July 27, 2017 at 10:08 am

Photography in Japan The Do’s and Dont’s

Japan is one of the world’s most beautiful countries to plan your next trip to. It’s unique and rich culture, hospitable people, and beautiful sceneries will definitely satisfy the adventurous soul. For first-time visitors, almost everything can be fascinating but inscrutable and very intriguing at the same time; and taking photos of the people and the sceneries serve as souvenirs and is a great way to relive the memory.

Snapping pictures are great, but the best photographers know how to truly capture the essence of a destination without breaking the rules or invading someone’s privacy. It’s not that it’s wrong to be photographing in Japan, but you should be ethical in doing so. To help create a faux-pas-free journey, and to take those instagrammable shots, here are the do’s and don’ts of Japan photography to arm yourself with before planning a trip to Japan:


The first rule of photography in any country is to follow the rules. Signages such as “No Photos” or “No Flash”, especially in tourists’ areas can always be found. Make sure to look for them before taking shots.

However, there are places where you cannot find these signages. In cases like these, use common sense.


Take the time to do your research before visiting and make sure you understand the local culture and attitudes towards photography. Though it is completely fine to snap photos in Japan, there is no harm in being cautious. After all, you don’t want to offend someone or become a total creep.

It is very common to the Japanese to flash the bui sign (peace sign) to show that you are having fun in a photo. But whether you’re okay with this gesture or you think it ruins your image, there’s no harm in trying. Plus, you might just get used to it if you want to take lots of pictures with the locals.

In Japan, the guest always goes in the middle of the photos. Japanese are very careful to make sure that the guest is standing or sitting in the center – the most prominent spot – in the pictures. Most often, as you are a traveler, you will be the “guest” in someone’s photos. However, rather than stride brazenly into your position as a guest, it’s better to be humble and let the Japanese person tell or nudge you to that direction.


Especially when you’re taking pictures of the locals or when photographing places like restaurants (some Japanese restaurant and store owners don’t like people photographing their goods), please don’t ever wander trying to snap close-up shot photos with a zoom lens. It is very intrusive, distracting, and creepy. If you want to photograph someone, make someone take a picture of you, have your picture be taken with them, or take a picture of a place, be polite enough to ask for their permission. Few Japanese phrases you can use are as follow:

May I take your picture?

May I take a picture of you?

Would you mind if I took your picture?

Anata no shashin wo totte mo iidesu ka?

Will you take a picture of me?

Would you take my picture?

Will you take a picture for me?

Would you mind taking my picture?

Shasin wo totte morae masu ka?

Would you pose with me?

Would you take a picture with me?

Please come in the picture with me.

Won’t you be in the picture with me?

Can we take a picture together?

Issho ni shashin ni haitte kudasai?

Can I take pictures?

Shashin wo totte mo iidesu ka?

Am I allowed to take pictures here?

Is taking pictures allowed here?

Koko wa shashin wo totte mo iidesu ka?

Japanese appreciate you trying to speak their language. So don’t worry if you think you sound ridiculous, it is totally worth the try!


The good thing with the digital cameras is we can instantly see the photo. Show the person and have him take a look at the picture, ask him if it’s okay or not. And if it’s practical, give him a copy if he wants one. In that way, you’re giving each other a memory of the moment you spent together.


When asking the locals for a picture, and they say “no”, don’t go mad and utter bad words. Respect how they value their privacy and just go on with your life.

Privacy regarding the inclusion of Japanese in your photos is stricter than what you think. If you want to post photos on your blog or on social media, unless you have their permission, protocol dictates that you blur their faces so they are not immediately recognizable. Or in some other cases, put a black rectangular box over their eyes.

Do not share someone’s personal information on anywhere on the internet, unless, the person permits it. These days, even with just a few personal details such as the name and home address, one can be easily found. Consider someone’s privacy and be careful and mindful with how much of their information you share with the public.


Be aware that selfie sticks are banned in some locations in Japan including the train stations. Selfie sticks can cause major accidents when people are using them because they do not pay attention to what’s going on around them. It can also obstruct to one’s vision.

And as Japan’s tourism increases, expect and watch out for more selfie-stick-banned locations. Ask if you can use a selfie stick, so you can be sure.


Most especially in the trains or subways, photographing women directly might get you into trouble and get accused of molesting them. It’s always better to ask first.


There are no restrictions on taking photographs in public places in Japan. However, if the picture is published and someone’s right to privacy has been infringed, they can sue you and have a good chance of winning.

Different places have different beliefs and attitudes about photography, so before snapping photos of the people walking down the alley, the group of Japanese students rushing to school, or the delicious Japanese cuisines on your table, do a bit of research before traveling and make sure to understand these things.

There is nothing wrong in snapping photos in Japan, however, remember to be cautious and remember not to offend anybody. No matter how beautiful the photos are, they can be dangerous because the images can represent an entire culture.

It is also important to note that, building a connection with the locals or the places that you wish to take photos of is a lot better than just simply snapping. It won’t only save you from being a creep, but it can make photos a lot meaningful and memorable. Ask yourself, why do you want a photo of this place/person? Is it to show the relationship you formed? Or is it because you want to show the personality of a destination?

After all, that’s what travel is all about: making connections and learning about the place and its people.

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