Photo Etiquette in Japan

Photo Etiquette in Japan

Update: 27 January 2017

Japan has a lot of amazing sights to offer and what better way to make memories of your visit than taking a lot of amazing pictures? But wait, what kind of things are actually okay to photograph and which aren’t? What are the common rules and mannerisms surrounding pictures and cameras? Even if you don’t speak Japanese, we will help you navigate the Japanese world of photography without stepping on any toes – or breaking any laws!

When Taking Pictures is Okay

When Taking Pictures is Okay

The first indicator is, of course, a sign with a crossed out camera, indicating that the area you are in or the object you’re in front of is not okay to be photographed. If such a sign isn’t present, the general rule of thumb is that taking pictures is no problem. Festivals, parks, buildings, these sorts of public spots fall into the category of being perfectly alright to photograph. You also shouldn’t worry too much about crowds, which are a common sight especially at popular sightseeing spots. If people don’t want to be in your picture, they will move out of the way or kindly ask you to not take a photo of them.

When Taking Pictures is Not Okay

When Taking Pictures is Not Okay

As just mentioned, the easiest indicator that taking pictures is a no-go is either a sign or a person directly telling you that it’s forbidden. Besides this, be sure to not take pictures of someone’s children, through windows, or taking a portrait shot of someone who didn’t agree to this beforehand. Also, pictures of people inside a train are forbidden which is a thing to remember when finding yourself caught in Tokyo’s rush hour.

The Proper way to Ask

The Proper way to Ask

The Japanese term for “photography forbidden” is ‘satsuei kinshi’. An easy question to ask whether taking pictures is allowed or not is the simple phrase of: “sumimasen, shashin o totte mo ii desu ka?” If a person nods and smiles, you’re free to take as many pictures as you like, while crossed arms mean a certain no.
But what if you want someone to take a picture of you at your favorite spot? The proper way to ask for this is: “shashin o totte moraemasen ka?” – could you take a picture of me?

Taking Photos Inside a Store

Taking Photos Inside a Store

Shopkeepers usually don’t allow people to take photos of their wares and even if they do, you might be confronted with them asking you what the picture is for. Just be honest and tell them what you want to use it for, especially if you want to show it to your friends via social networking services. Words like “blog” or “Facebook” are generally universally understood. If it’s only for your loved ones at home, saying “kazoku ni misetai” is perfectly alright.

Conclusion

Conclusion

If you do not feel comfortable speaking, feel free to rely on gestures and mimics – this kind of language is universally understood, especially if you have a camera or a smartphone in your hand indicating your desire to take a photo. Don’t be shy and just ask nicely and you might just end up with the perfect shot!

*This information is from the time of this article's publication.

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