It is not customary to tip for service in Japan. Japanese culture considers work ethic, regardless of the profession, to be of utmost importance, and Japanese workers will tend to give their all to any role they’re in. Because of this, offering a tip in Japan can be seen as strange or even rude in many situations.
In the rest of the article, we’re going to look at some more details about tipping in Japan, understand the cultural connections, have a look at how Japanese restaurants deliver service, and see when it is normal to offer tips.
Should You Tip In Restaurants In Japan?
For most people visiting Japan, this will be the most frequently encountered scenario where the question of tipping comes up.
Although tips aren’t non-existent in the country, tipping your servers in restaurants is something that’s absolutely not practiced.
This continues to be true even if the service you received was exemplary.
You may think that if you break the mold and offer your Japanese waiter a tip anyway, they would appreciate it, but this will rarely be the case.
A tip you offer in a Japanese restaurant will often be outright refused.
Keep In Mind: If the tip you offer is accepted, most times it will be due to the server’s politeness, but it will nonetheless be awkward for them.
Why Is Tipping Not Customary In Japan?
To understand why tipping for service is not customary in Japan, we need to look at the broader Japanese culture.
Tradition in Japan is centered around concepts like dignity, respect and pride.
This naturally extends to pride in one’s work and other roles they may have.
Japan is famous worldwide for good customer service precisely because of these cultural elements.
A server in Japan is expected, not just from their employer but also from the population as a whole, to do their job as well as possible and without either the financial incentive of a tip or the threat of having wages withheld.
What Kind of Service Can You Expect In Japanese Restaurants?
As we’ve discussed, the fact that servers in Japan don’t work for tips doesn’t mean that their service is inattentive or otherwise inferior.
The type of service any customer will receive in Japan is exemplified by a common credo in customer facing industries in Japan, “okyaku-sama wa kami-sama desu,” which translates to “the customer is a god.”
Did You Know? Tourists may notice that servers in Japan tend to be impersonal in that they don’t engage in small talk with their customers.
This is because the expectation in the Japanese service industry is that servers maintain a strictly professional and very formal relationship with the customers.
Does Japan Have Compulsory Appetizers?
Many Japanese restaurants and pubs have a dish known as otoshi.
Otoshi tends to be small and made from inexpensive ingredients that are easy to prepare.
This dish is not optional and for this reason is referred to as a compulsory appetizer.
The significance of otoshi is that in its role as a customary appetizer that is served and charged per customer rather than per table, it functions as a sort of cover charge for the restaurant, considering its price to customers significantly outweighs its cost to prepare.
Another way to look at otoshi is as filling the role that tipping fills in other cultures, but without the cultural stigma.
When Is Tipping Acceptable In Japan?
Tipping isn’t completely unheard of in Japan.
There are a number of situations that you may find yourself in where it’s perfectly acceptable, although still not expected.
It is not surprising that the roles where tipping isn’t shunned are largely linked to the tourism industry and, specifically, interfacing directly with tourists.
Let’s look at a few of these roles.
These can be tour guides associated with the tourist companies, private tour guides that you’ve hired, or even interpreters.
Working with tourists all the time, they’re used to tips, and even though they won’t be offended if you don’t tip, they won’t find it awkward if you do either.
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As with the tour guides, the tourism companies are accustomed to working with tourists and will not find the offer of a tip unusual.
The staff at tourism companies will accept your tip, but there is still no obligation or expectation to give them one.
This is one example where tipping is considered normal even by Japanese customers.
Geishas can provide very personal service, even service directly to only one customer.
Offering a tip in this situation will be accepted without any awkwardness.
Ryokans are traditional inns in Japan and another example of where it would not be considered strange to tip even by Japanese standards.
You can hand the tip directly or leave it behind in your room when you leave, and it will be accepted.
How Do You Tip In Japan?
If you find yourself in one of the rare situations where it is normal to tip for service in Japan, do not just hand over a wad of cash to show your appreciation.
This is a cultural faux pas and will not be well received in spite of your good intentions.
To give a tip in Japan, it’s customary to place the money in an envelope.
A decorative envelope is a good receptacle for tips, but if you’re unable to get one, wrapping the money in paper is an acceptable alternative.
You can either leave the tip in the envelope behind for the recipient to collect or you can hand it to them directly.
In the case of the latter, it is customary to hand them the envelope with both hands and with a bow, the latter an important practice to Japan known as o-jigi.
We’ve learned that tipping for service in Japan is not customary and may even get you a negative reaction if you attempt it.
We’ve looked at how service in Japanese restaurants works without tips, but we’ve also looked at situations where tipping is normal.
Hopefully, this will leave you prepared for your next visit to the Land of the Rising Sun.
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