Traveling to Japan this year? Understanding the nuances of Japanese culture is already a tall order—from the onsen, or hot spring, culture where clothing would be a serious faux pas, to the culture of Japanese inns, or Ryokan, where they serve your meals in your room. When it comes to gratuity, there are just as many guidelines, and it helps to know exactly what’s expected going in. Ahead of your upcoming Japan trip, here is everything you need to know about tipping in Japan:
Do You Actually Tip in Japan?
The thing about gratuity abroad is that the answer is rarely a definitive yes or no. To explain the nuances of tipping in Japan, we asked Tyler Palma, long-time Tokyo resident and Tokyo Branch Manager at InsideJapan Tours, to share some insight.
First, the technical answer is no, you are not obligated to tip in Japan. Leaving gratuity is simply not the norm in Japan. However, as Palma points out, “This doesn’t mean that a tip won’t be graciously received.”
For service you’d like to recognize with gratuity, be sure to put your cash in an envelope. “Traditionally, handling money is seen as a bit unrefined,” says Palma. “Even at convenience stores you will see a money tray so that people don’t have to directly hand cash from one person to another.”
Rather than using a plain white envelope from home, Palma suggests “going to a Japanese convenience store and buying the decorative envelopes available countrywide (just be sure to avoid black or gray ones, as these would traditionally be given during inauspicious times, like at a funeral).”
And of course, this is still only for exceptional service, as a local would rarely tip in Japan.
Tipping Bartenders or Restaurant Servers
According to Palma, “At many upscale bars and restaurants, a service charge of anywhere between 10% and 20% may be added to your bill.”
If this is the case, paying the automatically added gratuity is mandatory—it’s not something you can opt out of, regardless of how tipping in Japan usually works. However, if gratuity isn’t added to your bill, Palma says tipping at restaurants and bars is still not expected.
Tipping Hotel Staff
One of the few caveats to the tipping in Japan isn’t a necessary rule is giving a gratuity to the maid or housekeeper while staying at a Japanese Ryokan. The housekeeping staff at a Ryokan is generally responsible for serving all your meals in your room, and you can tip about 1,000 yen (about $9) for each night of your stay (so, 4,000 yen if you’re staying four nights). The best time to hand your housekeeper the envelope of cash is when they serve you tea on day one—though, giving him or her the envelope at dinner is also fine.
As for other hotel staff, you can tip a bellperson or concierge if you find they go above and beyond the call of duty. Palma says that these tips are certainly not expected, but that he personally tips bellpersons 500 to 1,000 yen (roughly $4 to $9) when staying at a “top-tier hotel.”
Tipping Your Guide or Driver While in Japan
In the tourism industry, tipping is customary if you felt that your guide or driver was particularly helpful and informative. As Palma works in the Japanese tourism industry—InsideJapan arranges customized itineraries to give travelers an authentic and memorable Japan experience—he broke down what he would typically give guides or drivers:
For a private guide: 3,000 to 5,000 yen per day ($25 to $45).
For a private driver: 2,000 yen per day ($18).
For a shared guide (i.e., a group experience): 1,000 yen per day ($9).
In summary, you should expect to see gratuity added at high-end restaurants and bars, and prepare to tip a tour guide or driver. Beyond that, tipping is discretionary, but of course much appreciated by concierges, servers, or hotel staff who enhance your experience. And finally, don’t forget to put your tips in an envelope (and not a black or gray one) whenever possible.