Examples of Japanese customs that may confuse foreigners

February 23rd, 2012By Category: Culture

Image: MADAME RiRi

There are many customs and behaviors that are natural for Japanese people, either because they are historically accepted, imposed by society or because they are part of the Japanese psyche. To foreign visitors, some of these customs can be a bit confusing.

MADAME RiRi offers a few examples.

1. Making the peace sign (vee)

Image: Sanko Gakuen

Many young Japanese people form a vee with their fingers when they pose for photos. In many other countries, this is the sign of peace. But there is no such meaning in Japan. Fortunately, Japanese make the vee sign with the palm of their hand facing the photographer and not the back of the hand, which might get them in trouble overseas. In any case, it’s a good way to spot who the Japanese tourists are in a crowd.

2. Sitting on the floor

Image: Tokyo Sangyo Shinbunsha

Many foreign people wonder why Japanese people sit on the floor. It is very rare to see people sit on the floor in Western countries where tatami mats are not common. Many foreign visitors to Japan find it hard (and painful) to sit on the floor, opting instead for the familiarity of the couch or chair.

3. Drinking barley tea


Image: Wikipedia

If you open the fridge in most Japanese homes or look at any vending machine, you’ll likely see barley tea. It’s a refreshing drink that goes well with meals and is particularly good in hot weather. And it doesn’t have a lot of caffeine.

4. Slurping ramen 

Image: Wikipedia

Japanese people usually slurp when they eat noodles such as ramen, soba and udon. Although slurping noodles is considered rude in Western countries, in Japan, it is an expression of one’s appreciation for the meal. So slurp away as loud as you like.

 5. Nodding response (Aizuchi)

Image: MADAME RiRi

When you communicate with Japanese people, you often see them nodding their response with words like “He,” “Un,” “Soso,” “Sonanda” and so on. This type of nodding response is called “Aizuchi” in Japanese and dates back to the Edo period. “Aizuchi” is also a good way of looking like you are taking part  in a conversation, but foreign people seldom use these words, perhaps because they feel it will look like they are not listening seriously.


6. Double-eyelid surgery

Image: Dekame de moteonna ni narou!

Perhaps this one applies to many women in Asia, not just Japan. Double eyelid surgery is common because young women want to have bigger eyes. Have a look at the girls who adorn the covers of fashion magazines, or pop diva Ayumi Hamasaki. Foreigners may wonder why Japanese women get cosmetic surgery for their eyes but don’t do anything about their teeth. in the West, a woman is more likely to get a nip and tuck, but rarely have her eyes altered.

7. Walking pigeon-toed in high heels


For some reason, some Japanese girls do not walk gracefully in high heels and end up walking pigeon-toed.

 8. Bowing

Image: NHN Japan Corp.

Bowing is an integral part of Japanese society, whether you are saying hello, goodbye, apologizing, expressing condolences or just responding instinctively. Some Japanese people even bow while talking on the phone. In Western countries, the handshake and hug are more common.

 If you think of any other interesting/funny behavior you’ve seen in Japan, let us know.

Source: MADAME RiRi

Author of this article


GaijinPot is an online community for foreigners living in Japan, providing information on everything you need to know about enjoying life here, from finding a job and accommodation to having fun.

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  • Ken Seeroi says:

     Agreed.  And some of the ventured explanations are off-base, to say the least.  Japanese people are well aware that the “V” is also a peace sign.  Sometimes they (we) even say “peeace” when doing it.  So it certainly carries that connotation, in addition to simply being a habit.

    And to say that Japanese people slurp noodles as an expression of “appreciation” . . . uh, that’s not why they (we) do it. 

  • Phlogger says:

    None of these confuse me but I guess that’s because I’m not really a Westerner (living in mainland Asia). I also find that pidgeon-toe thing cute.

  • Al_Martinez says:

    This is one of the most uninformative and downright silly articles on Japanese culture I have read.

  • Christi Rochin says:

    #7: Why? Is this considered cute? What’s the background on this one?

  • Tom Kun says:

    I don’t understand why the writer doesn’t try to explain these customs, it’s like half the article is missing.

    Also, foreigners do have Aizuchi. “really, wow, great, no way, uh-huh” etc.


  • The pigeon toe really gets me. And it sometimes is not just the feet, but the whole leg is turned around, looks awful, as it makes legs look messed up, and also like the person has some type of mental disability. At least to me :/

  • 6shooters says:

    The recent trend of silly large lensless glasses leave me utterly confused.

    Looks stupid, and is certainly NOT cute.