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If you are in for an adventure paired with lengthy, quirky, brutal honest thoughts then you are in the right place.

My name is Arisa and was a cosplayer for 12 years in Malaysia before settling down in Kyoto, Japan. Exploring Japan full time has been a long time dream of mine, so let's explore it together!
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Kyoto (Japan) travel manners and etiquettes

This topic definitely deserves a post on my blog and it should be pinned as well lol. I’m putting this out there for ya’ll to read especially for those of you who are planning to visit Japan soon, most of them listed might be 当たり前 (Malaysian term- ABUDEN/ obvious) but it’s best to assume not everyone doesn’t know the drill. For those who know, kudos and keep up the good job; for those who are new to it, thank you for taking the effort to read up and trust me it would make your travel experience a much smoother one.

This isn’t about “unspoken society rules” as those don’t really apply to visitors unless your plan is to move to Japan, then you might want to join my small KO-FI group where we dive deeper into such topics. Shameless self-promo plug lol.

Ever since Japan entered the “tourism-boom” era back in 2012, there’s been many reports over the years of visitors causing damages of property, disrespecting cultural heritage sites, and a whole long list of unsavoury behaviours that local governments (especially the ones with high traffic cities like Kyoto) were force to take action by putting up tons of rules and fines in place. One fine example was the “no photography/ videography” signboards in Gion and this one was put up right before the pandemic hit so it didn’t really serve much purpose as it was intended for inbound tourism lol.

In my honest opinion, putting up one off signs alone doesn’t really guarantee its effectiveness. This is one of those things that needs to be constantly brought up in order for the message to get across. That’s when the power of social media comes in, it’s a pretty useful tool when one knows how to use it. Dear Kyoto city, time for you to hire me as your SNS ambassador lol jk.

This list is actually intended for Kyoto visitors but it can be applied anywhere in Japan (or the world) as some of it are pretty generic

Respect cultural property

I’ve seen many Instagrammers who often disregard this rule, changing clothes in the middle of such places is downright disrespectful. If you would like to strip and change, do find a toilet to do so (changing in public isn’t something to be proud of) and let’s not ruin the experience for other visitors. These places often have signs such as “no tripod, drones, etc” please look out for those and be at your best behaviour at all times. 

With the age of social media I get that everyone is trying to “compete” with original content ideas but please be keep in mind that cultural properties isn’t a place for your creative experiments (a.k.a dipping your phones into the chozuya-purification basin is a big NO-NO).

Arashiyama bamboo forest is regarded as a protected cultural property, vandalising and climbing the bamboos are strictly forbidden so please do not copy this tourist's behaviour.  

Keep your voices down especially in housing areas and place of worship

Japan is like every other country; people live here too so please be wary to keep your voices down especially in housing areas (you’ll definitely pass a lot of them when walking to your intended destination) and in places of worship- Temples/ Shrines

Don’t blast music out in the open, that’s what earphones are for.

Do not trespass

I know a lot of people are attracted to the idea of “unknown/ hidden Japan” but someone needs to point this out; most of the time ya’ll be trespassing on private property. Like the case of the lone tree shot that went viral on Instagram causing tons of people to visit the area just to take a photo of it to the point the land owner had to put up signs and even threaten to cut down the tree. Please refrain from repeating the same mistakes. If it’s not a designated tourist spot, do not tag the location as it attracts unwanted attention.

Respect plants

Japan is blessed with an abundant of seasonal blooms making flower viewing and appreciation one of the oldest past times locals enjoy till today. And these plants are often cared for meticulously by skilled gardeners or volunteers so please respect their hard work by refraining from touching, plucking, shaking, crushing, stepping, climbing (basically any possible physical contact that may harm the delicate plants) for your photos/ videos. By doing so, you are robbing others of the opportunity to enjoy them too. 

Enjoy the plants with your eyes, not itchy hands.

Do not chase/ touch a Maiko and Geiko

I’ve always gotten curious questions about whether it’s acceptable to take photos of Maiko and Geiko walking on the street. If they are in the shot by chance I personally don’t see any harm but I would usually refrain from shooting front to respect their privacy (unless you’ve obtain permission to do so). The most important thing to keep in mind is to NEVER chase or touch them when they are walking outside, they are humans who needs their boundaries respected too, especially Maiko(s) as most of them are underage girls. If you would like to take a photo together with one, I would highly recommend booking a tea session with the ochaya (teahouse), there are some that doesn’t require introduction- targeted for tourists. This way you would not only get to enjoy a personal session with them, you’ll also be supporting their work.

Our homes isn't your public toilet

Can’t believe I actually have to put this on the list for humans but yea, please refrain from peeing on people’s walls. There are konbini with toilets almost every 100meters especially in the city and google maps can easily point you to the nearest one. Peeing on people’s property is downright disgusting. Even owners of pets at least carry a water bottle to wash off their pet’s pee marks during walks.

Do Not Litter

This is pretty universal, as you all know Japan is one of those countries with a few public trash bins around that doesn’t mean it’s acceptable to discard your litter as you please. Carry a small plastic bag to store your trash and discard them when you find a bin (in a Konbini or your hotel room). This includes ciggies; One of the reasons why it’s dangerous to simply discard ciggie buds anywhere as majority of the old houses/ buildings here are made of wood so it catches and spreads fire easily. Throwing it in a random bin may also result the rest of the trash to catch fire. So smoke and discard them in designated smoking spots.

Wear your Kimono/ Yukata properly

Japanese people are very welcoming in general towards the idea of foreigners enjoying their traditional clothing but please wear them respectfully; do not walk around with them off your shoulders showing cleavage and all that
If you would like to learn how to wear one on your own, there are short crash courses available for tourists or if you would like to skip the hassle; kimono rental shops can help pick and dress you on the spot for as low as 3000yen+.

There are many Kimono rental stores especially in major tourist spots around Japan

Honour your reservations

Japan works mostly on reservation system; you’ll often find it hard to just walk in and get a hotel room or table (there are some but most still prefer a heads up before your arrival, even if it’s 5 mins before arrival). If you have made a dinner reservation at a restaurant- BE ON TIME and if something unexpected comes up and you might be late, call the restaurant up to inform of the delay or cancel your reservation. Chances are they aren’t going to like it because they have already allocated your portion for the night, some might charge a cancelation fee while some won’t but they always appreciate a notification rather than a simply “No show” customer.

Media privacy

If you have seen Japanese TV shows most of the time they’ll go through great lengths to blur out people’s faces when shooting on the street and such and there’s a reason behind it; strict privacy laws. Though this law might really apply to visiting foreigners (cuz ya’ll aren’t citizens) but it’s always polite to respect other people’s privacy especially when it comes to MINORS.

Yes, I get that Japanese children are often clad in cute outfits straight out of an anime but that doesn’t give anyone the right to photograph the child and post it up on social media unless you have received direct consent from the parent. I was in this situation once when a foreign student took a pictures of penguin, when I confronted him about it he lied and told me he did not take any, after insisting on seeing his camera preview, sure enough there were multiple shots of her which I made him delete on the spot. Social media is a scary place and often pictures of minors gets misused when it falls into the wrong hands.

I know this may sound like a seemingly impossible task especially when shooting photos/ videos in a crowded spot, but do try your best. For photos it only takes a couple of seconds to blur out children's faces. 

Hope you found this list helpful!

10th June is definitely a date to remember because finally tourists are allowed in (guided tour groups for now) for the first time in 2 years and 3 months, a step closer to having things be normal again. 
Stay safe ya'll. 

Yours Truly,

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