Rugby World Cup 2019: How not to be a bad tourist in Japan

As the Rugby World Cup kicks off in Japan in just a few weeks, many Kiwis will be considering their first trip to the nation.

Unless you're a bad person, you don't want to offend or irritate the country hosting you on international trips. While commonsense and decency prevails in Japan - as it does most countries on the planet - there are a few special quirks about the land of the rising sun.

One of the first things to know is that despite how westernised the country may seem, English isn't widely spoken - even in touristy areas. Be prepared for that.

As the saying about Rome and Romans goes, you can generally gauge from locals what is appropriate behaviour in each place you find yourself in, but there are a few things that aren't very obvious. 

Here's a brief guide on six ways you can avoid giving New Zealand tourists a bad name in Japan:

Don't be too noisy

Some places in Japan are crazily noisy, others are very peaceful and quiet. When someone interrupts that peace and quiet, be they foreign or local, it's considered very rude.

As strange as it may seem, on Japanese public transport, you have to talk quietly to your companions and can't talk on your mobile phone at all. That's not just a custom - it's actually a rule.

Extremely busy people catch up on sleep while commuting and there's concern mobile signals may interfere with pacemakers, too. Westerners have a reputation for being noisy buggers in Japan and it'd be cool if Kiwis could distinguish themselves as better than others in this regard.

YouTuber Logan Paul is the perhaps most infamous bad tourist to ever visit Japan.
YouTuber Logan Paul is the perhaps most infamous bad tourist to ever visit Japan. Photo credit: YouTube / Logan Paul

Don't take photos when it's annoying

Whatever you do for a job, think back to a time when you've been really busy doing it. Now, imagine a foreign tourist getting in your way, laughing at you and snapping photos while you do it.

It's astounding how many people do this in Japan. Many places made for tourists cater for the Instagram generation, but loads of tourist hotspots do not - respect them.

Also, while a lot of Japanese culture is very exotic and fascinating to the Kiwi eye, it can be annoying - even offensive - if you're going crazy over something that's mundane and everyday for them.

Don't ask for menu changes

Many restaurants in Japan have small menus with a few items they do really, really well. Make sure you choose an eatery that serves something everyone in your party can enjoy, because it's not cool to ask the chef to change stuff up.

If you have allergies, the best idea is to get these translated into Japanese in writing by someone who knows how to politely explain them. Showing this note will save time, awkwardness, frustration and maybe even a trip to the hospital.

Take your shoes off when asked

This is more a rule for when you're going to someone's house, but certain restaurants, temples, bathhouses ('onsen') and other public places also require patrons to remove their footwear.

You really have to do this, no matter what you think about it. If you have an odour problem - remember, much of Japan is very hot in September - then invest in some foot powder for your trip.

No smoking signs are more often seen outdoors than inside in Japan.
Photo credit: Getty

Don't eat or smoke while walking

People can and do smoke in a wide range of indoor places in Japan that you can't in Aotearoa, but you don't see many smoking in the street.

City streets will have designated smoking areas where people can stand still and puff their cancer sticks, but you're generally not allowed to do so on the move.

Eating while strolling about a city street is also considered rude, let alone impractical anyway, as many streets are so busy. There are a few exceptions to this rule - as always, look around and do as they do.

Incidentally, you can buy cheap alcohol from convenience stores and drink it in most public places - unlike in New Zealand - which can be fun.

Cover your tattoos when asked

No matter how important your body art is to you and how beautiful you think it is, tattoos are considered rude when visible in some places in Japan.

Most commonly, this is in onsen, but there are some other venues where visibly tattooed people won't be allowed in.

If you can cover the tattoo with plasters, this is totally acceptable. If you can't, just accept you're not allowed into that place and don't go there.

To argue otherwise would be like a foreigner turning up to a marae or church in New Zealand and demanding entry while fully nude.

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