Why Tipping is not Expected
First-time visitors to Japan are often surprised by the high quality of services in the hospitality and retail sectors of the economy. This is particularly surprising given the fact that customers are discouraged from tipping providers. In Japan, unlike other countries, it is generally considered rude to give tips. Some hotels even go so far as to post a formal rule against tipping. Under these circumstances, the high quality of services received can seem excessive.
Excellent service is considered a behavioral norm in the competitive marketplace in Japan. Japanese managers consider it their responsibility, rather than that of the customers, to incentivize the performance of employees. Furthermore, one can generally assume that a service gratuity is included in the customer bill and the wages of servers. Luxury hotels and restaurants make this transparent by including an explicit service charge as part of the total bill.
The taxi industry is a possible exception to the no-tipping rule, but, even here, tipping is no longer expected and is gradually fading away. During the bubble economy era (1986-91), for example, it was not uncommon for customers to leave a generous tip. Stories abound of prosperous businessmen giving a 10,000 yen note for a 3,000-yen fare and telling the driver to “keep the change.” In recent years, with the promotion of a cashless society, fewer and fewer people use cash to pay for cabs and tipping has not been institutionalized in the credit system.
If circumstances arise where you do want to tip someone as a token of appreciation, it is best to put the money in an envelope or disguise it in some other way to avoid publicly embarrassing the intended recipient. If, for example, you wish to provide a tip at a Japanese hotel or ryokan (inn), an appropriate amount is said to be in the range of 1,000 yen to 3,000 yen. Be aware that it is considered rude to give small pocket change to the person you are tipping. In the event you do give a tip, some businesses, such as long-established onsen ryokan (hot spring inn), may give you a return gift in the form of souvenirs, candy, or novelties. (Return giving in Japan is a long-established custom.) The point, however, is that tipping is not required or even expected. It is enough for you to smile and say “arigato” (thank you). Employees will be genuinely happy to receive your sincere thanks.