Knowing the manners and etiquette of the country you're visiting is important so you can have the safest and best trip possible. Here are some things you should keep in mind when you come to Japan. You'll surely be able to enjoy the country more if you're aware of these things.
If you want or need something, don't forget to speak up
Before you take photos of somewhere or touch something you're not sure you can touch, ask someone first. For example, if you want to take a picture of a store display, ask a nearby store attendant. If you want to touch something such as a decoration or statue, please ask first. If you make sure to talk to someone first, you will be perceived as being a polite person and you will also avoid unnecessary trouble. Please keep this in mind everywhere you go, not just in certain situations like at a museum.
Etiquette for entering a Japanese-style home or building
When you enter a Japanese-style home or building, please remember that Japanese people are taught from when they are children that they must take off their shoes neatly when entering. People who walk in without removing their shoes are considered slovenly. When you enter the building, take off your shoes in the genkan (foyer), and then turn them so the toes point towards the exit. If you do this correctly, it will create a good impression with the people you're visiting.
Train etiquette to remember
Japan is famous for its extremely crowded rush hour trains. Because of the overcrowding situation, there are specific manners that Japanese people expect so that the potential for problems is lessened. Before you get on the train, remember to wait in line. Watch your feet! There are proper places to wait in line on the platform, so please wait there. When the train arrives, allow the passengers to alight before entering the car in the line order. This should happen very smoothly.
Within the car, please don't speak in a loud voice, and refrain from talking on the phone. It's also important to give up your seat for the elderly or for pregnant women. There are priority seats for those people usually in the corners of the car, and there especially you should give up your seat for priority passengers. Also, you shouldn't eat inside the train (though this doesn't apply to the shinkansen and some limited express trains). Please keep this train etiquette in mind as you travel, and you might be able to understand the Japanese way of thinking a little better.
There are a lot of Japanese table manners that foreign travelers may not know. You might be surprised to learn that bringing food and drink to a restaurant or other food-related establishment is considered a huge breach of etiquette. Even bringing in water from outside might offend some restaurant owners, so please keep it in your bag. Because of that, most restaurants offer free water or tea, including free seconds. You might get even better service if you know the proper manners. Enjoy the food on your trip even more by keeping these tips in mind!
This might surprise you! Escalator etiquette
Actually, there are some mysterious etiquette that Japanese people can't even explain. For example, how to use the escalator. People who aren't in a rush stand to one side of the escalator so people who don't want to just stand on it have space to move. Depending on where in the country you are, the side to stand on changes; in western Japan, you stand on the right, but in eastern Japan, you stand on the left. However, this rule has a specific purpose. It's meant to keep accidents from happening on the escalators, since if people stand wherever they want it does not leave space for people actively climbing up or down it. In order to prevent accidents, please follow the Japanese example and stand to one side if you're not in a hurry. It might be a little hard to remember at first, but you'll naturally become used to it over the course of your trip.
How to separate trash and recyclables
Japan is such a clean country that many travelers are surprised when they get here. Most Japanese people separate their trash, and many people carry their trash from outside home to properly throw it away. For example, if they buy something but there isn't a garbage can to throw away the packaging trash, they don't throw it on the street but instead just take it home. Also, recycling is very important here, so separate your trash properly when you throw something out. Depending on the place, if you're caught littering you might even be fined. You don't want to get a fine in the middle of a great trip, so make sure to take care with your garbage!
It's important to respect appointment times
Japan is the country with the most accurate public transportation times. This is one way to see that Japanese people are generally very considerate of manners and rules. The excellent service that greets travelers when they visit is also another way to understand that. Because of this, people who are late or who cancel suddenly before an appointment are considered unreliable or untrustworthy. If you make an appointment with someone and you might be late, definitely contact them as soon as you can! Do your best to avoid canceling at the last minute. Having this consideration for others will only bring good things to your trip.
Just by keeping the rules and manners in mind, you can avoid unnecessary trouble and in fact improve your experience in Japan, so please keep these in mind as you travel. Have a great trip!