National / Media | Japan Pulse

Launch of novelty stationery product sparks debate on tipping in Japan

by Patrick St. Michel

Contributing Writer

A handful of topics are always guaranteed to spark fierce debate, whether discussed face-to-face or remotely online. They include politics, religion and, er, tipping.

Tipping has not been embraced by society in Japan, but it turns out that’s precisely why the topic flared up last month.

Stationary maker Hi Mojimoji, a company that creates innocuous goods such as keyboard notes that look like animals, recently unveiled a product called “Kimo Tip,” which the company promoted with phrases such as “Japanese tip style.”

These pieces of paper resemble a bank check and come complete with an introductory line saying, “Pay to the order with.” The slips of paper also include messages such as “I really enjoyed the meal” or “I appreciate your kindness,” while including a space for users to leave their own personalized notes as well.

It’s not clear if Hi Mojimoji envisioned its new product as a radical type of consumer kindness or if it thought it was simply producing a novelty good.

However, it quickly became apparent how much netizens hated it.

Users on Twitter and various message boards weighed in on how ridiculous the concept was, imagining how a worker in the hospitality sector would more than likely feel irritated at the extra waste they had to clean up or highlighting the ridiculousness of writing an actual monetary amount on what amounts to being an imaginary check.

AbemaTV devoted an entire news segment to the debate, complete with a list of pros and cons (the wasted paper, don’t forget about the wasted paper!).

However, an online roast-a-thon isn’t complete until the spotlight finally falls on the person responsible for the furor, and it didn’t take long for users to trace the product back to “Kimo Tip Ojisan.” Atsushi Matsuoka’s Twitter account is now private but before he locked it up, netizens could find posts on his timeline of intricate thank-you arrangements and attempts to justify his novelty creation. By the time Kimo Tip became the talk of the town, the product was quietly removed from Hi Mojimoji’s online store.

It’s not the first time the subject of tipping has made headlines recently.

Immediately before Kimo Tip appeared on the digital collective’s radar, a popular post was shared on Twitter that detailed a story about their little brother going on a trip to a traditional Japanese inn with the woman he was dating.

Seeing as this story was posted on Twitter story, it’s best to reserve judgment on the validity of it. However, the brother apparently left a healthy tip for the staff at the inn upon leaving, as he had requested additional services.

His date, though, thought this was foolish, since costs for the services had already been fixed and he shouldn’t have needed to pay extra.

The couple broke up shortly thereafter, and the post generated a variety of responses.  

In the wake of both incidents, another netizen shared a story about Japanese people who left origami for French flight attendants, who promptly threw them away because they didn’t find them useful

One woman asked her husband who had lived abroad about tipping, and they replied that tipping isn’t about kindness but about evaluating someone’s service, which made sense to the user (but would spark social media Armageddon in the United States).

Excite News wondered if this could lead to stalking. Nobody offered up thoughts on an older art exhibition that displayed chopstick holders that had been folded up and handed over as “tips” to waiting staff, although it was a good chance to revisit it.

For the most part, the Kimo Tip debate is just another classic example of netizens finding a goofy product and ripping it apart. Yet it revealed a little tension about tipping in Japan, a country where in most situations people don’t have to leave anything extra.

Other times, though, maybe they should? Nobody wants to look like a jerk when it comes to giving people what they deserve (well, some people do), and instances like this stoke old fears that maybe they aren’t giving as much as they should.

Just as long as they aren’t leaving pieces of paper with faux feel-good sentiments written on them as a token of their thanks, they’re probably OK.