Travelling to Japan? Here’s What You Need to Know About Etiquette

This is a collaborative post written by Jordan Greene.

Owing to their isolation from the world until the past few centuries, Japan has developed a very different culture to most other nations. Here’s a guide on how to avoid making a social faux pas when in the land of the rising sun.

Don’t worry about a tip


Waiter (photo credit:

Ah, the age-old debate of how much to tip a waiter. Is 10 or 15% the right amount? Whatever the case, it’s not a quandary you need concern yourself with in Japan.

It’s not ‘rude’ to tip, but it’s practically unheard of and will likely result in “the restaurant staff chasing you down in order to give back any money left behind.”

A simple “thank you” (gochiosama deshita) is enough to appease your waiting staff after a delicious meal, so don’t bother flashing the Yen.

Take your shoes off inside

Cleanliness is next to godliness – which is something the Japanese preach in abundance. Special “Genkan” areas are set up between the doorway and the man body of the house to give visitors the chance to remove their shoes before heading inside.

Once in the Genkan it’s not appropriate to touch the surface you walked in on with your un-shoed foot, and it’s also polite to point your shoes towards the door after you’ve removed them.

Refiling your glass


Drinks (photo credit:

It might be second nature to most people, but in Japan it’s actually bad luck and bad manners to reach over and refill a glass you’re drinking from if you’re with company.

Thankfully, owing to this being intricately linked in the Japanese psyche, people notice when someone is without a drink very quickly and will be prompt to top it up for you.

Luckily this just applies to drinking in public or with another person and not when you’re on your own (otherwise life could be very hard).

Blowing your nose

This is probably one of the more commonly-known social errors Westerners carry out in Japan, but we thought we’d cover it anyway.

The Japanese aren’t too keen on the noise it makes, or the fact you’re blasting germs through the air.

Sometimes clearing your nasal passage just has to be done, however – so here’s a guide on how to do it properly without causing outrage amongst the locals.

Talking on the phone on a train


Train (photo credit:

Quite frankly I wish this was a little more hammered-home here too. The Japanese have it right when they look down on people chatting away inside the confines of a train carriage.

Nobody wants or needs to hear your personal conversation – and not only that, but just one half of it. Chatting loudly and reacting to a person nobody else can here is just unnerving.

If you get caught doing this on a train or bus in Japan you’re likely to be shot several dark looks for good measure.

If you’re planning a trip to Japan at some point, make sure you avoid making these errors in etiquette. While they might seem trivial to you, they could have a huge impact on how you’re perceived by the locals.



My dog has no nose…. How does it smell? Awful ….

The title is a joke from Monty Python’s Flying Circus, and of some reson I started thinking about it. When I traveled with the transsibirian railway this summer, I did it with Gadventures, an adventure  company that I have become quite acquainted with. When visiting Moscow , our local guide showed us one of Moscow’s secret rites.  At one of the subway stations there is a bronze statue of a dog, and you should touch it for good luck. So that is what we did…. When in Rome… You do as romans do…. An by the way… Embrace the bizarre  is one of the slogans  of Gadventures.



Debunking some myths…..The pictures that I was encouraged to shoot in rural North Korea

It have now been over a month since I ventured into the mystical and isolated country of the DPRK, or North Korea that is better known. I got to shoot between 5 and 6000 images on my 11 days trip that took me all over the land. The funny thing for me is that I have posted quite a few images on my blog, Facebook and Instagram pages, and people seem surprised that the images that I have shot is from North Korea. (since they look like they could have been shot anywhere) One thing that I have not shown is the poor side of the DPRK. (The part of North Korea outside Pyongyang) The fact that the DPRK is a very poor country is well-known, and is a fact that have been depicted before. But in the media you get the impression that the “poorer look” of North Korea is how it is all over.

In this post I will show some pictures that are from the rural areas of North Korea, and it is one thing that is very important to point out. All the images that I have shot I got permission to shoot, and I even got encouraged to take them. 

I have no reason or understanding of why they did encouraged me to shoot the images. The only restrictions that I got was to: 1) not take direct  pictures of soldiers, 2) of buildings that was being built , 3) And  images of the leaders (or Pictures of leaders) should be “complete”.  Except for that , it was like anything  goes. So I think is that I get a bit frustrated when I get read news article saying “Look at the pictures North Korea do not want you to see”, or  “This photographer smuggled out these images from North Korea”. So it is important for me to emphasize that every shot is done in the open, with my local guides around, and I did no attempt to smuggle or hide anything during border crossings or in other ways. It is also important to say that some of the images in the story is shot from a moving  car by and have used telephotolensens according to the rules and regulations of North Korea.

Hope you enjoy, even if the images is not of the usual happy travel images this time.

This image is from the east part of where it is an agricultural community. Bicycle is still the primary form of transportation.


The next is a typical farmers village. The crops of corn are green and lush. But the buildings have something to be desired.


Next image is from the city of Wonsan , on the east coast. People are busy, and do their things.


North Korea  is rich in minerals and natural resources. Here we see some kind of mine digging from the mountains.


Here we have another kind of mine, located by the riverbed. Notice the worker with the ox and carriage in front  of the mine.



One of the major issues that North Korea have struggled with is the power supply. On our way to the east cost they showed us four new power plants. Our guides where very proud of them. And they seem to do there job.


When it comes to buildings in the towns in the countryside they where in many cases quite old, and had not been maintained for a while.


A more normal set of houses would often look like this.


And a typical view of rural North Korea looks something like this. You have a lot of mountains, and in the canyon you will find small villages. As you can see from the image, only a little bit of the land is possible to do farming on, so they use every little spot that is possible.


You can never have a little story about North Korea without touching the subject of army and soldiers.  You can see them everywhere alongside the road, walking, hitching a ride with a truck or something, but you never see any army camps. (at least I did not…)


So the big question is of course , where are all the soldiers.?? You see many entrances in mountains, so it is reasonable that there are camps located in mountains. But you also see a lot of more or less “improvised” huts all across the countryside. It seems logical that there is a connection here….



So that was a little bit of images from all over the North Korean countryside. This was just a little sample of images, and to make one thing clear. Or guides where very proud of  their country.



Something totally unexpected: A prayer for reunitification.

During my visit to North Korea this summer, I did not know what to expect. And to be quite honest, I still have not grasped what I did experienced over my 11 days in the country. One of the things that everyone that comes to North Korea gets to see, is  the Joint Security Area (JSA), and the DMZ that I have mentioned in a couple of posts before. But the story I am telling now is something that never had crossed my mind.

When we arrived at the border, we got the normal “tour”, and the history lesson as told by “the victor”.


But then the amazing thing happened. We got told that a Dutch christian group traveled around the world praying for peace, and they were given permission to come to North Korea , and do their thing. They lined up for their song, and I got my camera out. This is how it looked and sounded like.

I was of obvious reasons quite astounded by the event, and found it very cool. I really did not see that one coming. This is the lovely bunch.

gs3a7098 And to make the absurdness complete. Here is a lineup of the minister and his wife together with one of the high-ranking officers at the border.




I have no idea of what the impact of allowing such events to take place in North  Korea does, but let us share an excellent story and hope that this little effort contributes to peace.






A kind of an apparently peaceful war zone

This is a landscape image. But not just from anywhere. It is shot inside the DMZ between North and South Korea from the northern side. Technically there is a truce (armistice agreement) between the UN and North Korea, and that means it still is (even 70 years after the conlict) an “official state of war between the sides”,  so it is special feeling being in this place. We got taken to an observation post on top of a hill, maybe an hours drive from the Joint Security Area (JSA) near Kesong / Panmunjan, and got to look a little bit over the DMZ. The DMZ have a 2 km side that the North have, then you have the demarkation line, and then 2 km of southern part of the DMZ, and then you have South Korea. From the viewpoint you could see over to South Korea, and to my big surprise I was free to take as many images that I wanted. What you can see  in the image is villages and mountain ranges in South Korea, divided by green fields. Not to be mistaken. The lush and green fields are probably full of mines, small arms and other equipment like it was told by the army officer that gave us the tour of the JSA. But still, to be one of the most militarized places in the world. It does not appear to be.



Ekaterinburg, Europe meets Asia

When I took the Transmongolian Railway this summer,  I got to see a lot of very special sights. One of the many cool sights was that we on rail went from Europe and long into Siberia (that is the Asian part of Russia), and beyond. The meeting place of this is Ekaterinburg (many ways of writing that), and was one of the longer scheduled stops on the way. We got to leave the train, stretch our legs , and look around. Here are a few images from the place.


The station itself was quite impressive in old fashioned style.


And a lot of people preparing for boarding the train for the onwards journey.


One of many very nice and fascinating stops on the transmongolian railway



Beer party in Pyongyang

This is maybe the most unexpected post I have ever written. A beer party is something you think about in Munich or other places that have a Oktoberfest with german inspired customs and culture. And that is exactly what they have done in Pyongyang, North Korea. People need bread and circus, like the Romans said, and the North Koreans have set up quite the venue by the river, and to my big surprise. It was the first every such event , and it lasts most of august and it looks pretty much as anywhere else in the world regarding a county faire, or a similar kind of public party.

The  entrance was quite normal for such an event.


The venue was packed with people. Mostly locals, and some tourists like me.


There here some cooking going on.


People seemed to enjoy themself


The crew of staff and waitresses where wearing “stewardess” like uniforms


Here is a little video that capture some of the “feeling” of being on a beer festival in Pyongyang.

I  have to admit. This is not what I had anticipated when I was i North Korea, a little bit of western culture.




Mount Kumgang (Hiking in North Korea)

I have for the last 11 days ventured into North Korea. A country much spoken about, but a tourist destination “off the beaten track” for most. So when I was there, I got the opportunity to visit the Mount Kumgang, a mountain range located  close to the DMZ, and the border with South Korea on the east coast of the peninsula. The location makes the region  something that most tourist that visit North Korea do not come to the Mount Kumgang.  The region is taken to be one of the natural beautiful places in the area, and I have to agree. It is quite impressive. The limestone mountains reminds me of the Ha Long Bay in Vietnam. The mountains also have it share of old myths, and more resent history to it that was told to us by our local guides.  I used the possibility to go for a short hike in the mountain, and as you can see from my image,  the rain was pouring down. Still quite the sight I have to admit.



The Summer palace

The summer palace is the old Royal retreat here in Beijing, and is a must see when here. It is located about 20 km outside the city centre, but it is defiantly worth the time to get there. It is a wast area with many building located around a lake. The biggest one is a temple on a “artificial” hill that was made there. We where not allowed to visit the temple, but you get a good glimpse from the lake shore. Another possibility is to go  on one of the many boats that give you a little bit closer look.



by Raymond Hagen

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