7 things you should know about Japan
Many tourists after their first visit to Japan would say“It’s different from what I imagined” or “My image of Japan has changed.
So we thought we’d introduce some of the common misconceptions about Japan and things you should know before you visit.
1. Are tattoos allowed in the onsen (hot springs) and sento (public bathhouses)?
In Japan, people with tattoos are often rejected from bathing in onsen (hot spring) and public bath due to historical background that tattoo, a.k.a Irezumi in Japan resemble the image of anti-social people or yakuza/gangsters. However, there are some private Ryokan(Japanese style inn) and sento (public bathhouse) that allow tattoos so its best to contact the place before you go.
It’s interesting, however, to understand the history of tattoos in Japan and why they are rejected in some public areas. Irezumi are traditional Japanese tattoos that have been in existence since ancient times, with evidence of tattooing for spiritual and decorative purposes since at least the Jōmon period (approximately 10,000 BC). Beginning in the Kofun period (300–600 AD), tattoos began to be used as a punishment for criminals, leading to negative connotations. At the beginning of the Meiji period, the Japanese government outlawed tattoos due to their association with criminal gangs and this stigma remains today.
onsen (hot springs)
2. Consumption tax in Japan and recent increases
In October 2019, the Japanese government increased the consumption tax from 8% to 10%, with nearly all goods and services affected. However, a reduced consumption tax will still apply to some services and products, including most food. Takeout and delivery food, as well as drinks in hotel room minibars are just some of the products and services that will remain at the reduced consumption tax rate. Other alcoholic beverages, restaurant and food stall meals, as well as hotel room service will all be subject to the new, increased rate.
Government rebates will also be available for certain purchases made using electronic payments to reduce the impact on spending.
tax in Japan
3. Do you stand on the left-hand side of escalators in Japan?
You may have heard that people stand on the left-hand side of escalators in Japan. But this is not the case in all prefectures. Generally speaking, the Japanese will stand on the right-hand side in the Kansai region and on the left-hand side in others. But within the Kansai region, people in both Kyoto and Shiga are known for standing on the left-hand side of the escalators. This might sound confusing, but all you have to do is observe what the locals are doing and follow suit.
4. You can’t take leftovers home from restaurants
When you’re dining out overseas, you might be accustomed to taking your leftover food home with you if you can’t finish it. In most cases, the restaurant staff will package it up in disposable containers, meaning it doesn’t matter if you order too much food, as you can take it home to enjoy later. But in Japan, most restaurants don’t have a takeout service for leftover food as they are concerned about food poisoning. So consider this before you order and make sure your eyes aren’t bigger than your stomach.
take leftovers home from restaurants
5. Understanding the self-checkout system at stores
Labor shortages in Japan have led to self-checkout options at many supermarkets and stores, which can be confusing for people who aren’t used to it. There are two different options available - “full self-checkout” and “semi self-checkout”. Full self-checkout means that you do everything yourself, including scanning the products and paying using the checkout machine. Semi self-checkout means that the store clerk scans the products for you, then you pay yourself using the checkout machine.
6. Luxury clothing stores offer a “send-off” service
If you’re shopping at a luxury brand or boutique select shop in Japan, don’t be surprised if the staff package up your purchases and carry them to the exit of the store for you. This occurs in almost 100% of cases and most people are pleased to receive this service, although some Japanese people don’t like it. If you don’t want this “send-off” service, let the staff know at the time of purchase.
Luxury clothing stores offer a “send-off” service
7. Plastic bags are still free
In many overseas countries, plastic bags are now charged to shoppers and only given on request. But in Japan, you can still get plastic bags wherever you shop for free. However, some shops will discount two yen from the total price if you say “I don’t need a bag”. A recent proposal was made for plastic bags to be charged from July 2020, in line with environmental initiatives around the globe. So check before your visit to see if this has been imposed.