Photo: Thanakorn.P/Shutterstock

5 Things Tourists Do in Japan That Drive the Locals Crazy

by Turner Wright Feb 27, 2018

We can all agree Logan Paul represents the very worst of humanity. His behavior in Japan is by and large the worst I’ve ever seen from expats. While people with any sort of common sense or basic decency certainly don’t need any explanation as to why what he did was wrong, they may be unaware of lesser offenses foreign visitors to Japan commit on a regular basis.

1. Speaking loudly.

Despite what others around the world might believe, this is not strictly an American problem. Even in a big city like Tokyo on the last train of the day, when plenty of people are tipsy and their inhibitions lowered, there may not be someone shouting at the top of his lungs, but there can be a few loud talkers.

What foreign tourists and residents of Japan often fail to consider is “reading the air,” a Japanese expression for adapting your behavior based on the situation. Even someone who speaks loudly on a train in which others are already talking may not necessarily do so if they’re quiet. The same applies to restaurants, offices, temples, museums, and even festivals. By all means, you don’t have to take a vow of silence on arrival in Narita, but pay attention to what those around you are doing.

2. Leaving bathroom slippers on.

By now, this habit is so cliché among western tourists visiting Japan it seems ridiculous to mention it. While most visitors know they may be expected to slip their shoes on and off at Japanese houses and hotels, as well as many businesses and restaurants, many are unaware of the existence of secondary bathroom slippers.

While many public buildings have no need for visitors to remove their outdoor shoes on arrival or when entering the toilet, others not only provide indoor slippers for common areas, but a second pair of slippers for bathrooms. Forgetting to remove your outdoor shoes is old hat by now, but keeping on the slippers that have been walking across water and urine? Good luck recovering from that cultural faux pas.

3. Blowing out but not sucking in.

From a foreign perspective, Japan is a series of contradictions in terms of social etiquette. On the one hand, it’s perfectly polite and encouraged to slurp noodles as loudly and messily as possible to show you’re enjoying them. In addition, when you’re sick, wearing a mask and sniffling to an almost ludicrous degree is socially acceptable.

It seems as though making noise when things are entering your body is okay, but letting them out is another thing entirely. Blowing your nose, even faintly, is frowned upon and a disgusting habit in Japan, as is spitting; you won’t see as many stains on the sidewalk associated with ground-up food, public urination, and chewing tobacco.

4. Listening carefully.

The way you listen to someone in Japan is a tough habit to break. While many foreigners have grown up learning to shut their mouth and maintain eye contact when someone is talking, in Japan, aizuchi is still the standard.

In a nutshell, aizuchi describes a collection of phrases and guttural sounds one should mutter during a conversation to show he is still focused on what the other is saying. Even though it may appear like one party is interrupting the other with a short aizuchi, just standing there and looking at them blankly is infinitely more awkward.

5. Walking on the wrong side.

Cars in Japan travel on the left side of the road, people on the right. Unless you’re in Osaka, then it’s left. Unless it’s Tuesday, then you switch to the right between 2:30-4:00 PM. Unless it’s a national holiday, then you stay on the left. Got it?

In reality, this isn’t nearly as confusing as it sounds. Cars do generally drive on the left and people do generally walk on the right side underground, with the direction of travel clearly marked on the floor in subway and train stations. However, on ground level, where there are no clear directions, this is another example of why reading the air is essential.

Sometimes I choose the left; sometimes I choose the right. It never feels like I make the right choice and I’m constantly avoiding collisions.

Discover Matador

Save Bookmark

We use cookies for analytics tracking and advertising from our partners.

For more information read our privacy policy.