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!

Golden Week –

Golde week

In Japan, we have 3 vacation periods every year with the main one being Golden Week that takes place at the end of April to the beginning of May each year. Technically, the 30th April to the 2nd May are not holidays however most Japanese people take those days off to create a well-deserved 8 day long vacation. During this period, transportation and attractions can be difficult to access due to the sheer number of people traveling at that time.

Although there is no consensus as to why the week is called “Golden”, my theory is that the color generates positive images of happiness, excitement, and prosperity which also mirrors people’s moods when they are on holiday.

Golden Week actually consists of 4 national holiday:
– Showa Day (Showa no hi), on April 29th is the birthday of the Emperor Showa, or Hirohito. If the 29th falls on a Sunday, the following Monday becomes a holiday.

– May 3rd is Constitution Day (Kenpo kinenbi) and is celebrated in honor of the ratification of the Japanese constitution in 1947.

– Greenery Day (Midori no hi) is celebrated on May 4th. It is a day to embrace and be grateful of nature. It honors the environment, as Emperor Showa was a lover of nature, flowers, and plants.

– Finally, Children’s Day (Kodomo no hi or Tango no Sekku) on May 5th is a festival to celebrate children.

Children’s Day: Traditions and Customs

Children’s Day (Kodomo-no-hi) on the 5th May, is the last event in the series of national holidays during Golden Week. Initially, the event was aimed at the celebration of young boys only, however that focus widened to also include all children, with the girls having their own celebration on March 3rd called Hina-Matsuri (girl’s day or doll festival in English).

Towns and families bearing sons decorate their homes with Samurai related pieces, such as armor (Yoroi), helmets (Kabuto), and dolls (called Gogatsu dolls that are modelled after legendary warriors) as they are believed to protect boys’ health and happiness.

Yoroi-Children's day

In addition, carp-shaped windsocks (Koi-nobori) are flown outside, creating the illusion of them swimming when they catch gusts of wind. They represent the energetic spirit of young boys and symbolize future success as carp are tenacious fish that can swim upstream and are even noted to climb waterfalls without giving up. Koinobori consist of three or five different colors and sizes. The biggest black Koinobori is called “Magoi” which is placed on the top of the pole. The middle one is red and called “Higoi”, and the rest are smaller blue or green ones called “Kogoi”. Together they represent a family (Magoi is the Father, Higoi is the Mother and Kogoi are the children). This tradition is slowly fading through time however they can still be seen swimming in the sky in some towns.

Children's day

Many of the customs practiced during Children’s Day have been inspired by Samurai philosophy. For instance, people take special baths using Shobu which are leaves from the iris plant. The term “Shobu” can elicit different meanings and symbolisms (depending on the characters used). Shobu in the martial sense, means to become fearless by strengthening the body and mind via hard training and having the courage to accept and defeat challenges at all costs. This martial meaning also manifests itself with the use of the Shobu plant in the bath as its leaves signify the Japanese sword due to their pointed shape, and are therefore seen as a symbol of strength. It is said that the leaf’s strong aroma cleanses the body of evil spirits and keeps children healthy and strong.

Tradition of Children's day

Before and after Golden Week, Kashiwa-mochi – a rice cake wrapped in an oak leaf is eaten. The oak leaf symbolizes a long-lasting family line as old oak leaves do not fall until a new sprout appears. In the past, this was a serious custom however these days, Kashiwa-mochi are simply enjoyed as seasonal sweets.

Custom for Children's day

Introduction to Golden-gai

Golden-gai is one of the rare places in Tokyo. Because the tiny two or three-story wooden houses constructed after world war 2 still exist miraculously as they originally were. The buildings are slightly ramshackle. Golden-gai’s mysterious atmosphere comes from its louche past. This hugely atmospheric neighborhood was an area that provided prostitution illegally called “ao-sen”(blue line district). But all changed when prostitution was officially prohibited in 1958 and the area concentrated on just the drinks and food.

Now roughly 270 incredibly tiny watering holes are crammed into in this small district. Each bar has an outlandish décor and some sort of theme, such as hospital-themed bar, punk rock, films, Jazz, bar with halloween-themed décor, cat bar. They are setting their own hook to attract a clientele of like-minded people. Small and intimate, many of the bars are run by women (called mama in Japanese) or, increasingly, young people, drawn by the lower rent cost of bar in Golden-gai.

Goldengai night tour