Ok in Japan, but taboo in some countries...

Good morning everyone,

Luckily I got home before the rain last night and it looks like it has stopped, so I won't be needing my rainwear today. And tomorrow's weather is looking a bit better. It's going to be overcast but the chance of rain is now only 30%. Monday will still be warm and sunny with a high of 19C and then from Tuesday, it's going to be very unsettled weather. At least it's going to be warm...

I often hear my students complain about foreign tourists who don't follow Japanese customs and therefore seem rude in Japan. And I have to admit that Japanese tourists try hard to be aware of local customs. However, they certainly aren't perfect.

So, here are some things that are considered normal, everyday behavior in Japan, but are taboo in other countries. Let’s take a look at the list!


Slurping your food 

slurping ramen

In Japan, slurping your food, especially soup or ramen, is perfectly acceptable. In fact, it’s considered the proper way to fully enjoy the flavor of ramen. However, in many western countries, the only noise that should be heard at the dinner table is chitchat and the clanking of silverware.

Taking pictures without asking permission first

Many people are uncomfortable having their picture taken by random strangers. Some are fine being photographed, but would appreciate being asked first instead of being treated like an animal in a zoo. However, Japanese tourists are notorious for taking pictures of people and personal property without asking permission. This problem is so prevalent and Japanese tourists have gotten themselves in trouble while abroad so often that many travel guidebooks in Japan warn potential travelers to ask permission before snapping a photo.

Arriving for an event too early 


In Japan, if you aren’t at least 10 minutes early, you’re late. However, in other countries, showing up to a party too early could be considered rude to the host who is still preparing for guests. In some countries, the start time of a party could even be considered a general guideline of when to arrive. Many Japanese have learned this unwritten rule the hard way while living abroad, sometimes being the only guest at a party for the first half hour.

Giving the thumbs-up sign

Thumbs up

In Japan and the Western world, a fully extended thumb is the sign of approval. In the Middle East, and western and southern Africa, however, the thumbs-up sign is used to express distain or contempt, the equivalent of giving the middle finger in Western countries.

Chewing gum


In Japan, the shelves of stores are filled with many different flavors of gum and those who need to freshen their breath are free to utilize gum to get the job done. However, even bringing gum into Singapore as a tourist for personal consumption is illegal and violators of this rule must pay a fine.

Sitting in seiza


In Japan, sitting in seiza (sitting with legs folded under one’s buttocks), is literally translated as “proper sitting.” However, in Korea, sitting in seiza is known as the “prisoner sitting style” and is widely considered a way to bring your guests much pain.

Taking off your shoes while sitting in a public place

We often see Japanese people slipping off their shoes while in restaurants (ok..so mostly salary men) but it's considered rude in many countries.

Knocking on the bathroom stall

In the US and Europe it’s impolite to knock on a bathroom stall to check if it is open. It’s like saying, “Hurry up and get out!” and shouldn’t be done. Instead, they suggest jiggling the doorknob before entering a bathroom stall.

Eating all of the food on your plate

eating all your food

In Japan, children are encouraged to eat every last scrap of food, including grains of rice, before being excused from the table. But in China, it’s polite to leave some food on your plate as an acknowledgement of the host’s generosity. If all of the food is eaten, it’s a sign to the host that there wasn’t enough.

As always, we love to know what you think. Have you heard of these taboo behaviors? Do you think some of them aren’t actually taboo? Let me know!

Have a great day!

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