In today’s Japan Travel Q&A we answer a question about tipping from Mish in London:
“Is it true that there’s no tipping in Japan?”
Don’t feel like watching a video? Read below for today’s answer!
Great question, Mish!
While there are a few exceptions, for the most part it’s true: there’s basically no tipping in Japan.
Unlike in so many other countries, tipping is simply not expected by the majority of service workers in Japan.
Not only are tips not expected, in most cases if you try to leave a tip you’ll be turned down!
You might think that this would lead to indifferent or mediocre service, but nothing could be further from the truth.
As Oliver Strand wrote in his May 2014 article, How Japan Has Perfected Hospitality Culture, “The service culture of Japan, which always over-delivers, directly contradicts the tipping culture of the United States, which supposedly incentivizes superior service but can have exactly the inverse effect” (bolding is ours).
It’s true: service in Japan is so consistently outstanding, that many world travelers consider Japan to offer the world’s best hospitality. Learn the best time of year to visit Japan.
No Tipping Culture
If you’re from the United States, you’re probably aware that many people who work in service-related industries in the US earn a good portion of their income from tips.
For international travelers, tipping is typically a non-negotiable travel expense, since service workers in many countries not only expect tips, but often depend on them for their livelihood as well.
So it may feel odd, when traveling in Japan, to receive such kind and attentive service and not be expected to leave a tip.
Waitstaff at restaurants are courteous and helpful, and will often go out of their way to make sure you enjoy your meal.
Taxi drivers keep their vehicles spectacularly clean, sport white gloves and black hats, and will never (at least in our extensive experience, and the experience of all our clients, friends and family) ever try to overcharge you.
Highly-skilled mixologists labor over the perfectly-formed sphere of ice for your drink, and meticulously craft your cocktail or your favorite sake.
For the most part, no matter where you go in Japan – from the most luxurious hotels to the most humble ramen shops – you can expect to receive thoughtful, considerate service – with no strings attached.
Yet none expect – or depend on – tips for their remarkable service.
In fact (as mentioned above), not only are tips not expected, but if you try to leave a tip it will almost definitely be turned down – and make for an awkward moment!
Exceptions To The Rule: When It’s OK To Tip
There are a few special cases when tipping may not be required or expected, but at least may be accepted.
Below are two of these exceptional cases, both relevant to travelers visiting Japan. Keep in mind, though, that while tipping in either of these situations may be acceptable, it is far from required or expected.
Tipping Guides & Interpreters
In the types of trips we offer, we often include the services of expert private guides.
Private guides in Japan do not depend on tips for their livelihood, and unlike guides in so many other countries, expert guides in Japan will not demand or expect a tip from you.
However, it is acceptable to give them a tip if you would like to do so.
Because there’s not much of a tipping culture in Japan, how much to tip is a matter of some debate. My recommendation is to tip from the gut: if it feels right to you, it probably is. It’s hard to go wrong, since tips aren’t expected in the first place!
Please note that tipping in Japan comes with its own special etiquette, so for more about this make sure to read below.
Instead of a monetary tip, a nice touch – much appreciated by guides in Japan – is to bring a small gift from your home country or hometown. Local food specialties are much loved, as are souvenirs with a local flavor.
It’s also considered polite to treat your guide to coffee or tea, if you stop for refreshments during your tour, or to lunch if you’re on a full-day tour with them.
Tipping at Ryokans
When you stay at a ryokan – a traditional Japanese-style inn – tipping is also on occasion acceptable.
There are two circumstances in which you may want to consider tipping at a ryokan.
The first is if you have a special favor to ask of them. In this case, it would be polite to give them the tip at the beginning of your stay (for how to give the tip, make sure to see our etiquette section below).
The second would be if you had an exceptional stay and exceptional service. In this case, you may feel the desire to tip the proprietor or proprietress at the end of your stay.
Again, it’s by no means required, but if you feel that a tip would be appropriate, it will most likely be accepted.
Etiquette: The Proper Way to Give a Tip
When offering a tip in Japan, it would be considered somewhat crass to simply whip out your wallet and hand over a wad of cash.
The best way to offer a tip is by slipping clean bills into an envelope, and kindly handing over the money using both hands.
If you don’t have an envelope, it’s easy to find one at a Japanese convenience store – and beautiful stationery shops also abound in Japan. Another option is to simply wrap the money in a clean sheet of paper.
I hope this guide to tipping in Japan helps you in your Japan travels!
In addition to the wonderful service you can expect to receive throughout Japan, a side benefit of not having to tip is that it makes Japan feel even more reasonable than it already is (if Japan being “reasonable” sounds surprising to you, make sure to read our article on prices in Japan).