During my first days in Japan finding out that I didn’t need to tip at a restaurant was a pleasant surprise. The service was unbelievable—polite manners with a wonderful smile gave the experience a ceremonious feel about it.
It’s not a Japanese custom to tip in restaurants, taxis, beauty parlors, hotels, bars, and other service industries. The exception being Japanese tour companies and tour guides will appreciate a tip, though it’s not mandatory. When tipping is done, it’s custom to place money in a special envelope.
The following guide goes into more detail of when to and when not to tip as well as how to tip properly when you do.
Tipping VS Japan Hospitality Culture
Japanese hospitality values respect and dignity more than a monetary tip.
Workers in the service industry don’t expect nor depend on tips to survive. In fact, if you accidentally leave your change behind they will come running after you to return your change.
When Not to Tip in Japan-With a Few Exceptions
The following is a list of hospitality services where you do not have to give a tip with a few noted exceptions that are optional—up to you.
You don’t need to tip in any restaurant. This includes, ramen (Japanese noodle) shops, food stands, family restaurants, hotel restaurants, and airport restaurants.
Really, the best way to “tip” your waiter or waitress is to be polite and thankful.
Enjoy drinking at an Izakaya’s (Japanese style bar) or maybe hitting a karaoke place for a night of song and drink without worry about leaving a tip.
Also, it’s important to note that if you’re drinking at a high-end bar or restaurant a service charge in the range of 10% and 20% may be added to your bill. This is in addition to the 10% on food in all restaurants and bars.
Paying this added gratuity is mandatory. Fortunately, most of us will be hitting the regular establishments and don’t need to worry about this.
There’s no need to tip at any hotel nor the hotel’s restaurants, spa, or gym.
The exception, though not necessary, is at a Ryokan (a Japanese traditional inn).
Your room maid (Nakai-san) dressed in a kimono will provide personal service from receiving you to seeing you off. They will serve tea and meals as well as layout your futons for sleeping.
If you desire, the customary way to to give a tip to the Nakai-san is to place a 1,000 yen (about $10) for each night in an envelope. The best time to give the is on day one when they serve you tea. It’s also okay to give the envelope at dinner on the first day.
Another exception at a high-end hotel (think 5-star) is giving a 500 to 1,000 yen (approximately $5 to $10) to a bell person or concierge that you feel has given you an impressive service, like above-and-beyond the call of duty.
Please note, in the advent that you decide to tip please don’t get offended if they refuse. A smile and a bow will suffice.
Spas, Hotel Spas, and Hairstylists
You don’t need to leave a tip. Respect and politeness, like giving a bow of grateful appreciation will be much appreciated.
All you have to pay is the exact fare when using a taxi. You don’t have to tip taxis.
If the taxi ride is short less than a 1,000 yen I’ll tell the driver to keep the change.
If it’s a longer journey with a higher fare, I find it easier to tell the driver to keep the change when it’s less than 200 yen (about a $2).
I find it a hassle fiddling with change in the cramped quarters of a taxi while you’re sitting down. Invariably I will drop some coins between the seats.
Rounding off the fare gives me the change in bills or a 500 yen coin, plus the taxi driver is usually very appreciative of the unexpected couple hundred yen where he can pop into the nearby コンビニ (konbini – Japanese convenience store) to buy a 缶コーヒー (kan ko—hi— – a can of coffee).
It’s just the way I like to roll.
There’s no need to tip the food deliveries for pizza, McDonalds, UberEats, etc.
However, I’ll give the driver an extra 100 or 200 yen if they’re delivering during nasty weather, like a cold windy rainy day, that kind of nasty. I call it the Nasty Weather Tip.
Even though it’s not necessary, I love the look on their rain-soaked face after getting the pizza, paying the driver, then handing him/her a few 100 yen tip.
I let them know it’s because I appreciate their courage and fortitude navigating through the nasty weather to deliver a nice hot tasty pizza to my apato (apartment).
When to Tip in Japan – The Exceptions
There are a few times when traveling in Japan where tipping has become more common with private/small group tour guides, personal interpreter, dining with a Geisha.
These services are similar to the the Nagai-san (housekeeper) in a Ryokan that sees to all your needs from the time you enter the Ryokan until the time they’ll escort you to the door where they will bow to you as you take your leave.
Personal Tour Guides and Interpreters
Even though a personal tour guide or interpreter will not expect any tips, as always, it’s greatly appreciated.
Reminder: Always give your tip in an envelope.
Just follow your gut on whether you’d like to tip or not. And if you do tip how much you’d like to tip. The easiest way to assess this is to ask yourself the following:
How much did I enjoy their service?
How many days did we spend together and how smooth did things go?
For guides, as a rule-of-thumb here’s some tipping amount suggestions:
(Note: these are not carved in stone. You’re welcome to tip more or less or not at all.)
Private guide: 3,000 to 5,000 yen per day ($30 to $50)
Private driver: 2,000 yen per day ($20)
Shared guide (a group): 1,000 yen per day ($10)
When I started making trips to Thailand I would come across some really interesting folks and had some amazing fun times. If I was part of a small tour, or had some wonderful shopping experiences with shops I’d give them a tiny Japanese Maneki-neko (beckoning cat).
For the shop owners, I told them to put the little kitty in the register where the maneki-neko would beckon for customers to come and spend money at their shop. Pretty cool, and got a lot of heart-warming smiles.
I’d always stalk up on a dozen or so before going an any trip, including heading back stateside.
Having Dinner With a Geisha
This is another time when a tip would be very much appreciated. Most folks pay a tip of around 3,000 yen ($30) for an evening of beautiful, intriguing entertainment with a Geisha.
This is the ultimate in personal service that you can experience in Japan…is meeting a geisha and having a private dinner with one. Actually, you’ll most likely be in a very small group. The “personal” effect is still the same.
The Geisha will perform music, dance, and teach you some Japanese games.
When it’s meal time, she will first pour your drink and lead with a toast. After the toast is the best time to pass your envelope, with the tip inside, with both hands and a bow in respect.
My Final Take
When it comes down to it, the best tip you can give is to show deep appreciation by saying,
“Doomo arigatou gozaimashita!” followed with…
a bow… m(_ _)m
And if you just finished paying the bill at a small restaurant, Ramen shop, or Izakaya, the cashier will get a kick out it if you say,
“Hontou-ni, oishii-kata desu! Mochiron, mata kimasu!”
(That was really delicious! Of course, I’ll come again!)
You’ll be creating smiles of appreciation everywhere you go.