We might not realise it but the occasional trip to the salon or barber is quite an essential part of our lives. Who doesn’t like a good trim or treatment — not only does it make a good impression with the maintained put-together image but you also feel refreshed and renewed for yourself.

What you’ll notice on the streets of Japan is the overly obsessive culture of maintaining visual presentation; there’s not one or two but at least five different barber shops and salons in one street alone! These barber shops and salons can come around at extremely premium costs due to the Japanese’s high quality and service. 

I don’t know about you, but I usually go to the same salon over and over again once I find the right one. I mean, I know they can deliver what I request of them and it saves me the hassle of repeating it over and over again, am I right? However, when you move or travel to a whole new country like Japan where their market is quite concentrated already, it can be tough making a choice. Everything from communication to the hairstylist’s niche skill set has to be taken into consideration. 

Not to fret, that’s what this guide is for! With this, you’ll be well on your way to deciding the best choice of barber or hair salon for your regular haircut fix in no time!

The Salon Market in Japan

The size of the salon market in Japan is no joke — it’s more than huge! When I first came to Japan and made local friends, I soon realised that there were quite a number of them that are working as a hairstylist or barber. It’s because there are tons of barbershops and salons in the country that there’s a high chance of the locals to be working in one. 

Throughout the whole time, the salon market is continuously growing in terms of profit, numbers, and size. They’ve been lucky enough to attain a handful of successes after successes. Because of the growing demand and popularity, these hair salons have been more and more creative in their store concept — even I was quite drawn into some of them!

Salons in Japan are not only for women; the men go to salons for their occasional fix. Services provided by salons aren’t limited to just women’s hair but also men’s hair. The hairstylists are trained to attend to men’s hair, but not the same as the way the barbers do it. The salons are more towards colouring, treatment and styling. Some of the Japanese men are really stylish with their hairstyles, so you know they pick the salon over the barbers then.

The Barbershop Market in Japan

The barbershops, unlike the salons, have to solely rely on male customers. What’s more, it’s the smaller group of customers that are looking for shorter, dapper haircuts. Due to the growing business of the salon market by including the male hair styling where customers switched from the barbershop to the salon, the barber market faced a slight decline in the previous years. There are also a smaller number of professional barbers around in Japan as well as chain salons opening up and providing cheaper services. 

However, in recent years, the barber industry brushed up what they were lacking on and has since maintained a consistent profit as a market. Some added a bit of the Japanese styling touch to their services so that it’ll draw in more customers. Others trained their barbers more thoroughly so they are fully equipped with the professional skills of a barber. 

Barbershop and Salon: The Actual Difference

There used to be a clear line between barbershop and salon but in recent years, especially in Japan, it has been blurred quite a bit. Barbers specialise in shorter, traditional haircuts like the buzzcut, flattop, fade and military-style cuts while the hairstylists are more for the longer hairstyles, treatment and colour — this clear distinction between them used to be crystal clear.

However, with the barbershop and salon market growing and evolving rapidly, barbers are now skilled at styling longer hairstyles and the hairstylists are more adept at using clippers for the classic men haircuts. Now both barbers and hairstylists can pretty much do everything under the sun, but people are aware that if they want a classic cut, the barber’s the way to go; if they want a stylish one, a salon is their best bet.

How To Pick A Barbershop Or Salon?

And the question remains: how does one pick the perfect barbershop or salon for themselves? Choosing the right barber is just as important as choosing the right hairstyle that best suits you. Every barber and hairstylist specialise something more than the other, and it’s on you to pick the one that can deliver what you want. Take note of these key points when choosing your barber or hairstylist: your personal price range, where the shop is located, how well-known they are and convenience in terms of communication.

Personal Budget

In Japan, the cost of barbershops and salons can go anywhere from dirt-cheap to holy-cow expensive! Have a good think of what your personal budget is and what exactly you are looking for because various services have various costs. For example, a classic cut can be anywhere from ¥1,000 to ¥3,000. Don’t be surprised to see some barbershops charging quite high for a standard cut starting off at ¥5,000; they might be using tools and products that are of higher quality than the rest.

Location

Regardless of whether you’re in Japan for travel or you’re settling down here, the location of the barbershop or salon is quite important. You’re going to frequently visit the shop, so why choose one that’s on the other side of the country? In fact, some people choose their barbershops and salons based on their location and whichever that’s easiest to get to — it can be around their home or in the center of the city where it’s more convenient to pop by. Barbershop or salon chains are quite popular due to its various locations (even though some end up going to the same one over and over again because of a specific barber or hairstylist).

Reputation

When looking into the barbershop or salon scene, you’ll probably come across the same names over and over again. That’s because some of them have quite a reputation — everyone’s talking about it and they have quite a decent size of regular customers. You might even need to book well in advance to get your preferred slot! 

The extreme support of word of mouth is due to the excellent quality and service as well as very specific and popular barbers or hairstylists. If you want to play it safe and in need of reassurance, going to a reputable barbershop or salon is probably a direction you should consider taking. However, these barbershops and salons tend to be on the higher end of the price spectrum, so weigh your options out properly before making any rash decisions!

Convenience

Convenience can be anything from time to ease of communication. Some of us would prefer to have an easy flow for a haircut — go in, get it, get out. After all, it is a leisurely activity one has to pamper themselves.

Sometimes, some barbershops or salons might not have an appointment system set up, so you are required to come down earlier in the day to get a ticket for your time slot. The timings on these tickets aren’t even that accurate — it can usually exceed depending on how long they are going to take for the previous customers.

Another point for convenience is the ease of communication. Not all barbershops and salons can provide English-speaking services. In fact, most of them don’t! Japan’s first language is Japanese, and while they learn English in school, it’s best not to expect everyone to be fluent in it. Some of us would prefer to have a barber or hairstylist that they can communicate easily without the extra effort and time spent on translating their wants and needs.

How To Prepare For A Visit To The Barbershop Or Salon?

After choosing your barbershop or salon, here comes the most important part: preparing for your visit. In other countries, you might not need preparation at all. While it’s not really a requirement to prepare in Japan, it’s a good idea to, especially if it’s your first time to the place! You don’t want to be wasting your time or your trip down — or worse, getting a horrible haircut! Here are some tips to get you started before going out to get your haircut!

Prepare an image

If your Japanese skills are a little below rusty or you don’t even know a single word, then you might want to consider preparing an image of your desired haircut before going to the barbershop or salon. Try getting pictures from different sides and angles; it gives more clarity to the exact hairstyle you want. You know what they say — a picture speaks a thousand words!

Practice describing your ideal haircut

When in Japan, speak Japanese! Start off by practicing how to describe your ideal haircut in the language. You can translate it online or have someone translate it for you for that extra security of getting your perfect haircut. Hand gestures are perfect extra touches for that, too!

Here are some great keywords that are extremely useful for your visit:

Cut — katto (カット

Shampoo — shanpu (シャンプー)

Blow — buro (ブロー)

Treatment — turitomento (トリートメント)

Perm — paama (パーマ)

Hair — kami ()

Fringe — maegami (前髪)

Short — mijikai (短い)

Long — nagai (長い)

Side — yoko ()

Back — ushiro (後ろ)

Parting — wakeme (分け目)

To cut — kiru (切る)

To dye hair — kami wo someru (染める)

Make an appointment

Most barbershops and salons accept walk-ins, but don’t risk it. Try making an appointment beforehand through the barber shop’s desired means of communication. Some of them prefer a phone call for making an appointment, others have a service on their website for reservation. Making an appointment in advance can save you so much time and hassle, giving you a sense of relief that you’ll most definitely get your haircut that day. Some barbershops and salons can get quite a significant number of customers in a day — if you don’t have a reservation, they might request that you visit a different day as they’re fully booked without reservation. 

Conclusion

It takes a bit of extra research and time when it comes to finding the perfect barbershop or salon in Japan, but it’s definitely something you shouldn’t just wing it if you’re extremely particular with your hair care. But once you find the right barber or hairstylist that can deliver all that you ask of them, you’ll be set up with a regular barber or hairstylist at your ideal barbershop or salon in Japan in absolutely no time!