Written by Bethany McAtee

Irasshaimase!” is a welcoming Japanese phrase meaning ‘come on in!’ and is uttered upon a customer entering any store or restaurant in Japan by all staff in unison. Respect is deeply ingrained in Japanese culture and extends far beyond a well-choreographed greeting at a restaurant. Violation of some social norms, such as leaving chopsticks standing vertical in your rice bowl, which is traditionally done as a funeral rite, may be politely ignored if you are a foreigner. However, it is respectful as a tourist to research Japan’s laws and customs before visiting, especially seeing as disobeying some social norms could mean spending time in jail rather than visiting temples and eating sushi! Below are 5 tips for travelling in Japan that could keep you out of trouble (and jail!):

  1. Keep loud behaviour to a minimum.

Although you are not likely to be arrested unless your loud behaviour is violent or full of disrespectful language, being quiet in public is paramount in Japanese culture. On many public transport systems such as the Shinkansen or subway there are visual posters discouraging talking on the phone and speaking loudly. Privacy is valued in Japan, therefore ringing your friend on the train forces other passengers to be included in your conversation, and this could make others feel uncomfortable.

  1. Leave your Vicks Inhaler at home.

Due to the strict anti-stimulant drug laws in Japan, medication such as Vicks Inhalers, or medication containing Pseudoephedrine or Codeine are illegal, and possession could lead to arrest. If you are taking medication, it is highly advisable that you ensure your medication is legal by contacting your nearest Japanese Embassy or Consulate. Even if your medication is legal, bring your prescription papers and be aware that you may only be able to bring in 1 months’ supply.

  1. Don’t dispute the bill.

You’re at a restaurant in Tokyo having just finished your meal consisting of many little plates of delicious sushi and tempura vegetables. You don’t quite remember every plate that you ordered, however upon receiving the bill, you’re sure that the restaurant is overcharging you. Do you argue with the restaurant and ask them to reduce the charge or accept that your meals may have been more expensive than you thought?

In many places across the globe it can sometimes feel as though there’s one price for locals and another for tourists, but in Japan this really isn’t the case. The price is the price. In some cases prices can be a little high, so using a trusty £ to Yen converter before you order is an obvious way to avoid any surprises! Querying a bill in Japan is another faux pas, and can land you in serious trouble.

  1. Cover your tattoos.

Whether your tattoo is a small flower on your ankle or the name of a loved one etched on your arm, be aware that some locations in Japan are not as tolerant towards tattoos. Because of the historical association of tattoos with organised crime in Japan, places such as swimming pools, hot springs and beaches are likely to prevent entry if your tattoos are not covered. Tattoos are legalised, so there is less risk that you’ll be arrested if your tattoos are exposed when simply walking around in public, however do be prepared for some Japanese people not to be as accepting of your tattoos as in your home country.

  1. Money

Although not illegal, tipping in Japan in any situation is a no-no. In fact, it is often considered insulting. If you do try to tip in a restaurant or after a taxi ride, your tip will almost certainly be refused, so on the whole it’s best avoided.

Like in many countries such as Taiwan, Australia and Turkey, defacing or deliberately damaging bank notes and coins will result in punishment. Japan is no different and will impose a ¥ 10,000 (£68.50) fine for anyone caught trying to alter or dispose of their cash in a destructive way.

For more information on travelling safely abroad, visit the Travel Aware website or for travel stories, tips and advice follow the FCO at @FCOTravel on Facebook and Twitter and @TravelAware on Instagram.