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Pochi Bukuro: The Etiquette of Tipping in Japan

Tipping in most countries is a common practice. In Japan however, it isn’t quite the norm. Many Japanese believe that good service is standard, making tipping unnecessary. Yet those in the tourism trade are accustomed to receiving small tokens of appreciation from guests. When you are dining at a restaurant, just being polite and offering a gracious “thank you” is sufficient. It is also unnecessary to tip your taxi driver. If he doesn’t speak English, pointing to your destination on a map will get you to where you need to be. Hotel staff, though also in the tourist trade, do not expect tips, especially at high end hotels and inns. Most times, tipping is considered rude.  Being respectful and polite is the customary way to show appreciation for the service you received.

A few things to remember as proper tipping etiquette when visiting Japan are:

  • Do not give cash directly from your purse or pocket.
  • Always place a tip in an envelope (pochi bukuro) before handing it over.

Gift envelopes

Gift envelopes.

If you feel the need to tip, pochi bukuro is a tradition of Japanese people for expressing gratitude and consideration in a subtle way. Pochi bukuro are small paper envelopes widely available in stationery stores all around Japan.  You place tip money in these envelopes before handing it over. Pochi bukuro were first produced sometime at the end of the 19th century and were used to give congratulatory gifts of money. “Pochi” is a dialect in the Kansai region which means a dot or something small. It is customary in Japan where congratulatory gifts are given in a phrase , “It’s only a little bit.”

The 1960s saw pochi bukuro being used as an envelope to place money in for “Otoshidama”(money that adults such as parents and relatives give children), and ever since, it has since become a common practice. Usually a short message is also written on the envelope along with the tip money.

Pochi bukuro comes in many cute designs and is a unique practice in Japanese customs and traditions.

To make your own pochi bukuro, check out this video tutorial by yukio tachibana:

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Read all about Japanese immersion learning and studying abroad. Check out our eZasshi archives for more articles!