Tipping cultures can vary significantly between countries. While many service workers in the U.S. rely on tips as part of their compensation, that’s not the case universally. Between the U.S. and Japan, specifically, there is a huge difference in the tipping culture
In fact, travelers should generally avoid tipping in Japan. There are a few rare cases when a tip is appreciated. Let’s go through when tipping in Japan is appropriate and when you should show your appreciation with a heartfelt “arigato gozaimasu” (thank you).
Do you tip in Japan?
The short answer: No. In some situations, trying to leave a tip may be even off-putting. As wild as that may seem to American travelers, Japanese culture prioritizes excellent service without any expectation to provide a financial tip as appreciation.
Whether you get service from a restaurant server, bartender, hotel housekeeper or even a taxi driver, prices are set at a rate where workers are compensated with a fair wage.
For travelers visiting Japan, the general rule should be to avoid tipping. However, there are a few situations where a tip is appreciated. Here’s a breakdown of some specific dos and don’ts.
Do you tip at restaurants in Japan?
Travelers should avoid leaving a tip in restaurants in Japan. This is the case regardless of the type of restaurant — from counter service to a sit-down multi-course meal — and the quality of the service. The expectation is that prices are set at a rate that the owner will provide fair compensation to servers.
Some Japanese bars or izakayas may charge a small cover charge. This is typically referred to as “otoshi” and may or may not be posted at the entrance to the bar. Ask before being seated if you’re concerned about this charge (typically only a few dollars).
The telltale sign that you’ll be charged an otoshi is if you get a small appetizer upon sitting down.
Do you tip taxi drivers in Japan?
With Japan’s incredible public transportation, travelers should have little need for taxi drivers to get around. Because of this, Japanese taxi drivers generally provide top-notch service. From white gloves to automatically opening doors, taking a taxi in Japan is like no other. Again, your instinct may be to show your appreciation with a tip.
But here again, travelers will find their offer rejected. Don’t have exact change and want to round up? Many Japanese taxi drivers will provide exact change, down to the yen.
Do you tip tour guides in Japan?
One of the few places where tipping in Japan is appreciated is for tour guides and interpreters. What’s the commonality? These service providers primarily serve international tourists, many of whom are accustomed to tipping. For this reason, many tour guides and interpreters won’t turn down a tip when it’s offered.
To truly show your appreciation, do a bit of legwork beforehand and take a couple of small envelopes with you. Flashing cash is seen as inappropriate, particularly in public. Instead, place your tip in an envelope and hand it to your recipient with both hands.
Again, though, tipping isn’t expected in these cases, but it won’t come across as rude. Since there’s no expectation of a tip, there are no guidelines about how much to tip.
Tipping geishas and at ryokans
Geishas (female Japanese performing artists and entertainers) and ryokans (traditional Japanese inns with attentive service) are two ways to experience exceptional authentic Japanese service and culture. Considering the lack of tipping elsewhere in Japanese culture, it’s ironic these are two times when it can be appropriate to provide a tip.
When having a private dinner with a geisha, you can opt to provide an envelope with cash to show your appreciation. Currently, the custom is to give around $20 (3,000 yen) per person. This money should be in an envelope and handed to the geisha with both hands and a dip of your head.
At high-end ryokans, it’s appropriate for guests to show their appreciation with a tip for attendants or the owner, either at check-in or left on your bed at checkout. Here a tip of $7 (1,000 yen) per person is seen as customary.
Should you insist on leaving a tip in Japan?
In many Asian cultures it’s seen as polite for someone to turn down a gift on the first offer. This isn’t the case for tipping in Japan. If you attempt to leave a tip and the offer is politely rejected, don’t insist on providing the tip. While your offer may be perfectly well-meaning, it can come across as rude in Japanese culture.
Final thoughts on tipping in Japan
Traveling and experiencing different cultures can help you re-examine the cultural norms that you’re used to. For Americans, the lack of tipping in Japan can be one of those times for reflection.
In the U.S., it’s usually rude not to tip servers, bartenders and taxi drivers. The opposite is true in Japan. Even attempts of tipping in Japan can seem off-putting, as it can be interpreted as a sign that you feel the service worker isn’t fairly compensated for the price charged.
Instead, show your appreciation by learning about Japanese culture and memorizing some Japanese phrases.
Keep your voice down in public — except in izakayas — or other places where letting loose is expected. Be mindful of the appropriate places to wait to board trains and queue outside restaurants. Learn to hand and receive payment cards and business cards with both hands. And internalize arigato gozaimasu as the appropriate way of showing your appreciation for good service when visiting Japan.
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