While tipping has now become so common in many western countries to the point that it is now more or less a kind of unspoken requirement, the Japanese have so far remained on the other end of the spectrum. In general, tipping is still not customary in Japan. In fact, the mere act of giving tips and the manner by which you hand over gratuity may offend some Japanese citizens.
The first thing you know about the Japanese is that they are very polite and courteous people. They put a premium on respect and good manners. Be very careful with how you act around them because some customs or traditions from your own country may not sit well with the Japanese. You should do this wherever you go, but this is a bigger deal in Japan than elsewhere.
Tipping may be offensive…
The Japanese also take pride in the quality of their work. They do their best to produce the products and services that they offer, which is why most of the service establishments in the country do not accept tips. To them, you are already paying for the best. Tipping makes it look like you are telling them that their service is good only that time and not all the time.
...But not all the time.
However, if you are coming from a tipping-friendly country, you may find yourself wanting to give gratuity even when in Japan. Don’t worry. It is not considered rude or offensive every time and everywhere.
Many service workers who are exposed to a large number of tourists are getting used to receiving gratuity from guests and tourists and are thankful to get tips. You may tip as you like in such places, provided that you do it respectfully.
Always thank your host, guide, waitstaff, and other service workers, regardless of whether or not you are giving a tip. As mentioned, politeness and courtesy are way more important to the Japanese than any other form of gratitude foreigners may show.
When giving tips, the safe thing to do is to always put the cash in an envelope before handing it over to the person you are tipping. Never give money that you just pulled out of your pocket or wallet.
There is a certain manner of handing over an envelope in Japan. Hold the upper middle part of the envelope, front side up, with both thumbs and index fingers.
Take note, however, that there are places where it is rude to give cash tips directly to the person and you have to leave the envelope with the money somewhere.
Here are specific services you will likely use in Japan as a traveler, together with the right manner of tipping (if any) for each.
Transportation - Taxi drivers are never tipped, let alone public transportation drivers, regardless of how efficient or helpful they are. Don’t offer gratuity, even if they carry your bags, give recommendations, and other things that usually warrant tips in other countries.
Accommodation - Hotels are almost never tipped in Japan. The staff may even refuse if you offer. If you want to leave a tip, politely ask any of the staff if that is allowed. If they do agree, leave the tip in your room, placed inside an envelope. Handing it to any hotel staff directly is rude.
Restaurants - The rule of thumb in restaurants in Japan is to never offer a tip. There may be places that will accept gratuity, but at the same time, there are many dining establishments that will refuse. Simply thank your server respectfully.
Massages and other spa services - Never tip at spas. Just be polite and respectful, and observe the Japanese manner of showing courtesy. Take off your shoes, and incline your head when greeting people, especially your masseuse.
Guided tours - Tour guides in Japan are lax when it comes to accepting tips. Many of them are already used to getting tips from tourists, especially westerners, and understand that gratuity is a means of showing thanks. A few dollars is okay, but they will not think you rude if you choose not to leave a tip.
When in Japan, tipping should be the least of your worries. The Japanese are proud of their work, and the price they ask you to pay already covers the highest-quality service or product quality they offer, so there is no need to tip. However, do watch how you speak and act while in this beautiful gem of a country because the Japanese value courtesy, politeness, and respect above all.