We have compiled a handy guide to let you know a few do's and don'ts to remember when traveling in Japan. The Japanese are genuinely very friendly and easy-going when it comes to welcoming westerners to their country. Of the points below, its unlikely that you will really offend anybody with the odd misunderstanding.
Everywhere...Everyone takes their shoes off
Sitting on the Floor If you'll be visiting someone's home, attending a tea ceremony or dining in an upscale Japanese restaurant, the proper way to sit is with your knees tucked under your thighs. But, since many people find this difficult and even painful, it is acceptable to sit cross-legged "Indian-style". However, it is less acceptable to sit with your legs stretched out in front of you.
Blowing Your Nose in public or blowing your nose with a handkerchief......isn't super-polite, but then you are unlikely to offend anyone too deeply. Try to sniffle until you get to a restroom.
Surgical Masks When traveling around Japan you may encounter people with their nose and mouth covered by a surgical mask. No, they are not trying to protect themselves from the city air. (Actually, Japan's air quality is the highest in Asia). They are protecting themselves from pollen if they have hay fever and protecting others from their germs if they have a cold. This is especially considerate on crowded subways.
In restaurants or bars...Nobody pours their own drink,
When in a bar, restaurant or 'izakaya' restaurant and enjoying the local brew or sake, its the done thing to fill up your friends' glasses if they even come close to emptying. For westerners, this has the disconcerting effect of not being able to count just how many glasses of Asahi or Kirin you have had.
Soup: Making loud, "sipping" sounds while eating noodle soup is perfectly acceptable. Also you will not eat soup with a spoon. You will use your chopsticks for the noodles, meat and vegetable, and drink the soup by bringing the bowl to your mouth.
Sushi: When eating sushi, try not to soak your rice in the soy sauce. Dip the top portion with the fish into the sauce and put the sushi into your mouth with the fish top facing down upon your tongue, so you can savor the flavor.
Rice: When you have finished eating your rice, put the chopsticks down along the side of your plate. Usually chopstick holders are provided. Best to avoid passing food from your chopsticks to a friend's chopsticks, This is similar to a funeral rite in Japan, and hence not really the thing done in public. Also do not stick you chopsticks straight up in a bowl of rice as this is how rice is served to the dead. Finally, only babies have soy sauce poured on their bowl of rice, But if you really can't get used to just eating a bland bowl of rice by itself, who cares?
Pay at the till, not the table, in about 90% of all restaurants - no idea why. There's no need to tip, actually, you are more likely to cause offence if you do try to give a tip at the restaurant.
Naked as the day you were born! Bathing in Japan is always naked. This is why 90% of the public onsen spa baths are segregated between males and females. Wearing swimming trunks or swimsuits isn't the done thing. If semi-public nudity isn't your thing, many hotels will have 'kashi-kiri' baths: private baths that you can rent out by the hour.
The blue curtain is the male bath, and the red or pink curtain is the ladies bath
Its easy to forget this after a long flight to Tokyo. We've had customers who forgot and didn't realise until well after they entered the onsen.