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Etiquette guide

How to visit a temple or shrine like a Tokyoite
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How to visit a temple or shrine like a Tokyoite

Shinto and Buddhism have generally coexisted happily in Japan for centuries but to the uninitiated it can be difficult to tell your shrines from your temples. Architecture helps. See a torii (two vertical pillars and a crossbeam)? It’s a Shinto shrine (jinja). See a robust gate with doors? Think Buddhist temple (tera). Shrines tend to be open-air, while temples have buildings you can enter (after taking off your shoes, of course). Here are some other basic things to know to avoid a spiritual faux pas. TEMPLES & SHRINES DO: THANK THE DEITIES Visiting a religious site in Japan is similar to entering someone’s house: don’t forget to thank your host first. At a shrine, this means bowing to the kami (deities), while buddhas are in charge at temples. A bow-pray-bow routine is customary at both: at a shrine, you throw in a small coin offering, bow twice, clap twice, pray and bow once again; at a temple, you start by offering incense before bowing and praying. Don’t clap at a temple – that’s shrine-speak to signal the kami. DO: CHOOSE YOUR PLACE There’s a different Tokyo temple or shrine for almost anything you might need, from finding love and passing your exams to avoiding a car or plane crash. Many of these also sell nifty omamori amulets thought to give you an even better chance of realising whatever goal you’re aiming for – whether it be a debt-free life, a promotion or just protection from computer viruses and cyberattacks. TEMPLES DON’T: PASS THE FLAME Before praying

How to queue in line like a Tokyoite
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How to queue in line like a Tokyoite

Queuing in Japan is an art form. Everyone says ‘the Japanese just love queuing,’ but it is more than that. There’s a beauty in the order. Picture the trains at rush hour: well-mannered travellers wait in perfectly formed lines for the train carriage to open. And when the doors part, the queuers wait for the last passenger to disembark before they file in, until they are pressed against the glass (still in order, of course). No matter what time it is, there are very few line jumpers, complainers or people breaking rank. If you want to line up like a pro, here are the essentials. DO: LEARN HOW TO ENJOY IT You’ve got to go zen. There’s no point fighting the time-suck of queuing in Tokyo, so see it as a form of delayed gratification. Time pressed against a random stranger in the rain builds anticipation of the meal, gadget, fukubukuro (‘lucky bag’), concert or commute that will follow. You’ve invested precious time in this, so you’d better enjoy it. DON’T: FORGET YOUR NEIGHBOURS A discreet chat with your friend is okay. Loudly Facetiming your grandmother on your phone is not. You’re going to be spending the next 30 minutes with your line-mates: they don’t need to know about nana’s bunions. DO: LINE UP SOME ROMANCE True love waits. Queuing can be a surprisingly fun date: it’s just you, them, 20 minutes to an hour of awkward small-talk and an assortment of eavesdropping strangers. Plus if things go badly, you can turn and run knowing they’ll be loath to give up their place in

How to drink like a local
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How to drink like a local

When in Japan, do as the Japanese do. In this case, we’re referring particularly to drinking – and the culture of ‘nomikai’ (work drinking party). Nomikai is an integral part of the Japanese workplace, meant to ease stress and forge friendships. Technically you are not forced to attend, but skipping is a taboo. These are my tips for knocking back a few at a Japanese izakaya – they should also come in handy at all those end-of-year work parties.   DON’T: Pour your own drink It is considered rude to pour your own drink. That job falls on whoever is sitting near you. Rather than topping up your own glass, pick up the bottle or jug and offer some to your neighbour (even if their glass isn’t empty). Once you pour for them, they will reciprocate. You get beer, social protocol is followed, and everyone is happy! Typically the drink-pouring duties follow a hierarchy, with the more junior members tasked with keeping everyone’s drinks full.   DO: Kanpai before taking a sip The number-one rule for drinking in Japan is that you should never drink alone. To kick off any social gathering, everyone gets a glass of beer, shouts a collective kanpai (cheers!), clinks glasses, and drinks. The first kanpai of the night is the biggest and while you definitely don’t have to say it every time you take a sip, you should still make eye contact and raise your glass before you drink.   DO: Get drunk! During my first nomikai, I did the socially-acceptable-in-corporate-America thing of drinking half a gl

How to phone like a Tokyoite
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How to phone like a Tokyoite

No matter how long you’ve been in Tokyo, dealing with things over the telephone often seems harder than it should be. Put your manners on the line with our guide to the dos and don’ts of dialling. DO: USE SET PHRASES Most people know that Moshi-moshi is ‘telephone hello’ in Japan. But with phone calls occupying their own special corner in the complex world of Japanese protocol, where do you go from there? Conversational conventions are the secret sauce for making your call progress smoothly. At an appropriate moment, even if you’ve never, ever talked to the person before, be sure to deploy the set phrase, Itsumo osewa ni natte imasu (‘Thank you for your continuing support and kindness’), and you’re good to go. If you’ve just had a call referred to you, say Odenwa kawarimashita (‘The phone has changed’). And if all else fails hit the abort button with Shitsureishimasu (‘Excuse me’), the universally accepted cue for hanging up. DON’T: USE YOUR PHONE ON THE TRAIN You’re on the train and your phone rings. Anywhere else, the worst that might happen is you go into a tunnel and your conversation cuts off. In Tokyo, however, submitting innocent bystanders to your cellphone chitchat is deeply frowned upon, and in a packed train carriage you’ll be committing a serious courtesy crime simply by taking the call. Instead, ignore the impulse to answer and send a quick text to say you’re on the train. Or pick up, say the same in hushed tones, and get off the line. And whatever you do,

How to pay out like a Tokyoite
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How to pay out like a Tokyoite

Japan is an etiquette-driven society from the cradle to the grave and paying for things is no exception. To keep your zen while spending the yen, check out our list of dos and don’ts.   DO: PLACE IT IN THE TRAY What Tokyo’s restaurants, shops and taxis all have in common – aside from a drunken salaryman zonked out in one corner after dark – is the ubiquitous tray next to the till, usually referred to as koin torei (the Japanese transliteration of coin tray) or simply torei. The official use is to maintain a desirable distance between you and the cashier – nobody in Japan wants to be seen grabbing your money – but you can also use it to avoid dropping your change and keeping the line waiting while you scrabble awkwardly after a ¥1 coin. DO: RELY ON YOUR FLEXIBLE FRIEND Despite the cavalcade of bullet trains, intelligent robots and high-tech toilets, Japan is still pretty analogue when it comes to money and cash invariably beats cards. So if you’re not too keen on leaving your watch – or worse, washing the dishes – as payment, then we suggest carrying hard currency with you at all times. DO: PAY WITH YOUR PREPAID IC CARD Although cash remains king, you can also pay using prepaid IC (integrated circuit) cards like Pasmo and Suica in almost every konbini and taxi, and even in some restaurants. Simply tap your card on the reader and hope that the Yamanote line hasn’t drained out your balance. DON'T: TIP Japan is perhaps the only country where tipping can unwittingly turn i

How to use a Japanese toilet – an etiquette guide
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How to use a Japanese toilet – an etiquette guide

Ah, the Japanese toilet, that most perfect of inventions. Stars of many a ‘should I?’ Instagram post, our high-tech washlets are a cut above. But that doesn’t mean doing your business is without its pitfalls – here is how to go when you have to go. DON’T: ASSUME WHERE THE FLUSH IS You’ve done your business, and you’re all ready to flush – except there’s no lever at the side or behind the toilet. What to do? Look out for a panel on the wall or on the side of the toilet seat. There should be two buttons, labelled 小 (small) and 大 (big), possibly at the top of the panel. We’ll let you decide which one you need, but simply press either of those to flush it all away. DO: DARE TO EXPERIMENT That panel we mentioned? It usually comes with a whole list of extra functions that will make your nether end sparkle. Need a clean? Press おしり (oshiri, bum) for a jet stream of water right where it’s needed. Women, if you’d like the front cleaned, ビデ (bidet – they obviously missed out on the proper French use here) is the answer. やわらか (yawaraka) will give you a more ‘gentle’ cleanse. More advanced toilets might offer the options 水勢 (suisei, water pressure) and 位置 (ichi, position). To adjust, just press the corresponding arrows, or make the light move towards either 低 / 弱 (low/weak) or 高 / 強 (high/strong). If you’ve finished washing or accidentally pressed the wrong button, hit abort with 止 (stop). Who knew you’d need a manual for a toilet? DO: EMBRACE THE NOISE Want to avoid the embar

How to give like a Tokyoite
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How to give like a Tokyoite

As you may have heard, gift-giving is a big deal in Japan and, when it comes to etiquette, there is no give and take. To avoid rifts when exchanging gifts, here's what you need to know. DO: OSEIBO Long before Santa Claus came to town, Japan had Oseibo – the traditional gift-giving season. Oseibo gifts are exchanged in December as expressions of gratitude to those who have helped you during the year. While Xmas has largely supplanted the age-old custom, it is still in vogue among the older generations. Make your obaachan (granny) happy with a pack of fancy fruit, ornately wrapped cookies or a few fine bottles of sake. DON'T: FEAR FOUR It is often said that Japan has a chronic case of tetraphobia – the fear of things that come in fours – because one of two readings for the number is shi, which is homonymic with the word for death (死). While the taboo no longer seems to be that relevant, it’s best not to give your loved one a quartet of white chrysanthemum blossoms – the flowers are associated with funerals. DO: STOCK UP ON CHOC In the 1950s, Japanese confectionery companies began advertising heart-shaped chocolates leading up to Valentine’s Day. Somewhere along the way, however, a supposed translation error in one of the ads led to the assumption that only men are on the receiving end. Hence, on February 14, Japanese women treat their male co-workers to giri-choco (obligation chocolate) in addition to the honmei-choco (favourite chocolate) given to their loved ones. In th

Tokyo train etiquette: how to be a good commuter
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Tokyo train etiquette: how to be a good commuter

Trains in this great city of ours are supremely convenient, always (well, almost) on time, and just all-round awesome. Yes, absolutely, but they can also be claustrophobic, scary and confusing, especially if you’re a Tokyo newcomer and/or riding during the rush hour. There are also quite a few written and unwritten rules of train-taking that, if followed, make everyone’s journey more comfortable, less frustrating and simply better. Learning these densha dictates takes time, and is often accomplished through the time-honoured method of trial and error, i.e. getting stared at (ooh, the horror) by a grumpy salaryman when one fails to follow the code. Now that’s something you’d like to avoid, no? So, inspired by our friends over at Time Out London, we’ve put together a 15-point guide to train etiquette: what to do, what not to do, and what you just might get away doing without attracting the dreaded disapproving looks. Study, we say, study, and you’ll eventually be ready to step into the sea of humanity and navigate the city’s awe-inspiring transport network like it ain’t no big deal.       1. DO: Stand on the left. Walk on the right. The most basic of rules, this one is hard and fast. On the escalators, in the corridors, you name it – walk on the right, stand on the left is the standard. Exceptions are only allowed when the signs tell you they are, which actually does happen here and there. 2. DO: Get an IC card. Use it well. If at al

Time Out Tokyo magazines

Summer 2018 issue out now: 55 reasons why we love Tokyo + guide to soba + gin bars + Tokyo for kids
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Summer 2018 issue out now: 55 reasons why we love Tokyo + guide to soba + gin bars + Tokyo for kids

  This summer issue (no.19, July-September 2018) is a love letter to our beloved city, Tokyo. It is a celebration of all the things that make Tokyo one of the greatest cities in the world, and we have listed a total of 55 reasons why we love Tokyo.   You can get a copy of the magazine for FREE at these locations starting June 30. Don’t worry if you’re not in Tokyo; the digital edition is also available for download now.   So, why we do we love Tokyo? It is a city of superlatives, after all. For starters, it is the world’s best city for food (314 Michelin stars don’t lie) and yet a meal at some of these top-rated restaurants don’t cost the earth. We have been certified the world’s safest city two years in a row by the Economist Intelligence Unit. Our exemplary public transport system is so efficient that trains sometimes apologise for leaving early. Our cocktail culture is ahead of the curve, and that’s just the tip of the awesome iceberg that is Tokyo. Go through our list, which is filled with to-do and to-eat recommendations, and be prepared to fall in love with Tokyo yourself.     Learn more about the quintessential Japanese noodle – soba – with our comprehensive guide. There’s even a photo menu describing the many different types of soba dishes you’ll find in Tokyo.   Do you know the difference between a kimono and a yukata? And what’s a haori, you ask? You’ll find all the answers in this feature about Japan’s traditional attire. We also highlight three l

Spring 2018 issue out now: Cute Tokyo + Wagashi guide + Unusual museums + Tattoo-friendly bathhouses
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Spring 2018 issue out now: Cute Tokyo + Wagashi guide + Unusual museums + Tattoo-friendly bathhouses

Tokyo is the international capital of cute, but we are not just referring to the kitschy kawaii styles of Harajuku. In fact, you’ll discover ‘cute’ in its many manifestations throughout Tokyo, from billboards and gifts to product packaging and food presentation. So get our Spring issue now for FREE, and get cute with Tokyo. (Download the PDF version now; or check the distribution centres below beginning Mar 30 if you prefer a print copy.) We explore the many interpretations of cute: from capsule toys and traditional folk dolls to the adorable food and drinks that are too cute to eat – think panda doughnuts, 3D cat latte art, animal ice cream cones and more. There are also classes and workshops where you can learn to make character bento and fake food, as well as specialised salons for your beauty makeovers. For families with kids, check out our feature on the best animal attractions in Tokyo – yes, animal cafés included. Some of Tokyo’s best attractions are on the ground, so look down and discover the city’s unique, colourful manhole covers that have inspired a cult following. Tattoos are still a taboo subject in Japan, and many bathhouses are known to refuse entry to patrons with body ink. But if your ink is too large to conceal, head to these tattoo-friendly sento instead.   Wagashi are traditional tea time treats, and they are the ultimate in food artistry. Here’s our ultimate guide to identifying the different types of wagashi, plus the best shops and cafés t

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