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An etiquette guide to trains, tuna and temples

Prepare to be beguiled and bewildered by cutting-edge Tokyo. It’s an ever-changing, fast-moving city with some of the world’s best hotels. Not to mention more bars, restaurants, shops and sights than you could shake a chopstick at. But, amid all the chaos, some things remain the same – and that includes the importance of etiquette.

In Tokyo, and Japan as a whole, there are some social rules you should do your best to follow. In this mini-guide we’ll cover a few highlights of any trip – and how to avoid any embarrassing faux pas along the way.

EAT, DRINK AND BE NOISY

Tokyo is one of the world’s great gastronomic destinations with over 160,000 restaurants to choose from.

If you’re seeking fine dining, you’re in luck: Tokyo has more Michelin-starred restaurants than anywhere, including Paris. Or, if you prefer your dining a bit more down-to-earth, you could happily spend a lifetime grazing on street food, from super-fresh sushi to okonomiyaki

 

To experience Tokyo’s food obsession first hand, visit the Tsukiji Market. The world’s biggest and busiest fish and seafood market handles more than 400 different types of seafood. And, while it may be on the tourist trail, it’s still a chaotic real-life workplace – so arrive (very) early and keep your wits about you.

Eating in Tokyo: etiquette tips

If you’re using chopsticks, remember:

  • Don’t leave chopsticks standing upright in rice
  • Don’t pass food directly to another person’s chopsticks
  • Avoid ‘playing’ with your chopsticks – for example, spearing your food or drumming on the table

If you’re eating noodles, it’s standard practice to slurp. So don’t feel self-conscious about making a noise.

After your meal, there’s no need to tip. All that’s expected is a ‘thank you’ or, better still, “arigato gozaimasta”. 

GETTING OUT AND ABOUT

Tokyo has an excellent public transport system, making it easy to flit around the city. But, if you fancy getting away from it all, hop aboard a bullet train or Shinkansen. The super high-speed Nozomi service will whisk you to Kyoto in just 2.5 hours.

As well as perfecting rail travel, the Japanese have made railway food into something of an art form. Pick up an eki-ben or lunch box, sold at many stations and on board trains, and you may well discover a delicious regional speciality.

If you’re really serious about railways, don’t miss The Japan East Railway Museum. It tells the story of engines – from steam to Shinkansen – and even features a driving simulator so you can get behind the controls of a bullet train.

Travel around Tokyo: etiquette tips

If you’re waiting to board a train, form an orderly queue. Most stations have markings that show you where the carriage doors will pull up.

Once on board, keep the noise down. It’s considered rude to talk on your mobile phone and people generally speak quietly too.

People tend not to eat when on a crowded commuter train – or walking down the street – as this can be seen as a bit shabby.

EXPLORING SHRINES AND TEMPLES

Amid all the 21st century hustle and bustle, Tokyo has plenty of quiet spots and ancient sights. 

Sensō-ji is Tokyo’s largest ancient Buddhist temple and a major Tokyo attraction. You enter the temple complex via the awe-inspiring, red Kaminari-mon. And it’s impossible to miss the 55-metre high Five-Storey Pagoda. Bear in mind, it can get very busy during the day, so try to visit at night when the lights create an eerie, peaceful atmosphere. 

Shrines and temples: etiquette tips

Most shrines and temples are happy to welcome visitors, but remember that these are religious sites.

Behave respectfully, don’t wander into cordoned-off areas and avoid dressing as though you’re going to the beach.

When entering a temple, you may need to take your shoes off. Leave footwear on the shelves at the entrance or take them with you in the plastic bags provided.

While photography is usually allowed on temple grounds, it is often forbidden inside. Keep your eyes open for signs.  

Of course, the best way to get to know Tokyo – the etiquette and latest events – is to talk to your hotel’s concierge. For the inside track, stay in the golden-age glamour of The Tokyo Station Hotel – just minutes from the Imperial Palace Gardens.

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