Do’s and Don’ts in Japan | Solo Female Travel

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The land of rising sun — that is what we all knew Japan to be, growing up. As we grew up, it became more of a mystic land, and all longed to travel there one day. And then, when we began our solo female travels, Japan was the country we all wanted to visit.

And why not? Where else will a country provide so much beauty to you on a platter? Lush green gardens, pink and white hues during cherry blossom season, beautiful countryside juxtaposed with modern cities. Japan is too beautiful to put it into words.

 
 
 
 
 
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But we also hear that Japan is an intimidating country. As travelers, we hear so many tales about strict cultural rules that all must follow while in Japan and the faux pas foreigners commit. There have been books authored on this subject alone. So definitely, this is bound to rattle us a little.    

But after having travelled to Japan, I can vouch that it isn’t as big of a deal as it is made out to be. Japanese people are extremely warm and polite, and they tend to forgive you easily. But as a visitor, it should be our duty not to insult Japanese culture. The Japanese culture is a unique mix of openness and ritualistic property. So, it is essential to know a little bit of the Japanese culture and the do’s and don’ts to prevent awkward moments while travelling around the country.

Do

Learn a few key phrases before travelling to Japan

The truth is you can jolly well travel and explore the entire country of Japan without learning any Japanese word. But your trip will only be enriched if you take a few minutes of your life before travelling to Japan and learn a few phrases and words in Japanese. No one expects you to be a scholar in Japanese, but it would give the people immense joy knowing that you have actually tried. 

Here are some phrases you can use on your female solo trip to Japan and what it means: 

1. Konnichiwa

 
 
 
 
 
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This is a word that you must be already familiar with. Konnichiwa or Hello is the basic greeting in Japan. It is typically used during the day, but at a basic level, let’s keep things simple. You can use this word when you go to check-in at your place of accommodation, or a server comes up to you to take your order. You will also hear ohayou gozaimasu, and konbanwa which is good morning and good evening respectively. But Konnichiwa will do the trick for you.

2. Arigatou gozaimas

If you are travelling amongst people as polite as the Japanese, you will hear this a lot. And for that reason, you have to say this a lot too. Arigatou gozaimas means thank you. Though in Japanese, the ‘U’ at the end of any word is mostly silent. So, in this case, too, it is pronounced as arigato gozaimas. But just arigato will be enough to wow the people you interact with in Japan. 

3. Sumimasen

The word for excuse me is something we always need in any language. Japanese is no different. This, in fact, is a doubly useful word that can be used both to get someone’s attention and to apologise. 

For example, at a restaurant, when you go to devour all the delicious food Japan has to offer, you say sumimasen to grab the waiter’s attention. And if you step on a tatami floor with your shoes on (a faux pas, you are likely to commit), you can always give an honest apology saying sumimasen.  

4. Kudasai

This is what you will use extensively when asking for something in Japan. This is useful in a variety of situations: at restaurants, in stores, etc. The construction of the sentence is __ o kudasai. Fill in the blank with what you want, and there you have a proper sentence to communicate.

5. Doko desu ka? 

As a female solo traveller, Google maps are our best friends. It helps us navigate from place to place without any difficulty. But there are times when a Google map fails. There may be a loss of internet connection, and suddenly you are stranded in the middle of nowhere.

It is then that you need to learn the phrase doko desu ka. If you want direction to any place, you ask ­­__ wa doko desu ka? 

6. Ikura des ka?

When in a beautiful country like Japan, how can you leave without buying a souvenir or two? And when something catches your eye, you have to ask for its price. 

And how do you ask that? Well, the phrase for it is ikura des ka.

Phrase Translation
Konnichiwa Hello
Ohayou Gozaimasu Good Morning
Konbanwa Good Evening
Arigatou Gozaimas Thank You
Sumimasen Excuse Me,
Sorry
___ o kudasai Fill in the blank with what you want to ask for
something in restaurants, stores, etc.

___ wa doko desu ka?  Fill in the blank with any place you want to ask a
local for directions
Ikura des ka? How much does it cost?

Don’t

Never leave a tip in Japan.

 
 
 
 
 
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After we have seen how we need to learn a few words and phrases to make sure our solo trip to Japan is better, let’s learn about something you don’t do while in Japan. While leaving a tip in a restaurant in any other country is considered polite, it is absolutely the opposite here. It is actually considered an insult. So, remember not to tip while in Japan.

Do

Slurp when eating

 
 
 
 
 
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This is one do’s in Japan that absolutely blew my mind. We have all grown up knowing that it slurping of food is considered an ill matter. But not when you in Japan. In every ramen restaurant in the country and even in cities like Tokyo and Osaka, you can slurp on the food to show how much you have enjoyed your meal. Crazy right? 

Don’t 

Eat while on the go

This was another of those do’s and don’ts that took me by surprise. I will tell you why. Some of the best and yet cheap foods in Japan are found in vending machines. Apparently, on average, there are about 5.5 million vending machines all over Japan. But you will never find anyone taking food from the vending machine and strolling along with the road eating. You are supposed to eat the food nearby and throw the wrapper in the bin nearby. The only place you can eat is if you are travelling on a bullet train between cities. In this case, do savour the amazing bento boxes available everywhere in Japan.

Do

Know proper chopstick etiquette

 
 
 
 
 
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To be frank, it is not expected that you will know everything about handling chopsticks while eating in Japan, but if you do, the people there will be super impressed. However, most restaurants will provide you with a fork if you need one. But when in Japan, do as the Japanese do, right?

There are a few rules you have to keep in mind while handling chopsticks.

  • Never rub your chopsticks together. This indicates that you don’t think the restaurant has provided you with quality chopsticks!
  • If you are having a bowl of rice with chopsticks, do not stick your chopsticks vertically into the bowl. Rather eat it at an angle.
  • If you are talking to a waiter or anyone else while eating, it is rude to point your chopsticks at them.
  • Always keep your chopsticks in a parallel position when not in use and not crossed.

Don’t 

Harass the geishas and maikos for selfies

do and don't in japan

A large part of our knowledge about Japan was piqued from pop culture and definitely from the Arthur Golden novel Memoirs of a Geisha. So definitely, when we travel to Kyoto, we are eager to spot a geisha

While spotting a geisha in Gion, Kyoto is not a very common sight anymore, do not harass them if you do see one. The geishas are entertainers, all right, but they are not tourist attractions, and it is extremely disrespectful to follow them or hound them for a picture. 

Do 

Take off shoes when indoors.

This is one of the dos and don’ts you absolutely must know before your female solo trip to Japan. You cannot wear shoes and enter every establishment in the country. Outdoor shoes are considered unhygienic by the Japanese, and you are expected to take them off at some places of accommodation (like a ryokan and capsule hotels), private homes, temples and shrines, and even some restaurants. 

To avoid walking barefoot, my advice would be to pack loads of socks with you

Don’t

Blow your nose in public

Temperatures may oscillate in Japan, so there is a chance you might catch a cold when in Japan. But if you have a runny nose, it is deemed disrespectful if you blow your nose loudly in public in Japan. However, you can always wipe your nose in public but again, try turning away from people. If you absolutely have to blow your nose, find the nearest restroom to do so and dispose of the tissue in the bin there. 

Do

Hang on to your litter

do and don't in Japan

For a country that prides itself on being so clean, bins to dispose of rubbish are pretty hard to find in Japan. But that doesn’t mean you can throw rubbish wherever you want to. 

Instead, in Japan, you are expected to carry your litter around and dispose of them when you either spot a bin or take it back to the hotel with you and throw it there. This is another of the dos and don’ts you absolutely must follow. As a visitor, it is your duty to help keep the beautiful country clean. 

Don’t 

Don’t make noise while on public transport.

Maintaining the proper etiquette while travelling on public transport is an absolute must while in Japan. It is a big no-no to accept calls or talk loudly to anyone on a train. Even crying babies are whisked away by apologizing to parents to the areas. This also applies to playing loud music while travelling. As a solo female traveller, always carry a pair of headphones with you so that you can enjoy music while on the go. If you are like me and wish that you could shove a sock down someone’s throat who talks loudly to fellow commuters or on the phone in a public place, Japan is the place to be.

Do

Use two hands to accept cards. 

In Japan, your card and money are treated with the utmost respect. So, you will notice that when you produce your card, the person accepting it will do so with two hands and a small bow.

So, when it’s your turn to take the card back, do so with both your hands as a sign of respect. You will also notice that money isn’t handed out directly. You are to keep the money on a small tray before the cashier, and you will get the change on the same tray back.

Don’t 

Jaywalk

do and don't in Japan

The best thing about crowded Japanese cities is that everything runs like a well-oiled machine. Everyone follows the rules, and so even at a crowded spot like the Shibuya crossing in Tokyo, you will see no chaos but a proper order.

So as a visitor to Japan, this one is very important. Make sure you don’t put yourself and others in danger by casually jaywalking. In other words, do not disturb the life of local people in Japan.

Do

Dress conservatively

As a solo female traveller, this etiquette in Japan is one that you must absolutely follow. As a country, Japan dresses conservatively, so when in Japan, avoid showing too much skin. 

Don’t pack your yoga pants for travelling and if you are wearing leggings, team it with short shirts or your hot pants. If you are visiting a temple or shrine, be sure to cover your shoulders as a mark of respect.

But don’t worry, there are plenty of clothes you can mix-and-match when in Japan and look like a fashionista. If you need more tips on how to dress in Japan, read more.

Don’t 

Get into an onsen without taking a shower first.

Japanese onsens or hot water springs are among the most incredible and relaxing experiences you can have while in Japan. But you need to keep in mind some bath etiquettes while at an onsen. 

You are not allowed to wear any pieces of clothing when you step into an onsen for hygienic reasons. So this is the best time to shed those inhibitions. You are required to have a thorough shower just before you step into the onsen. While relaxing in an onsen, remember you are not allowed to dip your hair into the water. Also, if you have tattoos, it is better to avoid going to an onsen because tattoos are usually looked down upon in Japan.

There are many dos and don’ts that you must keep in mind when travelling on your solo female trip to Japan. But trust me when I tell you that it isn’t rocket science! These should not deter you from booking tickets to Japan and enjoying the country at its best.  

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Swagachi

An introverted solo female traveller on an adventure around the world.

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