A Brief Guide to Tipping in Japan

The title of this post is A Brief Guide to Tipping in Japan. This is because it can be summed up pretty quickly: there is no tipping in Japan.

Well that might not entirely be true… There are a few circumstances in which tipping may be considered appropriate: you’re staying at a traditional Japanese inn (a ryokan) or are staying at luxury Western chain hotel. And it’s important to note that it would not be expected and isn’t considered insulting one way or the other.

That being said, tipping situations in many Western countries (especially North America) include salon appointments or treatments, spa treatments, restaurant outings, drinks at a bar, and taxi trips.

Tipping in Japan isn’t really done for any of those situations. If you make the effort you’ll generally get a polite refusal or you’ll have your money returned to you wordlessly. When I initially moved to Japan I made the mistake of leaving a tip on the table at a restaurant and the waitstaff chased me down half a block away.  This is a not an uncommon story amongst Western travellers.

Don’t Be Rude

You should know that constantly making the gesture despite your knowledge of this cultural difference isn’t viewed as generosity. And insisting on leaving a gratuity is downright rude. If anyone accepts your tip it’s likely because they don’t want to have to go through the painful process of arguing and explaining through a language barrier.

Being persistent in these situations may seem like a nice gesture.  But it’s not.  If you feel that strongly about the value or service then it might be best to express that by visiting again.  Or by telling other people about your positive experience.

Hospitality in Japan is quite high relative to pretty much every other country in the world. Part and parcel of that is high quality service doesn’t come with a larger price tag. You can expect great service, cleanliness, and friendly staff almost everywhere you go. No tips required!

There is however some unusual overlap where the tipping etiquette of tattooing and that of Japanese hospitality culture meet.

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Reimen is a specialty of in Iwate. The noodles are very chewy and the broth is usually cold. A delicious regional treat!  But no matter how good the food and service, you wouldn’t leave a tip at the end of the meal.  If you’re really happy then do your best to visit again before you leave.

Tattoos and Tipping Around the World

There are different expectations across the globe when it comes to tipping your tattoo artist. And although it varies from country to country there are some standards it doesn’t hurt to know ahead of time.

In the United States and Canada tipping your tattoo artist is expected. Most tips are usually around 10-15% of the total cost – before taxes if they apply. This is often paid after each session but can sometimes be paid at the end of multiple sessions for larger ongoing work.

Most Western European tattooists allow tipping but it’s certainly not expected. The notable exceptions are Germany and Austria. However it is worth mentioning that the gratuity rates for tattoos in Europe are considerably lower compared to the US. They are around 5%, but this can vary depending on the overall cost or total session time.

In Eastern Europe tipping would not be expected but generally isn’t refused. I wouldn’t have an idea on the rates but when asking some Russians about this they indicated that gratuity might be included as a service charge at restaurants – “Always check the bill! Trust no one.” For tattooing they weren’t sure, but said, “You mean like a bribe?”

Japanese Tattoos and Tipping

Despite what is written above about tipping in Japan, it’s not quite that straightforward when getting a tattoo. And it’s an issue we have to address on a fairly regular basis. There is tattoo culture and there is Japanese hospitality culture – this is an area where they intersect and there is no straightforward answer.

It’s a very normal question for travellers that are either unfamiliar with tipping policy in Japan or are very familiar with tattoo tipping etiquette. Tipping your tattoo artist in Japan is not expected, nor is it considered rude if you offer. Overall, depending on the artist, it wouldn’t be immediately refused either.

We don’t want to encourage or discourage tipping your Japanese tattoo artist. You are more than free to bring up the subject with any artist – although this can be a strange and uncomfortable interaction given Japanese customs regarding discussions involving money (i.e. don’t talk about money in Japan!). But I wouldn’t try to force the issue or be overly insistent.

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Koi and Red Maple Leaves Tattoo. Tipping in Japan is acceptable for tattoos. And it’s understandable given this kind of gorgeous work.

How to Tip Your Artist

If you would like to leave a gratuity and circumvent the tipping in Japan discomfort there are some little things you can do to make certain it will be accepted:

  • insist no more than three times. Beyond this it will be considered discourteous. And by insisting I mean saying: “I would really like to.” Or “It would make me feel good.” Hah!
  • know the amount you’d like to give and put the money into an envelope beforehand
  • present the envelope with both hands
  • call it a gift

A way of circumventing this whole situation is by offering a non-monetary gift that you think your artist might appreciate! In Japan, gift or souvenir giving is viewed in a much different light than tipping.

Ultimately, whether or not to make a gesture is your decision. Expressing appreciation and satisfaction with your new artwork is something artists around the world appreciate. No matter how it’s done.