September 26, 2016

Top 10 Tips for US Military Troops Vacationing in Japan

Keep Your Voice Level down a little

Japanese culture stresses the good of the crowd rather than the needs of individuals. Some simple tasks like simultaneously walking, eating, and talking loudly might be considered vulgar to many.  Consuming food while walking down the avenue is considered vulgar, as is loudly talking on one’s mobile phone. Shouting out to friends and your family members are considered boorish behavior, and frowned upon. Relax, and check out your surroundings, enjoy the amazing amenities, the culture, the cuisine this city has to offer and this amazing city with relations.

Tips are Not Needed

All budget conscious military families can breathe a huge sigh of relief—tipping is not the norm in Japan. Restaurants? No tipping. Bars, taxis, salons? No tip. And there’s no need to yield to American guilt; in Japan, people in the customer service industry are paid a reasonable wage and do not rely on tips to supplement their income. So you get to save your yen for other priorities.

Toilet Surprise

One of the biggest shocks comes in the place you least expect it. The stark contrast between the primordial and the modern in Japan is never as obvious as when visiting a public restroom. Typically, you’ll find a sleek robotic toilet with a warmed seat, bidet, and music in one stall and a huge porcelain hole in the next. Guys, the hook behind the stall door is meant for your pants. Military families should always travel with packets of tissue to use when visiting the bathroom. Toilet paper is not always provided.

Pack Nice Socks for When the Shoes Come Off

As is customary in Japan, and similarly in many Asian countries, one should take off one’s shoes when entering a carpeted room, certain restaurant areas, and, especially, in someone’s home, as a sign of respect. Therefore, you should always remember to wear a clean matching pair of socks without holes in the toes at the very least. And if you think having to take off your shoes is loathsome, just imagine how horrible you seem when you sloppily traipse all over someone’s tatami mats with your dirty boots.

Be Careful with your Chopsticks

Almost all Japanese funerals are cremations, and part of the cremation rite iskotsuage, the “bone-picking” ceremony. After the body has been cremated, the deceased’s relatives are given pairs of giant chopsticks which are used to pick any remaining bones from their loved one’s ashes and the bones are passed from chopstick to chopstick before placing them in a funeral urn. So, passing food at the restaurant table with chopsticks would inescapably result in sad memories. Chopsticks should never be placed upright in a bowl of rice. Once again, this evokes memories of death because it’s the way a bowl of rice is offered to the spirit of a dead person, at their deathbed or in front of their photograph on the household Buddhist altar

More Barbecued Cartilage, Please

It is very likely that your restaurant menu will be printed in Japanese, unless you are in Tokyo or visiting tourist locations. For the non-Japanese speaking customers, restaurants sometimes include photos of the food next to its name or have plastic displays in the windows out front. Very helpful… but not always very reliable. Japanese fare frequently includes animal parts not typically consumed in the Western world. Horumon (offal) is popular in yakitori houses, izakayas, and yakiniku restaurants. Some of the most widespread choices include chicken skin, chicken heart, gizzards, cartilage, beef tongue, and tripe. The upside of this adventure is that you might find something new that you like, perhaps a new MRE suggestion?

Useful Hand Gestures

If you aren’t able to study fundamental Japanese for your trip, think about learning a few Japanese gestures. When pointing at their nose, they’re referring to themselves. But don’t point at stuff and people, as it’s considered bad-mannered—point to items on the menu with your hand instead. A man passing through a swarm of people with the heel of his palm against his chest like a shark fin is telling you he’s in a hurry and to get out of his way. Another reason to be aware of your surroundings and not be rude by walking and texting. If you want to communicate that you’ve had an adequate amount of of something—services, drinks, or food—wave your hand in front of your nose, as though waving away something smelly.


When entering most shops and restaurants, don’t be shocked if the staff shouts at you loudly: irasshaimaseeeeeeee! Don’t take it as a personal attack. It is a shopkeeper’s salutation—meaning “come in!”, letting the other staff know of your presence, and loosely telling you “I’m here, ready to serve you.” There is no expected response to irasshaimase, so no acknowledgement needed, but by being polite, either with a smile or nod, is sufficient.

Cherry Blossom Season Doesn’t Last Long

Ohanami season is one of the most magnificent times of year to be in Japan for the military traveler looking to experience the beauty of the country. But the sea of frosty white cherry blossoms move up through the country over a period of valuable few weeks; lasting just a week in each region of the country. If you daydream of taking a passionate leisurely walk underneath the cherry blossom groves in Japan, be sure to check one of the online cherry blossom calendars before heading out.

Masks are Everywhere

The work ethic of the Japanese is legendary; tardiness is not allowed, and taking a sick day for a cold is never done. Prevention of getting sick is the priority of each conscientious Japanese citizen. You’ll find shelves of Vitamin C at any store. You will find dozens of commuters in dental masks walking along the streets of Japan. Do not cough or sneeze openly in public, unless you want to be seen as a rude tourist.

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