Understanding Japanese Paying Etiquette | Anime Culture in America

During my time working at a Japanese Cultural Center, I frequented any and all Japanese grocers nearby. It was the “Japanese” part of town and fresh, authentic places were readily available. Through watching anime, I learned a lot about paying etiquette and social rules that one should follow. Of course, gaijin are held to a lesser standard than a Japanese, but if you’d like to impress someone with your cultural sensitivity skills – read on.

During my time working at a Japanese Cultural Center, I frequented any and all Japanese grocers nearby. It was the “Japanese” part of town and fresh, authentic places were readily available. Through watching anime, I learned a lot about paying etiquette and social rules that one should follow. Of course, gaijin are held to a lesser standard than a Japanese, but if you’d like to impress someone with your cultural sensitivity skills – read on.

Welcome to our first article on the Anime Culture series – where we cover Japanese culture topics and how the average anime viewer is probably privy to more culture than they consciously knew!

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There are a lot of social nuances in Japan. Luckily if you’ve watched anime during any time in your life (which I am sure you have – consciously or not) you may have been introduced to a few. Taking your shoes off indoors, bowing, slurping loudly when eating noodles are just a few.  Did you know that there are unspoken rules that you should follow once you are in a restaurant or shop? Let’s focus on what to do after you’ve grabbed a bunch of cheap snacks and are standing in line to pay.

Most publications or websites talk about Japan’s queue culture. Standing in line is important, but it’s also important where I live, New York, so I’m not sure I could add anything to that argument that would be prudent. I’ve read that when using escalators or stairs in Japan, one should stand on the left side idly or shift to the right if they would like to move quickly. (Other prefectures tend to differentiate this, so be sure to check up on local prefectural norms before your visit). This is essentially reversed in New York. A good way to remember this is to think of traffic rules – Japan uses the left side of the street and America uses the right. People take this seriously, and they will yell at you or politely call you out if you do not follow this unspoken rule.  In the land of the rising sun they will not yell of course, but the culture relies heavily on non-verbal cues; so if someone is staring at you and it’s not just because you are a foreigner….please take notice. You will find out what is taboo in Japanese culture simply by being very aware of your own space.

When in line in both Japan and any Japanese store in America, try your best to assemble your money beforehand. In both contexts (especially if you are in a long line) you will slow everyone down and waste their time – even if you do not mean to. Give others the same respect that would most likely be given to you. In Nihon there will sometimes be little plastic trays where you are meant to place your money. You are to place your yen in this dish, do not hand the money to the cashier. Pertaining to yen, usually anything under 1,000円 (Equivalent to around $10.00) will most likely be coins. It is acceptable to use a 5,000円 note (equivalent to around $50.00) when paying for meals in restaurants. In America, generally big bills are frowned upon due to high volumes of fraud. With this in mind, I have never used anything over $20 in stores.

After you have placed your money and/or coins in the plastic container, the cashier will count the money in front of you before handing it to you. Don’t recount it, it was counted in front of you for this reason. Simply slip it in your wallet and move away for the next person to have their turn. In local stores there is no plastic tray, but there is a way to be polite when handing the money to the cashier. If you have time, you can order the bills from largest to smallest, if not its fine. When it’s time to pay, hold the money with both of your hands stretched outward, with the bills facing the cashier. Usually you will be met with a look of surprise or a smile, and a bow. If you are bowed to, bow back (deeper if they are a bit older or slightly higher ((a noticeable nod)) if they are younger) and if you don’t it is okay! You will then usually receive the money as you handed it with a smile. It’s not a mandatory thing to do, but it is a nice gesture of respect that will be appreciated and remembered if you start frequenting the establishment.

Same rules apply to leaving, the money will not be counted for you but please step away and discretely count it. Then leave the store as you normally would. If you’d like to speak some phrases of Japanese (such as おはようございます) do so during the interaction – but make sure the person is actually Japanese and not from a different Asian ethnic group. It will embarrass both of you and it’s just not cool.

So that’s it, for now. If you are in Japan, read up on local customs and look out for the money trays. In America, remember to be respectful and if you’d like to add a bit of pizazz to your interactions with Japanese people – show some respect and use both hands. Little gestures go a long way, and it will definitely give you more confidence if you are studying Japanese or planning a visit soon.

Do you have any tips for paying in Japan or an experience you would like to share? Leave it in the comments below, I would love to hear about it! Also be sure to follow the blog for more updates on our Anime Culture series.

Author: In Asian Spaces

I write in my personal time and I haven't published much at all. I don't know if that qualifies me as a writer or not, but I'd like to change that. I have a deep passion for travel, cinema and (mainly) East Asian things, but I plan on writing various things to keep it spicy. Let's prosper together ~ よろしくおねがいします。

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