Travel Tips: Paying etiquette in Japan

It’s fair to say the Japanese love social rules and paying for things is certainly no exception! So here are our top tips for ensuring you observe these and avoid any inevitable embarrassment that failure to do so could bring!

We Brits are known for our queuing skills but the Japanese take this to an entirely different level. You are expected to line up for everything from boarding trains to making purchases and failure to do so can result in some serious stares! When it comes to shopping or settling the bill in the restuarant you may see lines on the floor directing you to the correct queue position, some stores even have directional arrows throughout the shop floor to ensure the human traffic flows and doesn’t get in the way of the queue. The Japanese way is to always ensure you avoid embarrassment by not knowing what you should do in such circumstances so any queue directions or instructions should be quite obvious and are usually in English as well as Japanese.

Paying the bill at a restaurant
In bars and restaurants you will be given the cheque/bill once your food is ordered to ensure you know the price and can be ready to pay when you approach the cashier desk. This is usually attached to a mini clipboard left face down on the table or sometimes placed in a little slot attached to the table. Do not pay the bill at your table, you should prepare your money and take it and the clipboard to the cashier desk.

Have your money ready
The next step is actually handing over the cash, see our travel tip on cash, cards and currency in Japan here for more information. In Japan there is an expectation that you will have already prepared your money before you get to the point of handing it over. This is important to assist the cashier but also to avoid making people behind you wait.

Use the tray!
At every counter in shops and restaurants there will be a tray. The purpose of this tray is for you to place your money in once you’re ready to pay. Why you ask? To avoid the social faux pas and shame of potentially touching fingers with the cashier! It also allows them to take and count the coins quickly and easily. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that the tray is to encourage tips as it isn’t! Tipping is another no, no in Japan.

It’s worth bearing in mind that as with many foreigner failures to adhere to the rules it’s unlikely that a cashier would visually acknowledge that you’ve failed to put your money in the tray, this doesn’t mean that on the inside they aren’t cursing you though!

Now for the change
You can expect change to be regularly counted in front of you, this is to check that it’s the right change, but also to give you the chance to confirm that it is accurate so that there is no need for you to recount it yourself.