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Why do Japanese people seldom hug friends or family in public?

33 Comments

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That's a good question. So it was a real surprise to me when a man in Hachioji eki wouldn't stop hugging me. I had found a pair of glasses and returned them to the station counter while he was there looking for them. Boy, those must have been some expensive glasses.

3 ( +4 / -1 )

There is no "why" to social customs. They just are.

In any case, I see a lot more hugging than I used to in Japan. Yet I appreciate the distinction most Japanese make between public and private, something many Americans could learn more about.

12 ( +17 / -5 )

I think Comanteer said it best. The question could equally be asked why Westerners of some countries hug so much in public. It's not like hugging is the default and everyone works their way away from that. Japanese people just don't hug much, it's not part of their culture.

7 ( +9 / -2 )

Because public displays of affection are not part of traditional Japanese culture. It is changing slowly.

You can see the same pattern in many countries.

There's no mystery.

7 ( +8 / -1 )

My Japanese girlfriends are fine with hugging me, and they don't care who sees us. Personally I don't need it. If i want affection, I'll get a hamster or something.

-11 ( +4 / -15 )

It's not common elsewhere in Asia, either.

7 ( +7 / -0 )

Japanese don't hug much in private, either.

9 ( +12 / -3 )

Hugging is but one aspect of a generally non-touching society, esp in public.

In recent years the "handshake" has broken the touching ice so as to speak, but even now a supposedly complimentary tap on the shoulder or congratulatory pat on the arm may well freeze a few folks.

2 instances in the popular media reflecting this, remain firmly etched in my mind.

One - a son(about 60) reunited with his mother(80s) after 40years, and they stood 10cms apart crying so deeply and I thought just wrap your arms around your mum and hold her dearly and share the warmth of the moment. It seemed so ..almost unnatural - but then by affirming that I'd be culturally discriminating wouldn't I?

Second - in 2004 when US deserter Charles Jenkins (he spent 40 years in Korea and married Japanese abductee Hitomi Soga) was finally released and re-united with his wife in Indonesia they kissed and embraced as he disembarked. Incredible how the focus here was on THAT KISS. It seemed as if everything else was secondary. It took weeks for the media and I dare say for a chunk of the population to get over the "shock".

That an expression of love through touch, hardly raising an eyebrow elsewhere, could be so sensational still resonates within me. While not wishing to impose my biased cultural barbarisms onto others, I can't but help to think, just a little physical warming has a great efficacy. I believe much of the mammalian world participates in such hard-wired practices, and sadly with some of us humans it is culturally expunged.

But then I'm a Tactile Junkie.

-1 ( +3 / -4 )

I will chalk it up to Confucian BS about respecting ceremony. Interacting with friends and family is more important than ceremony or what other people think. That much should be obvious.

-1 ( +4 / -5 )

@tina its scientifically proven that skinship especially on your children (hugging/kissing) helps them develop into more affectionate adults. no matter what cultural bs excuses you come up with. giving affection to your family (not just words and a bow) will breed much more mentally healthy adults in the long term.

2 ( +5 / -4 )

scipantheistApr. 26, 2015 - 12:17PM JST I will chalk it up to Confucian BS about respecting ceremony.

The only BS here is thinking that one culture is automatically superior.

wtfjapanApr. 26, 2015 - 12:26PM JST @tina its scientifically proven that skinship especially on your children (hugging/kissing) helps them develop into more affectionate adults. no matter what cultural bs excuses you come up with. giving affection to your family (not just words and a bow) will breed much more mentally healthy adults in the long term.

... eyeroll Being more affectionate doesn't mean more mentally healthy. Someone who tries to hug people who CLEARLY do not want to be hugged is immature, needy, insensitive and anti-social. Those are NOT the traits of a mentally healthy person.

1 ( +5 / -4 )

I have never had a problem with hugging any Japanese Women or Men. I was in a Onsen and the Japanese men next to me offered to wash my back. I excepted and also washed his back in return. This was a friendly gesture with no sexual connotation. I meet my girlfriend by offering a hug for genuine customer service she gave me. I have always be a hugger . My hugging acquaintances is a different way of shaking hands.

-1 ( +3 / -4 )

They don't because Japanese think its cool to be appear as impassive ice cubes with no affections. They seem oblivious to the detriment of such an attitude, such as the bottom dropping out of the birthrate.

Of course I think its taken time to get to this point. The older generation had their notions of "proper" social norms, derived from the foibles of the rich who were detached from real life, but I don't think they were so rigorously adhered to in the past. I think that would used be just an image, like on TV, became a rigid reality in the minds of today's Japanese. My impression of older Japanese is that they are not so stiff and cold and unattached, and its by far not just the lack of hugging that shows how cold and stiff this culture has become.

-8 ( +3 / -11 )

The only BS here is thinking that one culture is automatically superior. whoever said one culture was more superior,!? every culture has its faults, its whether you can learn from others or chose to ignore them thinking that thinking that yours is fault free. eyeroll disliking what other cultures do as normal, doesnt make theres wrong and yours right. You can see Japanese culture slowly changing into whats more internationally recognised. The zenophobic may not like it but in 100yrs Japan will be a much different place than it is today, just as much as it was 100yrs ago. change will happen whether people like it or not. for the good or worse will depend on whose living at the time. (the dead dont have a say)

-4 ( +2 / -6 )

Oh, not so certain hugging is NOT done so often in private. Maybe not by married folks over 50. Hard to hug someone when they have their own room.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

There's nothing wrong with not doing hugs in your culture. The problem is when you do it, but you look as if you don't want to - ever seen the tarentos on TV hugging each other after, say, winning a point in quiz shows? They'll go to hug each other, but then they put their heads back as if they don't want to smell each other's breath.

-2 ( +2 / -4 )

If it's just a question of curiosity, then fine. If it's a "why" as in something one culture cannot understand about another, it should not even be asked since there is no harm involved. What's more, it's a generalization. I know many who hug, and not just me but others, and in public.

0 ( +2 / -2 )

For all those who think that hugging is merely a neutral cultural preference that some cultures have adopted while others haven't, I would be curious to see what you think of the photo below.

http://assets.nydailynews.com/polopoly_fs/1.1182200!/img/httpImage/image.jpg_gen/derivatives/gallery_1200/mother-chimpanzee-hugs-baby-australia.jpg

Hugging is inherent in our species. The only reason we have long arms is so that we can cling to our mothers tightly as they swings through the trees. Just look at all the Japanese children out there who naturally hug their stuffed animals. The fact that Asian cultures have discouraged physical contact over the past few centuries is very unusual in human history.

There have been many studies showing that children deprived of physical touch are more aggressive and have slower mental development. It seems to me that more hugging could decrease some of the stress and mental illness in modern society.

-1 ( +1 / -2 )

its scientifically proven that skinship especially on your children (hugging/kissing) helps them develop into more affectionate adults. no matter what cultural bs excuses you come up with.

With all respect, the question was about adults hugging in public, not parents hugging their children. There is plenty of skinship in the typical family, possibly more than in the typical Western family. Japanese families bathe together - hard to get more skinshippy than that. Japanese families often sleep together, while Americans kids are exiled to their own room at 6 months or so.

Maybe all the hugging in Western nations is a way of making up for the lack of skinship in their childhoods? Or am I being culturally insensitive?

5 ( +7 / -2 )

Japanese don't really do the "skinship" thing. it took a long time just to hold hands in public for couples - which is kind of cute, but a bit childish I guess. More "skinship" please!

1 ( +1 / -0 )

My Italian Grandmother used to hug the heck out of me. Very nice memory. However there are some aunts you are not too fond of that want the hug and kiss and that was less nice.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

The Japanese, like their British cousins, understand that excess physical contact can give out the wrong signal. You may be mistaken for a professional footballer or people may even think you are trying to be friendly. It's interesting that Japan seems to have adopted the straight arm handshake much favored by us Brits. Although it involves a certain amount of contact, it ensures that you maintain a suitable distance from the other person. It's slightly safer than bowing when in cramped conditions. And of course both cultures know that the only proper way to indulge in physical contact is when shackled to the bed frame by someone (male or female) dressed as the school matron.

4 ( +4 / -0 )

You need to feel something in the first place to be able to express that emotion in a physical sense. FEEL.

-5 ( +1 / -6 )

Many Japanese are rather shy and aloof when it comes to showing their touchy, feely side. On the other hand, there are some Japanese girls who will run up to me and throw their arms around me as if they were Italians, which is rather nice. The Japanese guys not so much.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

first they should start shaking hand, oh sorry first they should say hello to each other, oh sorry first they should make eye contact, why my neighbour passing me with out saying hello,oh his neck is not moving around, he can look just straight.

5 ( +5 / -0 )

@M3M3M3 well put, whether you think hugging is needed or not, itll do more for your families well being than not doing it. my Japanese wife wasnt a real hugger when we first met. but now after many years shes come to admit it is far more beneficial than not doing it. and even my eldest boy is getting to the age that hugging and kissing is yuck!. he still likes a hug from mum when nobody is looking. Even my Japanese father inlaw whos very traditional Japanese, I see him occasionally kissing my two young kids goodbye on the cheek. He enjoys the skinship as much as they do. humans by nature crave affection and being close. its unfortunate that many cultures reprogram this trait out from a young age.

2 ( +3 / -1 )

commanteer:

" Maybe all the hugging in Western nations is a way of making up for the lack of skinship in their childhoods? Or am I being culturally insensitive? "

No, I think you are spot on. Japanese are actually horrified by the Western concept of isolating babies and letting them cry alone. After living here for half of my life I too see that as sort of child abuse. Babies of course sleep with their parents here, as they should.

It seems kind of absurd that all this huggery in the West appears at an age where nobody needs it any more. Sort of weird much delayed overcompensation?

That said, I see lots of hugging these days in my local Japanese bar too, although that tends to be late at night in a well lubricated state.

5 ( +5 / -0 )

The Japanese offer very little physical affection on a societal basis and even in private. Emotion and physical contact have NO connection.

-5 ( +1 / -6 )

The Japanese, like their British cousins, understand that excess physical contact can give out the wrong signal. You may be mistaken for a professional footballer or people may even think you are trying to be friendly.

albeleo: amusing post - very witty. I particularly liked the final phrase.

The English understand that hugging should be reserved for young children, elderly relatives and dogs.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

My j-wife and kids hug in public but I would say that Japan is not a culture of public huggers or puggers as I call them.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

albleo - And of course both cultures know that the only proper way to indulge in physical contact is when shackled to the bed frame by someone (male or female) dressed as the school matron.

snerk - Sorry, but I have to say that was pretty funny. Upvoted.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

Hugging is a pretty recent phenomenon in Anglo Saxon cultures. certainly in my lifetime it has become far more prevalent...... Maybe it will become more so over time in Asia also. not sure if that is a good thing.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

There's a lot of hugging in public, just go to sporting events.

But on the whole, no, not so much. There's not much handshaking either, of course.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

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