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Japanese people least likely to talk to strangers or offer help on airplanes, survey finds

By Casey Baseel, SoraNews24

The Japanese division of travel provider Expedia recently conducted a survey, polling a total of 18,237 travelers from 23 different countries who had ridden an airplane or stayed in a hotel within the last year. But Expedia wasn’t interested in their travel destinations so much as the style of their journeys.

Specifically, Expedia wanted to know whether or not the respondents are the type to strike up conversations with strangers sitting next to them on airplanes. The most outgoing travelers were those hailing from India, where 60 percent of travelers say they’ll start talking to the person seated next to them on a plane, even if they’ve never met before.

Most likely to start talking to stranger in neighboring seat on airplane

● India: 60 percent

● Mexico: 59 percent

● Brazil: 51 percent

● Thailand: 7 percent

● Spain: 46 percent

But where did Japan land on the list? At the very bottom, with only 15 percent of Japanese travelers saying they initiate chitchat with strangers on a plane, a wide gap from even second-to-lowest Hong Kong.

Least likely to start talking to stranger in neighboring seat on airplane

● Korea: 28 percent

● Australia: 27 percent

● Germany: 26 percent

● Hong Kong: 24 percent

● Japan: 15 percent

As a matter of fact, Japanese travelers showed a low level of interaction with their fellow-yet-unacquainted air travelers across the board.

Most likely to offer assistance to stranger trying to put luggage into overhead bin

● Australia: 50 percent

Least likely

● Japan: 24 percent

Most likely to offer travel recommendations to other passengers on plane

● India: 38 percent

Least likely:

● Japan: 3 percent

Most likely to give up spot in security checkpoint for someone who’s running late for their flight

● Brazil: 31 percent

Least likely:

● Japan: 5 percent

This doesn’t necessarily mean that Japanese travelers are unfriendly or unkind, however, since cultural and even geographic elements are likely at play here.

Japanese culture has always emphasized not bothering others, and so many Japanese travelers will err on the side of caution in refraining from initiating conversations with strangers, in acknowledgement of the fact that the person may not be in the mood to talk. One could also see Japanese people staying quiet on airplanes as an extension of the way they stay quiet on trains, buses, and other shared modes of transportation in Japan. It’s also worth taking into consideration that international Japanese air travel involves long-distance flights into or out of the island nation, which raises the odds that passengers want to quietly relax or get some sleep.

Meanwhile, a large portion of domestic Japanese air travel is business-related (the country’s convenient high-speed rail service is the go-to choice for domestic leisure travelers), and being essentially “at work” while traveling is another reason many might choose not to bother their airplane seat neighbor.

Then there’s the linguistic factor. The nations most likely to strike up conversations, help with luggage, or offer recommendations were Australia and India, one a native-English-speaking country, and the other one where English is widely spoken. Expedia’s survey data includes both international travelers as well as domestic ones, and the odds that any given passenger on a plane will speak English are far higher than that they’ll speak Japanese. It’s likely that a number of Japanese travelers refrain from chatting with other passengers at least in part because they don’t expect to have a mutually understandable language, and likewise don’t want to step in and start handling someone else’s belongings (luggage intended for the overhead bin) without first being able to verbally express that they’re trying to help.


As for Japanese travelers being less likely to give up their spot in the security check line? That’s also probably due to a mix of linguistic and societal factors. Again, with Japanese being a comparatively less-spoken language than many others, many Japanese travelers would lack confidence to convey “You can have my spot” to a passenger who’s in a hurry. There’s also the fact that Japan is a largely rule-abiding society, and travelers might assume they’re not allowed to step out of order once they’ve entered the line. And last, but certainly not least, Japanese society and workplaces tend to be extremely organized. Security lines at Japanese airports are administered in an amazingly efficient manner, rarely taking more than a few short minutes, and so it could simply be that Japanese travelers don’t expect a few spots in the security line to make a big difference in how long it takes a traveler to get through the process, and so don’t feel the situation warrants much urgency.

Of course, as with any set of statistics, it’s important to remember that the numbers aren’t iron-clad for all people. Yes, I’ve been seated near Japanese people on flights who didn’t say a single word other than food or drink orders from take-off to landing, but I’ve also encountered ones who enthusiastically asked others about their home countries and recommended things to see and do in Japan. Still, Expedia’s data shows that, in general, your Japanese plane neighbor might not be the one to start the conversation ball rolling.

Source: PR Times via Niconico news/Kyarikone via Jin

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© SoraNews24

©2024 GPlusMedia Inc.

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"Japanese are shy", is pretty much the go to excuse nowadays.

13 ( +16 / -3 )

They are not “shy”... just socially inept. Its a culture thing!

22 ( +25 / -3 )

If it's someone cute beside, who wouldn't mind, lol

(Actually once on a long train ride, we ended up talking to each other to pass the time, even gave me a call days later thanking for the assistance, lol)

Thailand: 7 percent

Methinks that should say 47 percent

-1 ( +2 / -3 )

They(westerns) are not friendly... Just overbearing. Its a culture thing!

Helping someone with their luggage is ‘overbearing’.

Do you think that when not giving up your seat on a train for someone who needs it more than you do?

You might be surprised to find a diversity of attitudes among ‘westerners’. Just like ‘Asians’.

12 ( +14 / -2 )

I would rather have a quiet Japanese passenger next to me on a long haul flight any day.

11 ( +13 / -2 )

Children and awkward teenagers can be labeled shy. Adults who appear "shy" are just socially inept.

So yeah, Japanese are "shy"

9 ( +10 / -1 )

@Mr Kipling

They are not “shy”... just socially inept.

Japanese people are not shy. Also, you can’t call their attitudes social ineptness because that would be using your own societal mores as a measuring point. That would be unfair. They simply have different ways of interacting and doing things than most of us are accustomed to or have become accustomed to expect. They don’t have what we would call openness that I associate with my society. But it isn’t social ineptness. It works for them here in Japan.

9 ( +13 / -4 )

As a confirmed Englishman, I’d be more than happy to help someone with their luggage or give up my place in a queue.

But the idea of any kind of social interaction, like “chatting”, fills me with choking horror.

May dignified silence prevail....

8 ( +8 / -0 )

I fly a lot, International from and back to Japan nearly every month sometimes twice..

This is about planes but plenty of reasons and I think some some characterizations of Japanese people in this thread are a little unfair.

Some of it It is probably an extension of domestic travel in Japan, get in, get in place and be quiet, and that when you travel daily in very busy trains I prefer this over a lot of chatter phones and other noise.

Some is cultural for sure, don't get in other peoples business.. again I don't think thats a bad thing.. I have had some very annoying neighbours in plane that won't leave me alone..

Helping with bag, depending on the Japanese person, depending on their hight they may not be able to help that much, and again, likely there is two things at play, don't touch others belongings and coming from a service culture on a plane which requires pretty significant safety control, that job is best left to cabin attendants if someone is struggling, I would probably help but understand why someone else would not.

But in reality the no talking, don't know about that... I have found the Japanese people sitting next to me have almost always tried to assist with any announcement that is in Japanese first in English to me and almost every time I have spoken Japanese back to them or to the attendant that has resulted in a 10-15min conversation, after which we go back to our movie, work or book.

The main issue I have with Japanese neighbors on a plane is the older guys who have tried to smoke a pack of cigarettes just before getting on the flight, that isn't so nice.

7 ( +8 / -1 )

But it isn’t social ineptness

I’m not so sure. I remember drinking with a group of freshmen from my company who were looking over at a group of young women on the next table but didn’t have the confidence to start a conversation. I ( a middle-aged man ), started chatting to them and we got along pretty well. I think one of our group shared his Line address with one of the women.

If you don’t have the confidence to start a conversation when you want to, that’s social ineptness for me.

3 ( +5 / -2 )

I'm a Londoner and a rule every Londoner knows is do not strike up conversations with strangers on public transport. When you are all squashed together in a small, cramped space the decent thing to do is to respect the personal space of other travellers. You can always spot a tourist.

5 ( +6 / -1 )

Japanese aren't really shy, they just don't seem to function well outside their comfort zone and fall back into the convenient "I'm shy" role, in which most other people who don't truly understand the culture, are quick to believe. It's a good tool to use to avoid social interaction, especially with all of those "dangerous" foreigners you find everywhere. The majority of the blame for all of this lies in the stupid stories passed down from generation to generation and all the slop they see on Japanese TV. My wife used to say 'gaijin wakaranai' all the time and even once broke up with me before we got married. Now, almost 30 years later, after being educated on the world by me and having the opportunity to actually interact with people from many different cultures and see a lot of places, she is still a bit dysfunctional outside her comfort zone but light years ahead of the vast majority of people here and understands that 'gaijin wakaranai' is a stupid term. She knows how I feel about all of this and I have to say I am happy to have experienced it but really glad I was not born into Japanese culture. It can stunt your growth a lot.

16 ( +17 / -1 )


Nice one, Jim!

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Too many excuses. Japanese culture is shy, I find individuals are not. If you at all have a desire to help or assist, then do so, no excuses.

5 ( +5 / -0 )

Most likely to start talking to stranger in neighboring seat on airplane

Brazil: 51 percent

I can guarantee that number is way low. More like 80% for the Brazilians.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Talking to people and assisting people are different things.

I’ll gladly help someone with a bag but I’ll also respect what little privacy other passengers have by not being intrusive. A short chat on the tarmac is sufficient to establish my identity as not a box-cutter slasher. I appreciate reciprocation. However, it always depends on the people. Conversation is dynamic and always variable. That’s what makes things interesting, no?

7 ( +7 / -0 )

Broadly generalizing here based on a few of my friends and coworkers, but I'd have to say lack of confidence in English skill is a major factor.

(Note that I didn't say actual English skill- just the confidence to actually use it in a real-life situation.)

2 ( +2 / -0 )

● Thailand: 7 percent


0 ( +0 / -0 )

Broadly generalizing here based on a few of my friends and coworkers, but I'd have to say lack of confidence in English skill is a major factor.

I think that’s a factor, but at base Japanese people tend to be socially awkward even when speaking to Japanese in Japanese. They can loosen up when they get drunk but even then it is often shouty and awkward rather than relaxed.

On the point of chatting with a fellow passenger, I tend to just give a nod and a smile. That’ll do.

8 ( +8 / -0 )

@Mocheake spot on comment... you nailed it

4 ( +4 / -0 )


Ask a Japanese to give up their isle seat to sit between two hefty Americans so you/I and my wife can sit together and I bet they will/he did.

Many ways to turn off a chatty traveler but no way to turn off their stinky toxic cologne or perfume, most of them from India and the US.

3 ( +5 / -2 )

It's not just shyness - I'd expect a similar number of shy people in every country.

It's a mix of social ineptitude, situations outside of the drilled cultural norms, and an inherent fear of English.

It seems to start in the teenage years - as it does in many countries and cultures - only here, a lot of people never snap out of it. It seems that the cultural and social formalities take over and are so easy for people to hide behind rather than develop in spite of.

I'm sure a lot of Japanese people on a plane see the need to help the person struggling to put their luggage in the overhead compartment, but they think "someone else will help", or "I don't want to help because then the person might start talking to me".

6 ( +6 / -0 )


It's a mix of social ineptitude, situations outside of the drilled cultural norms, and an inherent fear of English.

Right. It’s a skill acquired through practice.

-1 ( +1 / -2 )

I find no surprise in this news,people who have lived long enough in Japan knows well that they behave like this even between themselves,you can see that in trains,subways etc.

They tend to isolate themselves and do their own things like using their phones,music etc.

Japanese people are very polite indeed,but the lack of social skills due to the society they grow up.

6 ( +6 / -0 )

Politeness isn't only "manners". It is also about being considerate - treating others as we would like to be treated and not just behaving according to societal expectations.

Here, I rarely see people holding the door for someone, or offering a seat on a train, offering assistance to strangers, or letting someone with only one or two items go ahead on the supermarket line.

9 ( +9 / -0 )

The comments here just prove my point I've been making for many years.

If this were an article highlighting positive aspects of Japan/Japanese individuals, society, and culture, the usual suspects here would be absolutely disagreeing with the article. These people would then go out of their way to give individual examples showing that Japanese people are not so polite, so helping, so clean, so good, etc.

Yet, here is an article that highlights what can be perceived as negative traits of Japanese people, and not one person cares to counter the article with examples of outgoing Japanese people and Japanese people that do help others in need (and they exist, despite what the naysayers want you to believe). Indeed, these people here eagerly and readily take the article at face value, based on the opinions of strangers, and have no qualms about generalizing all Japanese people as cold, inconsiderate, and self centered people.

Double standards as always.

-4 ( +1 / -5 )

"Again, with Japanese being a comparatively less-spoken language than many others"

Not an excuse at all (they should all be speaking English by now anyway and language is only about 15% of communication.) And also not true at all. How amny languages nsre there. 200 major languages. 1000s of minor languages. Japanese is 12th or 13th in the world

2 ( +2 / -0 )

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