A Guide to Tipping in Japan

Woman in japanese restaurant
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Travelers from the United States and Canada may be used to tipping service workers but in Japan, leaving a tip inappropriately is almost like saying: "This business probably isn't doing well enough to pay you a proper salary, so here's a little something extra." Although there are exceptions, tipping generally isn't a part of many cultures throughout Asia, and in Japan, it's the most taboo.

In some circumstances, the staff will accept your tip with a nervous smile in order to save face and avoid confrontation, or you will have an uncomfortable interaction while they return your money. It's also possible they may not be able to speak enough English to explain why they are returning your money.

Tipping in Japan without a good reason, or doing it the wrong way, could come across as crass or rude and there are only a few times when a tip might be appropriate.

Cultural Norms

Japanese culture values respect, hard work, and dignity. Because of this, good service is expected and therefore, it's not necessary to "reward" that good service with additional money. Leaving a tip can also be considered disrespectful because it implies that the person you're tipping does not make a liveable wage and needs the extra money.

Hotels

Although tipping is sometimes acceptable in upscale Western hotels, most of the hotel staff that you encounter are trained to politely refuse tips and tokens of gratuity. Never insist that someone accept your tip, because it may be forbidden as a condition of employment and will only result in you forcing the hotel staff into an uncomfortable situation.

Restaurants

When in Japan, you can check the bill to see if a service charge has been added, which will usually be between 10 and 15 percent. If you don't see a charge, it's still not recommended you tip since giving someone additional money can insinuate that you don't believe they earn a fair wage. If you decide to tip, sometimes the staff will panic and run down the street to catch you and return the money, thinking perhaps you absentmindedly left it on the table. Part of that misunderstanding might be due to the fact that quite a few restaurants require patrons to pay up front with the host or hostess, instead of at the table.

Transportation

Rounding up fares for drivers may be commonplace throughout Asia, but in Japan, your driver will give you back exact change. If you insist they keep the change, they will probably refuse.

Tours

Your tour guide will not be expecting a tip, but if you have an exceptionally good tour or you feel that your guide went above and beyond you can try to tip them. It's likely they will accept it though some may still refuse.

Spas and Salons

Whether you're getting a treatment at a spa or your hair styled at a salon, you won't be expected to tip extra in Japan. You can instead show your satisfaction to your stylist or spa attendant with a thank you and a small bow.

How to Leave a Tip

On the rare occasion that you actually need to give a tip or give money in Japan, do so by putting the money inside of a tasteful, decorative envelope and seal it. Pulling cash out of your pocket in full view of the recipient is the worst way to handle the transaction, as it is seen as arrogant and flashy. The tip should be presented more like a gift than just additional cash or payment for services. Hand it to the recipient using both hands and with a slight bow. Do not expect them to open your gift right away; chances are, they'll put it aside and then contact you later to thank you.

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