Dubbed as “The Aspen of Japan,” Niseko has become one of the world’s most sought after ski destinations. Also known as the world’s powder capital, Niseko is the ultimate skiing destination for its powdery light snow that falls in abundance each year. Come summer season, the region then becomes a must-visit for its bounty of outdoor activities including river rafting, biking, hiking, and more. But before you revel in Niseko’s luxury chalets, world-class resorts, and the beautiful tree-lined slopes of Hokkaido, there are things you should know about the proper etiquette on the island so your visit will go as smooth as can be.
Related article: The Four Ski Resorts of Niseko.
Japan is widely known for having a group-oriented culture, where maintaining harmonious relationships with others is a way of life. Consideration of other people, being attentive to others, and being aware of one’s own impact in the community and society, in general, are highly valued. And thus, you must learn the proper Japanese etiquette before you go on your ski trip to Niseko if you wish to have a smooth and enjoyable vacation in this popular Japanese ski capital.
Be (extra) polite
Be more polite than usual. Say ‘thank you’, ‘sorry’, and ‘excuse me’ more often when in Japan. As mentioned, the Japanese value maintaining harmonious relationships with others, and thus, acknowledging someone else’s service and kindness must be exercised when in the country. Saying “arigatou (thank you),” or “sumimasen (excuse me),” and “gomen nasai (sorry)” are the most basic ways to be polite. When someone tells you “gomen nasai,” you must also reply with “daijobu nesu,” which translates to “It’s ok.”
Avoid talking loudly in public places
As soon as you get off the plane and arrive in Japan, you will notice that locals do not talk loudly, nor do they play music in public places. The Japanese respect other people’s “right to peace,” and you’ll notice that even in crowded places, you’ll hardly see or hear anyone talk loudly or with a raised voice.
Do not eat or drink while walking
It is considered rude to eat, drink, or smoke while walking in Japan. Even when you got your food or drink from a vending machine, do not eat nor drink while you’re walking on the street. There are designated eating and drinking areas where vending machines are found, as well as a trash bin specifically to be used for vending machine rubbish. If you want to smoke, there are designated smoking areas on the street as well, and if you don’t find one, it’s best you don’t smoke at all since smoking is illegal in some cities or areas in the country.
Pay like a local
Japan is still a largely cash-based society, so carry cash with you. When eating at a restaurant or paying for something in an establishment, you’ll often be given a tray. Place your cash on the tray instead of handing over your money to the person. When receiving change, get the cash from the tray and do not count. Counting your change is considered to be rude in Japan since it implies the business is untrustworthy. Tipping is also not required and frowned upon.
Take off your shoes
Before entering a house or establishment, take off your shoes. You will be given slippers, instead. It is considered rude and dirty to bring your shoes into someone’s home or into an establishment. If the house or building uses Tatami mats (traditional Japanese straw mat flooring), you will need to take off the slippers and wear socks only, or you can also go barefoot.
Avoid public displays of affection
When visiting Japan with a loved one, avoid public displays of affection as it is frowned upon. The Japanese are highly private people, and touching or kissing, or being affectionate in public is not the norm. When meeting someone for the first time, offer a handshake but don’t be overbearing. Make your handshake limp and bow your head. Avoid hugging or kissing locals as well.
Observe rules when bathing in onsens
Onsens, Japan’s natural hot spring baths, are a definite must-try in Niseko. In fact, it is one of the highlights of the region, next probably to skiing. Many ski resorts feature an onsen bath facility which is shared by their guests. But before you indulge yourself in this unique and relaxing experience, you should know that there are rules to be observed.
Cleanliness is very important. It essential to take off all your clothing. Clean yourself well before bathing and do not let your towel touch the water. If you have a tattoo, most onsens may not allow you in but you can always ask if they have a private bath.
Your ski trip to Niseko will be a once in a lifetime experience you will never forget. The beautiful, powdery, and abundant snow; the world-class resorts; the incredible food; lively nightlife; and amazing Japanese culture will blow your mind away. But if you don’t know how to properly behave in Niseko, your memorable vacation will be memorable indeed, but for all the wrong reasons.
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