When you visit Japan, you will be expected to follow a few common rules while you are out and about. Here we will tell you everything you need to know in order to avoid causing offense.
Don’t Point Your Fingers at Someone
You wouldn’t like it if a bunch of random strangers were pointing at you. This is not only considered extremely rude in Japan, but also interpreted as threatening behavior, so please don't do it. Usually, if you ask directions, people even tend to give directions with an open hand to avoid pointing, or give verbal directions without using any gestures.
It’s impolite to eat or drink while walking down the street
In the old days, it was considered a pretty low-class thing to do, but now that times have changed you do see younger generations eating in the street. While a lot of shops sell snacks to-go, many of them do not encourage you munch your food while walking along the street. Some even offer seats or a designated area next to their store so that customers can rest while eating.
Keep to the “Right” side of the road
Now here is a tricky one. There has been a lot of debate on which side of the road pedestrians should walk. Most Japanese are taught from school or at a very young age to walk on the right side of a road with no sidewalk. The main reason is because cars drive on the left, so you can see them coming if you walk on the right. I have been lectured on the street a couple of times by elderly people because I was walking on the “wrong” side. Yet there are many occasions when you will find people walking on the left side of the road. So my recommendation is to do the same as the person in front of you or follow the rule of thumb: if no-one is doing it, don’t you do it.
No smoking while walking
While smoking is still comparatively common in Japan, you will find a lot of commercial areas have banned smoking on the street. In 2002, Chiyoda ward in Tokyo was the first local government in Japan to pass a by-law prohibiting smoking while walking. That was partly in response to numerous incidents, including one in which a girl's face was burned by a cigarette, which gained widespread public attention. In 2007, Kyoto made some streets no-smoking zones. Fast forward to today and you can see designated smoking areas in many neighborhoods. If you smoke outside that area or get caught smoking while walking down the street, you could be fined up to 20,000y en depending on which ward or city you are in.
These are just couple of the manners and customs to be aware of when visiting Japan. Of course it's not mandatory to follow them, so don’t be too worried if you forget now and then, but it is courteous. But some understanding of the reasons for these seemingly trivial things will give you a better insight into the culture of Japan and its people.