Tipping in Japan: Yes, it exists and it’s confusing


Flipping through any travel guide about Japan, you will learn that Japan is a country where tipping is non-existent. Leaving your change on the table at a restaurant may result in the waiter chasing you down to give it back.

But in Japan there actually is a system of tipping that exists but is tangled in a mysterious system of formality that no one really seems sure of. In an interview with Yahoo! Japan, Nobuko Akashi of the Japan Manners & Protocol Association attempts to unravel this system so we can all know when and where it’s appropriate to tip in Japan.

The custom of giving tips in Japan is known as "kokorozuke." It’s rather well known that giving this to the "nakai-san" (staff) of a traditional Japanese ryokan (inn) can get you extra good service. However, you have to be careful how to give it, as Ms Akashi explains.

“A tip is money that is given as consideration for receiving a service, so it’s given after the service is done. On the other hand, 'kokorozuke' is given as a kind of greeting. It’s as if to say ‘thank you in advance for today.’ As such it’s given before the service.”

In addition to at the ryokan, wedding ceremonies and receptions are common times to give gifts of money to staff as well as the newlyweds. But how you do it is important too. Gifts of money to a couple on their wedding day are traditionally “wrapped” in a special envelope called a "shugibukuro."

They can be rather ornate as seen above, so are they really needed for giving "kokorozuke" to staff as well?

“Putting the money in a 'shugibukuro' is a little much. Instead use a 'pochibukuro' like used at New Year’s.”

So, while thanking someone in advance can sometimes come across as presumptuous in other countries it’s generally expected in Japan. Also, although tipping beforehand can come across a little arrogant and “greasing the wheels” in other countries, it’s the best way to go in Japan.

Or is it? Akashi continues: “Also, giving a kokorozuke to a hired emcee, friend who makes a speech, or boss can be seen as belittling them. In this case, it’s best to give a monetary present as an 'orei' (thanks) after the ceremony has finished.”

The tipping system is full of more special cases as well. For example, some people might give an "orei" to the doctor treating a relative who is seriously ill. However, this could be taken the wrong way and is not advised.

Also, tipping the staff of an unfortunate event such as a funeral is best done afterward as an "orei."

Confused yet? Well, Akashi has a few more scenarios to throw on the seemingly random pile.

“Giving 'kokorozuke' is governed by convention and unwritten rules, so it’s really difficult to know when and when not to do it. For example, I think tipping the movers is no problem. Also, when having an event like a class reunion where you rent out an entire restaurant would warrant 'kokorozuke' as a way of saying, 'Sorry, we’re a huge inconvenience, but thank you.' It should be given to the place’s manager before the event. Giving 'kokorozuke' to the party organizer is a good idea too.”

The good news for those of you visiting Japan is that you probably won’t get embroiled in weddings, funerals, and/or class reunions, so you won’t have think about this. For those living here, welcome to a confusing etiquette system than even Japanese people aren’t 100% sure about but have to deal with.

Source: Yahoo! R25 (Japanese)

Read more stories from RocketNews24. -- Oh, Japan, You Make Me So Mad Sometimes! -- Why Do Foreigners Like Japan so Much?
-- Life on a Budget

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Lived here for twenty plus years and have only ever left tips for hotel maids and given to taxi drivers, the latter of whom are surprised and more than grateful.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

I wouldn't even bother to try to understand this. Safe to say that as humble foreigners, we aren't expected to understand the system which kind of makes us exempt. We won't be treated any worse for it I'm sure. Since the article points out that the locals are pretty clueless it can probably be best swept aside. The question arises should we (lets all us long term foreigners) work harder to inform ourselves on the protocols and follow the customs more efficiently? Even here I'd say no, as I suspect the traditions of kokorozuke lie within the elite ranks of Japan, not with everyday individuals (just a suspicion).

3 ( +4 / -1 )

If the cabbie is right on target with the fare and it's about a 800 yen or so I just say Keep the change. I always give my haircut lady the whole thousand when I get the inexpensive 900 yen cut. Other than that, I've never tipped other places.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

Taxis are the only places I've tipped here. Especially if you're living in a rural area, where there aren't many drivers and they'll remember you quickly, a small tip here and there can get you better, faster service in the long run!

5 ( +5 / -0 )

After getting used to not tipping in restaurants in Japan, I forgot to give a tip to the waitress in a U.S. restaurant, she must have been pissed because she gave us pretty good service.

If you ever go to watch sumo at the Ryogoku Kokugikan, be sure to give at least 2,000 yen to the "annai" guy who will not only show you to your seat, but will bring you a huge load of goodies including yakitori and bottles of cold beer.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Only tipping I've done here is to the moving company guys who took care of us a couple years ago. They did a great job over two days, from packing to getting everything in just the right place in our new home. I slipped them each (3 guys) a 5,000 yen note when they were done. Freaked them out a bit, but they accepted with a smile.

Love the service here.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Thanks but a little late in my case, weddings and funerals were my first experiences in Japan. But friends will guide you carefully, and that makes all the difference in the world. Being respectful is not something one needs many lessons on. Hopefully.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

I remember this from about thirty years ago. My employer (a Japanese) and I had been invited to the wedding of a student of mine. My boss asked me discreetly how much I was going to be putting im my envelop[e as a gift to the student. I thought nothing of it at the time and told him. I then mentioned it to my wife (a Japanese) and she was a bit taken aback. She said he had asked because it would not have looked good on his part for me to have given more than he as he was a higher position in the school than I. I only wish that I would have fibbed and told him about three times as much as I actualy gave !

1 ( +1 / -0 )

While skiing with my Japanese girlfriend, she dropped a glove while on the chair. A ski patrol guy went into rough terrain to retrieve it. She was then adamant that he be rewarded, so she bought him a six-pack of beer. I guess that's a kind of tip, and such a practice goes on fairly regularly here.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

OR - you can just cut yourself a little slack as no miso says, but when someone really helps you, give them a little gift as thanks.

Case in point last week when on Valentines Day my friend and I took a box of cookies to a local clinic staff who have really helped both her and me in the last year with some ENT problems we were having. We were very grateful for their help, kindness and reassurance that we felt went above and beyond the call of duty. They were blown away and seemed genuinely thrilled with our little present. It felt good to let them know how much we appreciate them. Win win. This morning a Japanese friend did something for me that I didnt have time to do. Ive just popped out to get her a little 200 yen cake to give her tomorrow to say thank you. It just feels like the right thing to do.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

Tis is not an article about tipping. It is about gift exchange, which is a completely different subject.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

giving a wedding gift is not exactly tipping... but from what I've been told (from my J-wife) the amount of money you give depends on your relation to the person, i.e if its your sibling you give more, a friend from school - not as much. But there isn't really any set amount

0 ( +0 / -0 )

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