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Everyday Life in Japan

Rules and Etiquette of Everyday Life

Around the House

First, let’s have a look at some everyday rules for apartments, share houses and regular houses.

Basic Rules for Apartments

Don’t Wear Your Shoes Indoors

Japanese houses and apartments have an entrance area called a genkan (玄関) that’s slightly lower than the main floor. This is where you place your street shoes.

In other countries, it’s often considered acceptable to wear your outside shoes in areas like the hallway connecting to the individual rooms. Don’t do this in Japan! When entering a house or apartment – regardless if it’s your own or someone else’s – always take off your shoes in the genkan and switch to room slippers.

Respect your Neighbors

The majority of Japanese houses are wood structures with relatively thin walls. Turning on the washing machine or blasting music at night or early in the morning can easily be a nuisance to your neighbors. To prevent this, you should keep the noise down between 10PM and around 5 AM.

Keep your Room Clean

This point applies everywhere in the world, but just in case – make sure to keep your room clean. Depending on your contract, this could include cleaning the air conditioner and other appliances regularly (usually around 1-2 times a year). If something breaks, don’t wait too long and contact your landlord. Waiting longer tends to make things more complicated in the long run.

Sorting and Taking Out Trash

Sorting your Trash in Japan

Each municipality in Japan has its own rules on how to separate trash. That being said, all of them follow roughly the same patterns. The four basic trash categories in Japan are:

  • Burnable trash (燃えるゴミ moeru gomi or 可燃ごみ kanen gomi)
  • Non-burnable trash (燃えないゴミ moenai gomi or 不燃ゴミ funen gomi)
  • PET bottles (ペットボトル, petto botoru)
  • Oversized trash (粗大ゴミ, sodai gomi)

Burnable trash contains all sorts of paper or fabric, cardboard, packaging, and plastic wrappings. Some municipalities have special categories for plastics or certain types of paper (like cardboard or old newspapers).

Kitchen waste also falls under this category – usually, there is no extra category for compostables. Make sure to remove as much water as possible from your kitchen leftover to prevent unpleasant smells.

Non-burnable trash, like the name says, is for everything that doesn’t burn (easily). Examples are glassware, metals (empty food cans, scissors, pans, tableware), ceramics like plates and cups/mugs, and lightbulbs.

Some areas and apartments have specialized collecting areas for food/drink cans and glass bottles, respectively.

PET bottles are their own category and don’t count as plastics, like you might think. However, this only applies to the bottles themselves. The cap and labels belong into the burnable or plastics trash, depending on where you live. To prevent smell, rinse out the bottles before removing the cap.

The oversized trash category is for everything that doesn’t fit into a regular trash bag. As a rule of thumb, trash is considered oversized if it’s longer than 30cm (for metals) or 40-50cm (for paper, wood etc.) on any one side, but exceptions may apply.

To have your oversized trash collected, you have to arrange an appointment. You can do this by calling your local trash collecting center. When not sure who to call, check your municipality’s website or ask directly at the city office.

In addition to making an appointment, you also have to pay a per-item fee. How much you have to pay depends on the size of the item. After checking how much you have to pay on your municipality’s website, go to a supermarket or convenience store, get a disposal ticket (shori-ken, 処理券) for each of your items. These tickets are stickers that you attach to your garbage before the collection day.

Taking out the Trash

Garbage is usually collected only once per day, in the morning. The deadline for taking out trash is between 8 and 9 AM.

Because of limited space, apartments that don’t have a dedicated, large-size trash collection area ask their tenants to take out the trash on the morning of the collection day. Leaving bags outside over night can attract crows and other wild animals and cause the garbage to become strewn all over the street.

Different trash categories have different collection days – for example, burnable trash might be due on Mondays and non-burnable trash on Thursdays.

On the Move

Next, basic etiquette for when you’re outside.

Doing Things While Walking

Japan’s cities are full of crowded or narrow streets, sidewalks, and walking paths. Partly because of cultural norms and partly because of real risk these actions pose, it’s not considered good manners to eat, smoke, or look at your phone while walking in Japan. Especially the third one is important – the number of accidents caused by people looking at the smartphone while walking (called nagara-sumaho ながらスマホ in Japanese) are increasing year by year.

Riding the Train

No Phone Calls on the Train

In Japan, it is considered rude to talk to someone over the phone while riding a train. Accepting a call is likely to earn you a lot of irritated looks. If you’re awaiting a call and have to talk to the person as fast as possible, get off at the next station and call them back.

In addition to not accepting any calls, you should also set your phone to silent mode when on the train. In the vicinity of priority seats (see below), passengers are asked to turn off their phones completely when the train is packed.

Priority Seats

Japanese trains also feature so-called “Priority Seats” (優先席, yuusen-seki). They can be identified by the different coloration of the seat covers as well as a big “Priority Seat” sticker on the window.

Priority seats are intended to be used by elderly people, people with disabilities, pregnant women etc. You can sit on them if there still are a lot of open seats, but when the train becomes packed, you should give up your seat if you spot a person that needs it more than you. Of course, this doesn’t only apply to priority seats, but seats in general as well.

Women-Only Cars

To prevent sexual assault on packed trains, some train lines in Japan feature women-only cars (女性専用車両, josei senyou sharyou). You can identify them by big pink stickers placed on the windows of the respective train cars and on the ground in front of the platform gates.

In most cases, the women-only restriction only applies to specific times of the day (namely the rush hour peaks in the morning and the evening, when trains crowd the most). The time when the restrictions apply is also written on the train car sticker. Outside of those times, you can enter these cars freely regardless of gender.

Cycling Rules & Manners

Bicycles are often used in daily life in Japan. Its traffic rules and manners may be different from those in your country, so be careful not to violate the rules without knowing.

Cyclists are prohibited from using umbrellas or smartphones, talking on a phone, or playing games while riding. Riding double is also prohibited. When you ride a bicycle with a small child, you should seat them in a children’s seat and have them wear a bicycle helmet.
Cyclists should ride on the left side of the street, and use the bicycle parking lot for parking their bicycles (If your bicycle is parked on the street/sidewalk it may be towed. You will be charged if you wish to have your bicycle returned).

Riding Elevators and Escalators

Elevator Etiquette

Just like for seats in a room or a car, there is a hierarchy for standing positions in an elevator.

The positions in the back are considered to be the “better positions” and should be left to people of higher social standing. The person with the lowest standing in the group, on the other hand, functions as an operator, pushing the “open door” and “close door” buttons to get everyone to their desired locations as fast as possible.


While these rules exist in theory, they’re often treated as more of a guideline. The only time where you’ll need to strictly keep to them are formal business situations (when accompanying clients, for example).

For your everyday life outside of work, it’s sufficient to show basic respect to others. If you happen to stand in front of the elevator buttons, press them accordingly and let others get off first.

Escalator Etiquette

When not walking on an escalator, it’s customary to stand on one side and leave the other side free for people who might want to go down quicker. In eastern Japan, people stand on the left side. In western Japan, people stand on the right side.

To prevent accidents, you should also hold on the handrails and not run down the escalator.

Handling Troubles

Arrest and detention

We DO HOPE that you will NEVER need this information.
It is however better to know what to do if you are arrested in Japan just in case you ever find yourself placed under such circumstances.

What to do if arrested in Japan

According to Japanese criminal law, there are two ways to get arrested. You will then be taken to a police station for questioning in both cases.

  • Arrest on the spot
    In this case, no warrant will be shown but the police must provide you an explanation.
  • Arrest by warrant
    In this case, the police will show you the warrant before placing you in custody.

The word for “arrest” in Japanese is “TAIHO” (逮捕). When you hear the word “TAIHO”, you should understand that you are under arrest.
Upon such situation:
Never, never try to hit, kick, push away or even touch or throw things at police officers in an attempt to avoid arrest. If you do that, you may also be charged with simple “assault” or “assault against public officers” in addition to your original charge.

For mainly two reasons, always have your wallet with you
① For money. You may want some money to buy stamps, memo pad, letter pad or even meals in a detention cell. Without money, you have to ask somebody to send money to you, which might take time.
② For contact lists. It is advisable to keep a memo with some contacts written in your wallet. Your mobile phone will usually be seized by the police and if you do not memorize such contact numbers, then it will be difficult to contact your attorney in the first place. Try to keep some contacts including your attorney’s contact written (lawyer’s business card would be fine) in your wallet so that you can immediately contact your attorney or family.

First steps that may help you

It is advised that you take the following steps if you are arrested in Japan:

  • Remain silent until you have a lawyer/interpreter/someone from the company you work for
  • Hire a lawyer (an English-speaking one preferred) or request a court-appointed lawyer (国選弁護人 こくせんべんごにん)
  • Notify your embassy
  • Request an interpreter (通訳者 つうやくしゃ)

According to Article 78.1 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, the accused under subpoena or detention may make a request to the court, the penal institution warden or his/her deputy for appointment of counsel, and you may specify an attorney, legal professional corporation or bar association. ※If you already have counsel then this will not apply to you.


After arrest, you will be placed in a detention cell in a police station, and be sent before a prosecutor to give a deposition within 48 hours from arrest. Do not forget that you always have a right to remain silent.
Within 72 hours from arrest, you will be sent before a judge to have a detention hearing. The judge will determine whether it is necessary to detain you to let the law enforcement agency investigate your charge. If there are any possibilities that you will flee or you will conceal or destroy any evidence (including putting any pressure on witnesses), then you will be detained. Also, if you have no fixed residence, then you will be detained.

The first detention is for 10 days at maximum for one charge, then the prosecutor can request a judge for an extension of up to another 10 days at maximum. So in total, you may be detained for a maximum of 20 days.
The prosecutor will determine whether you should be prosecuted or not by the end of the detention. They also might let you free, and continue the investigation without detaining you.

Dispute and claims

The Japanese residents in the area you are planning to live in may not be all that used to having foreign people as their neighbors.
Even if you are a good person who tries to follow the rules and manners, you may end up breaking the rules because you simply don’t know that in Japan, which may annoy the people around you or even get you into trouble!
It is always a good idea to maintain a good relationship with the people around you by getting information from the local government or asking your colleagues at work for advice.

If you find yourself in trouble, talk to your supervisor or colleagues at work as soon as possible. Even if the problem is not with your company but with your residence or neighborhood, there is a good chance they can help you resolve it!

The JLSC, established by the central organization, is a comprehensive information center for resolving legal problems. They also provide telephone consultation services in English, which may be useful in resolving your problems。

The Ministry of Justice