Should I tip in Japan?

Should I tip in Japan? Most people say no. That’s a common answer. I get it. Yes, it has never been a part of Japanese culture. Many countries don’t do it. That’s alright. But it’s time we had a look and rethink.

My opinion differs from most people. We should tip. Or maybe I should say, it’s okay to do it.

Why should it be okay to tip in Japan?

  • Many visitors to this country don’t realize how low the minimum wage is. In Tokyo, it’s 1113 yen. That seems low to me. We are way behind some countries.
  • It’s not only about the money. Working in the hospitality and tourism industry can be hard. Hours can be long. What about post-retirement? That’s a worry for many people.
  • Lack of pay raises. My wife is a temp office worker (okay, not the hospitality and tourism industry). She has only gotten a wage increase this century (i.e., since 2000) once. It was 10 yen an hour. Many people are in a similar situation.
  • I worked as a tour guide in 2024, and it was an eye-opener. My clients employed me for up to eleven hours a day. Many times, I worked in blazing hot summer weather. I was on the go the entire time. 
  • And there are unpaid hours. I often did research which meant going to places to see what they were like at my own expense. Of course, there were the many hours I spent looking at things on the internet. Many people must be doing the same thing.
  • There isn’t a lot of money in tourism and hospitality. My experience as a tour guide makes me sympathize with people in the same situation. We aren’t living on a fixed salary. Income varies from month to month. I ended up working two jobs because it was a necessity.
  • There’s talk in the media about wage rises. But that might be for those working at big, glamorous companies. I don’t see it happening for the rest of Japan. My friends agree with me. 
  • I don’t know anyone who has received a pay raise in recent memory. Some people consider moonlighting. But some employment contracts forbid that. 
  • To contain costs there are companies avoiding raises. They hire women, students, retirees, or foreigners. Those people will be on lower-paying contracts. They also don’t get the benefits regular employees do.
  • And there is a labor shortage. Companies need to deal with that. But the people at the bottom pay for it (either as a part of the cost solution or long hours). Inflation is another killer.
  • The hospitality industry is competitive. Profit margins are small. That is why tipping should be encouraged. If workers give outstanding service, reward them. That would also encourage them to keep giving quality work. Do you know anyone who likes working for peanuts?

A tip helps overcome wage limitations

Only a certain amount of people can join a tour. The same is true for coffee shops, cafes, and restaurants. A taxi driver mightn’t have a fare for several hours. Everything has limitations. That includes incomes, unless you’re Elon Musk.

As I mentioned previously profit margins are small. That means salaries are always going to be limited. But good workers need some reward or they move on. That makes sense, doesn’t it? And that is why you should tip if you feel the service was worth it.

Tips show appreciation

Do you believe in rewarding people for a hard day’s work? On tours, guests buy themselves drinks and food unless it is included. If the guide eats or drinks, that cost often comes from their own pocket. That can get expensive.

Many staff work long, hard hours for their guests at cafes, coffee shops, and restaurants. It would be nice to show them some appreciation. Please remember most of them will be on minimal wages.

Furthermore, these workers show great respect to the customers. They are endlessly bowing and have to use very polite Japanese. But, they often get little back. Sometimes, all they get is a grunt. Many times, nothing. But don’t they need appreciation and respect too?

Conclusion

Tipping is not traditionally a part of Japanese culture. But workers are facing unprecedented challenges in the hospitality and tourism industries. If the service was exceptional, consider offering a tip discreetly and respectfully. This small gesture can help support workers who are often underpaid and overworked. Let’s bring a bit of appreciation into our travels and make a positive impact where it’s needed most.

Sources for this article

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