Tipping in Japan. To tip or not to tip?

I receive lots of queries from my overseas guests such as whether they need to tip while in Japan, whether it is considered as an insult, and why it is refused sometimes. This post will reveal the answer to these questions!

Tipping is generally not part of Japanese culture and it is not normally expected by the majority of service-related industries, however this rule is not set in stone. Some Japanese people still choose to tip workers, particularly in service roles e.g. staff that work in restaurants, hotels, bars, wedding, hospitals, movers etc. In some organizations, workers are banned from receiving tips and must decline offerings. There are also establishments where tips are accepted but are then shared amongst the rest of the coworkers.

In Japanese, the tip is called “Kokoroduke”. Kokoroduke is just a way of expressing gratitude for someone’s effort. Basic human psychology shows that receiving treats helps people feel better and so Kokoroduke is also a way of enhancing relationships. Japan has a gift-wrap culture, therefore it is customary to offer money inside an envelope and present it with both hands. Failing to do this by offering money unwrapped would be considered rude. Items wrapped neatly and beautifully also shows respect to the receiver.

Tipping in Japan

Resistance to tipping was not always the case in Japanese culture. The Edo period, which was governed by Samurai, had a social class system and a strong practice of tipping. During this period, it was mandatory to tip staff in service roles such as workers in restaurants, inns, drivers, and geishas. Over time, this compulsory custom transformed into a more informal practice of simply expressing appreciation with the side benefit of also strengthening relationships.

So going back to the question, how should you handle tipping in Japan? Well, if you do not fancy tipping, then that is perfectly acceptable. On the other hand, if you want to offer something in return for good hospitality or kindness then feel free to. This won’t be seen as an insult. On the contrary, the offering will be seen as a nice gesture, although many Japanese will politely decline with a response such as “Thank you, but your consideration will do.” The important aspect for Japanese people is to remain humble and polite even when declining offers as modesty, being courteous, and treating people with respect are key principles in Japanese culture.

I mentioned that offering tips would not be considered rude, however it may cause a degree of awkwardness arising from not wanting to be seen as placing a burden on you for having to dig deep into your pockets. We also feel a little guilty about receiving money, so when offering tips, accompanying them with positive reassurance and good faith goes a long way.

When giving or receiving gifts, there is normally some back and forth until it is accepted which follows something like this.

First Attempt
Person A: “This is our expression to thank you for all the great things you have done for me. Please take it.”
Person B: “You don’t have to, I won’t take it. Please do not do that.”

Second Attempt
Person A: “This is only our appreciation so I would really like you to.”
Person B: “I feel sorry, I did not mean to put you through so much trouble.”

Third Attempt
Person A: “Don’t feel sorry. It would make me feel good if you accept.”
Person B: “That is so considerate of you. I will gratefully receive but will return the favour.”

After this exchange of words, the tip is finally received, but if the individual still strongly refuses after all this, then the best bet is to politely give up and put your tip away.

Japan has a strong reputation for providing some of the world’s best experiences in hospitality. Japanese people naturally try to offer the best service by overdelivering when possible, however you do not need to assume that this action needs to be met with a benefit, as expecting something in return is considered rude.

To re-emphasize, tipping in Japan is acceptable, and offering tips is up to you, but don’t be surprised if it is declined. My team at Gaijin Tours are fine with you showing your appreciation with tips although my parents would probably disapprove of this (despite them tipping all the time!). I do not believe it should be mandatory or expected however I believe showing appreciation with a tip if desired is fine, as it makes people feel good and strengthens relationships. Regardless of whether you provide a tip, what is more important for us, is to deliver a service with consideration, politeness, respect and kindness!

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