To Tip or Not to Tip

Tipping in Japan

Tipping in Japan

Generally speaking, tipping in not an accepted custom in Japan. This might feel odd coming from United States, but workers in Japan do not rely in tip income for their salary. In fact, handing cash to someone is considered a pity and you might actually offend that person. Another reason is that Japan is a nation of hospitality and people do not put a cash value on providing hospitality to one’s guests. Instead, people will exchange gifts, show appreciation by bowing and saying thank you..

Before your trip, it’s helpful to gain an understanding the practices of tipping in Japan. Below are a few guidelines to help you know when it’s ok to leave a tip and how to show your appreciation for a job well done.

Here are places tipping is NOT accepted or in some cases consider rude:

  • Restaurants (servers, host, bussers, etc)
  • Cafes
  • Taxi drivers
  • Porters
  • Hair stylists
  • Bartenders
  • Hotels

Here are places (very few) where you might want to tip:

  • Ryokan-where you have a server (nakai) assigned to your room who goes extra miles or do personal favors to help you enjoy your stay.
  • Personal guide, interpreter and translators. Again, if he or she goes beyond his or her means to assure you a great experience, then you might consider tipping them.

How to tip:
As mentioned above, it is considered rude to hand someone cash. If you decide to tip someone, money should be placed in an envelope then hand it to them.

I really want to show my appreciation, what should I do?
Japan is a country of gift giving. It is always a good idea to bring some small souvenir from you home country. From where I live in Midwest, I always take small bottles of maple syrup, locally made crafts such as dream catchers or silver jewelry by Native Americans (keep it light!). People in Japan love to exchange gifts and your locally made or sourced gifts will be greatly appreciated.

Also, bowing and show appreciation in kind words are great way in Japan. Learn few phrases such as “Arigato gozaimasu” or “Oishikatta desu” and this will go a long way.

Happy Travels!

5 Useful Tips When Traveling to Japan

Japanese Yen

#1 Comfort First

Walk, walk, walk. You will be surprised how much you might walk in Japan. So comfortable shoes are a priority. Also, save yourself the hassle and wear shoes that can be easily taken off and put back on. At a traditional Ryokan, people’s homes, some temples and restaurants, it is customary to take one’s shoes at entrance ( Genkan ). And to save yourself from embarrassment, bring along clean socks without holes.

#2 Cash Matters

Many shops, restaurants and hotels accept credit cards, but it’s always a good idea to carry enough yen for smaller purchases. Save your credit card for larger purchases like hotels, gifts and some meals. I make an estimate of how much I plan to spend each day for transportation, food, treats, sightseeing, etc and carry enough cash in my wallet for the day. It’s also a good idea to keep the rest of your money in your main bag ( so you don’t have all your eggs in one basket ).

The banks at the international airports are great places for exchanging foreign currencies. You’ll most likely get a competitive rate and save yourself the hassle of searching for a bank or cash machine in town during off hours.

#3 Have A Friend ( or Join Our Small Group Tour )

I love having people take me to places when I’m in another country. Travel books and the internet are wonderful resources, but nothing is as good as having a friend who can take you to places that can speak the local language. After hitting the major attractions, it’s time to enjoy Japan like locals do. Take a few days exploring on your own, then join a small group tour or have a friend take you around for a richer experience.

#4 Walk on Left Side

When you first arrive you may not even notice your walking on the wrong side. Walk and drive on left side seems to be obvious in Japan, but people take it seriously. Japan is a nation of law and order. When riding an escalator or waiting at train stations, follow the arrow sign on the ground and line up with everybody else. When your arrive try to quickly get in the habit of walking on the left, and you’ll save yourself the trouble of getting in the way of other people or the busy traffic!

#5 Push or Not to Push

(This tip is for people riding trains and subways in busy time mainly in metro tokyo.)

At busy train stations during rush hours, instead of security personnel, you might see metro workers brandishing folding sheets of plastic they use to push people into already crammed trains. Do not feel threatened by their presence, but just go with the flow. You also have an option to wait for the next train which probably will be as packed as the last. Hold your belonging in front of you and just follow everyone else and remember that everyone else wants to get to their destinations just like you. For this reason, it’s best not to land in Tokyo during rush hour with luggage.

Which Airport? Narita vs Haneda

airplane at airport

Are you a first time traveler to Japan? Do you get confused to which airport to fly into? Is Narita better than Haneda? These are tough questions to answer and the answer depends on where you are traveling to and from. However, if your first destination in Japan is Tokyo or if you are taking connecting flight to other parts of Japan, my short answer is Haneda and here is why.

Narita ( 成田 )

Narita is one of the two major airports serving the Tokyo metro area and is located 60 kilometers from Tokyo in Chiba Prefecture ( not in Tokyo ).
Pros:

  • International hub for Delta, United Airline and other major international airlines. More flight options for international flights as well as cheaper international flight through Narita Airport.
  • Although the airport is located 60 miles from downtown Tokyo, there are many public transportation options to Tokyo.
  • Easy connection to international flights.
  • Easier access when traveling to northern Japan by bus and other public transportation.

Cons:

  • Far from downtown Tokyo.
  • Public transportation is more expensive.

Haneda ( 羽田 )

The other major airport is Haneda and it is located in the heart of Tokyo.

Pros:

  • Serve as a primary base for All Nippon Airway and many other domestic airlines. In 2016, Haneda added extra runways to accommodate more international flights making it one of the busiest airport in the world.
  • 15 minutes to Tokyo by Tokyo Monorail or Keikyu Line.
  • Easy connection to domestic flights.
  • Personally, I think Haneda feels cleaner and more up-to-date than Narita

Cons:

  • It is a very busy airport.
  • When taking public transportations, one must transfer in Tokyo for major transportation.

Once landing at either airport and making it through immigrations and customs, there are a few things you can do to start your trip a little easier.

First, it’s a good idea to exchange some cash before you leave the airport. The exchange rates at the airport are very competitive, and this will save you the hassle of trying to find an open bank in Tokyo that can handle foreign exchange.

Second, your phone will not work in Japan, but there are many vendors selling portable hotspots and local phone services. It’s not a bad idea to pick up one of these devices to make communicating with friends and family more convenient. If you want to keep the expenses to a minimum, most hotels, train stations and convenience stores in Japan have free WIFI. There are apps available for Android and iPhone to help you connect to these networks.

Visiting an Onsen Ryokan

Japanese Snow Monkeys in Hot Spring
Japanese Snow monkey Macaque in hot spring Onsen Jigokudan Park, Nakano, Japan

One of the best things about our Culinary Tour of Japan is on 4th night we will be staying at a traditional Onsen Ryokan in Nagano prefecture. People all over the world, have flocked to naturally occurring hot springs for relaxation and therapeutic benefits, and you should too. As an added icing on the cake, we will also be enjoying a regional multi-course kaiseki style dinner that night at the ryokan.

One of the benefits of being a volcanically active nation is an abundance of naturally, heated springs. There are thousands of these mineral rich hot springs scattered about the country, and dedicated hotels, Onsen Ryokan, catering to the onsen experience. The sulfur and magnesium present in the hot springs are said to promote skin health, while the heat promotes relaxation and reduced back pain and inflammation.

Before jumping in, there are a few important rules of etiquette to follow:

  1. Get Clean First ( very important )
    This should be obvious since they are natural springs, but sometimes travelers from other countries aren’t aware for the importance of cleaning up first. In the bathing area, there are small stools for you to use. Generally people don’t stand up and take or shower, they sit on the stool or squat down while the wash up.
  2. Get in your Birthday Suit
    That’s right. Don’t be shy, it’s a Japanese hot spring not a nudist camp or anything like that. This is a big part of culture in Japan. There is a term called hadaka no tsukiai or socializing while naked, and is related to the belief that you truly get know someone when they have nothing to hide behind.
  3. No Pictures
    Obviously, no pictures at the onsen. Leave your camera or your phone in your hotel room or with the front desk.
  4. Noise
    People in Japan don’t really have the habit of rocking out in the hot tub like we do in Aspen or wherever. As guests in the country, please be mindful of local customs and norms, and be mindful of others sense of space. As sustainable travelers, our goal is to travel while having only a positive impact.
  5. Robe and Towels
    Policies may differ from place to place, but if you are staying overnight you will be provided with a yukata – a robe to wear from your hotel room to the hot spring pools. Towels should be in your room as well and be mindful of where to place your wet towels when finished.