Why is it rude to blow your nose in public in Japan?

One theory is that in Asia the most common diseases could be passed on through handkerchiefs etc, while those in Europe were more likely to be passed on through spitting- hence the fact that spitting didn’t start to die out in Japan until the Meiji authorities decided it wasn’t something seemly to do in front of foreigners.

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10 Comments

  1. bearaddict said,

    January 21, 2008 at 12:04 pm

    i’ve asked all my japanese friends, and the concensus is that it’s not rude to blow your nose in japan, as long as you don’t do it too loudly.

  2. alexcase said,

    January 21, 2008 at 1:04 pm

    I’ve had exactly the same comments from Japanese people, and I still don’t believe it is generally true, although it is becoming more so amongst the younger, more westernised and/ or individualistic types.

    Asking people what they do and why is never going to work- ask an English goth why they dress like they do they will say “No reason” or “Because I want to be different”, when all their friends are wearing exactly the same thing and have exactly the same kinds of middle class families. This “Don’t bother to ask” thing is true in any country and particularly true in Japan, where children are usually not told to do but are expected to pick it up by following their peers, their sempai (people to whom they are junior), or their teacher. You might be aware that all traditional Japanese arts and marshall arts are taught this way, and I’ve just finished reading 3 books on Japanese schools and families that tell me it is most certainly not limited to that.

    So, instead of asking Japanese people, trying reading a few books and looking around you. If anyone you see sniffs continually on the train for 30 minutes but then turns out to have tissues on them that they only use when they sneeze, turns away from you when they blow their nose, goes to the toilet to blow their nose etc. etc (all things I have both seen and read about), these are things that would never happen in the UK and therefore nose blowing is not seen in the same way in Japan and the UK. QED.

  3. bearaddict said,

    January 23, 2008 at 12:33 pm

    i don’t know what you’re going on about, but i prefer to spend my days interacting with my japanese friends, instead of reading about their culture in books most likely written by white people who doesn’t even speak the language. but hey, do what works for you.

    just for the record, i saw a few people yesterday blowing their nose in public. and–would you believe–nobody else seemed to care. although i did here people sniffing back their snot in the library and train, although that follows with what i said about not doing it too loudly.

  4. alexcase said,

    January 23, 2008 at 1:36 pm

    I can’t see anything wrong with talking to your friends instead of reading, but why read blogs and forums instead of reading books?? Trying to understand Japan is more of an intellectual challenge (something I need after a long day of Eikaiwa) than it is a practical necessity, but if you really want to understand Japan it makes sense to read what the experts have to say- unless you and/ or your friends are some kind of genius. And the experts do not write on blogs (including mine) and forums, they write books. Of course, some completely ignorant people write books as well, but I picked up 7 books on Japan for 100 yen each today, so not too much to lose by giving those books a try…

    If you can’t agree that blowing your nose is rude in Japan, can you at least agree that it is not the same in Japan as back home?

  5. Tim said,

    April 24, 2008 at 2:19 pm

    I have noticed many Japanese wearing dentists’ masks in public. Is this due to them not wanting to blow there nose. If so, where does all of the mucus go?

  6. alexcase said,

    April 25, 2008 at 11:18 am

    Apparently in winter it is mainly to stop passing on your own germs (which is very nice of them) and in the spring it is to avoid the plague of sugi Japanese cedar pollen allergies that the Japanese forestry ministry has produced with its pork barrel projects (which is not very nice of them- them meaning the Japanese government)

  7. xXxD said,

    November 9, 2008 at 2:35 pm

    I read about it in my English book!!
    It’s rude to do this in all the planet especially in Japan !!

  8. crella said,

    November 15, 2008 at 10:53 pm

    I became allergic to sugi the first time just two years ago after more than 20 years here, what’s up with that??? I’m still gaman-ing ;-) with Zyrtec and nose spray rather than wear a mask….just can’t do it. Feels too weird. I went to Georgia during pine pollen season this past March and it was so bad I ran a fever…the pollen accumulates like snow on the roads. DH suggested I wear a mask ‘like people do in Japan’ but can you imagine wearing a white mask and walking into an American bank or the airport? :-)

  9. alexcase said,

    November 20, 2008 at 9:07 am

    I’ve heard this a lot from long termers in Japan. Can I turn it into a Japan Explained style question?

    – Why does hayfever tend to come on after several years in Japan rather than in the first year?

    Anyone have a theory?

  10. crella said,

    November 23, 2008 at 12:12 am

    I wish I knew…in my case I thought it could be aging as my husband (five years older) also got it about the same time I did. One other thing that I heard was that the year we both got it was a year of exceptionally heavy kousa , carrying a lot of petrochemical pollution. My allergy doc said he was swamped with new patients that year, and many people’s nasal membranes were bleeding from the kousa. Our immune systems were overwhelmed by the pollen, kousa and pollutants.


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