During my first visit to Japan, four friends accompanied me. None of them spoke Japanese and they only had a vague idea of the culture from manga and anime.
My Japanese wasn't good enough to make any deep conversations, but was average and okay for small talk, ordering food or asking for directions etc. In retrospect, this may have been the reason why this trip was so chaotic... (but still a lot of fun!)Eleven years ago, there weren't as many English signs and menu cards in Tokyo as there are nowadays (especially since they started preparing for more international tourism for the 2020 Olympics). Sometimes we would step into a restaurant and the owner was gesturing wildly with their hands, panic in their eyes, blabbering “no English, no English” in a high pitched voice until we left again (Although my Japanese wasn't perfect, I was absolutely able to order food in Japanese and read the menus, thank you, but they wouldn't even listen to me explaining this in their own language). Fun fact: I actually found more people in Japan that would talk German to me than English.
Not only the lack of missing signs in a language we would ALL understand, but also because all we knew about the Japanese culture was something we had only experienced second hand, we were quick to make many stupid mistakes. I want to make sure the same won't happen to you guys, so take the next lines as some well intended advice.
No tips Please
Don't give tips at restaurants! Japan doesn't have a tip-culture and giving tips can be seen as an insult. There are restaurants where you order your food using a machine at the entrance and put the money in. You give the ticket you'll get to the staff and they'll prepare and bring you your food. Or you just order at the table (or sometimes at the cashier at the front) and pay at the counter when you're leaving. No tips. The staff wouldn't take it anyway and you make them uncomfortable. Make them happy by saying “Gochisousama deshita!” when leaving the restaurant. It implies you enjoyed their food.
Are you lost?
When you've lost your way and can't use google maps or forgot to download a map from the area, try to find a “koban”, a little police station. They come in different shapes and looks. But they all have written the word “koban” in romaji (Roman alphabet) on it. Ask for help there, they usually speak at least decent English and have printed maps of the area. If you ask any other people on the streets and they cannot give you a proper answer, some Japanese tend to give you at least SOME answer instead of just telling you they don't know. And you might end up somewhere completely else than you intended.
Have you experienced these things when you were in Japan?
Let me know in the comments! I will write down more of those for a later issue.