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Why don t the Japanese people look the other person in the eye when speaking?


Japanese people have a distinct cultural trait of avoiding eye contact during conversation, which can be perplexing for those unfamiliar with their customs. This peculiar behavior has been observed by many visitors to the country and is often misunderstood. In this article, we will explore the reasons behind this behavior and shed light on the cultural significance of eye contact in Japan.

Historical and Cultural Background

The Japanese people’s reluctance to make eye contact stems from their cultural values and traditions. Japan is a collectivist society where harmony, respect, and social hierarchy are highly valued. Eye contact is perceived as an aggressive and confrontational act that can disrupt the balance of social harmony. Therefore, Japanese people avoid eye contact as a way of showing respect and humility towards others.

Japanese Snack Box

Communication Styles in Japan

In Japan, communication is often indirect and subtle. Japanese people use nonverbal cues such as body language, tone of voice, and facial expressions to convey their message. Eye contact is not necessary for effective communication in Japan, and excessive eye contact can be seen as rude or intimidating.

The Role of Gender in Eye Contact

Gender also plays a role in Japanese people’s eye contact behavior. Women are expected to be more modest and submissive than men, so they tend to avoid prolonged eye contact with men to show their respect and deference. On the other hand, men are expected to be more assertive and dominant, so they may engage in more eye contact during conversations.

The Influence of Age and Status

Age and status differences also affect eye contact behavior in Japan. Younger people are expected to show more respect towards their elders, so they may avoid making direct eye contact with them. Similarly, subordinates are expected to show respect towards their superiors by avoiding prolonged eye contact.

Regional Differences in Eye Contact

Regional differences also play a role in Japanese people’s eye contact behavior. In some regions, such as Tokyo, people tend to avoid eye contact more often than in other regions. This may be due to the fast-paced and busy lifestyle of the city, which leaves little time for social interaction.

Business Etiquette in Japan

In Japanese business culture, eye contact is less important than in Western cultures. Instead, Japanese people focus on maintaining a harmonious relationship with their business partners. Therefore, excessive eye contact may be seen as aggressive and disrespectful.

The Influence of Westernization

With increasing globalization and westernization, Japanese people are becoming more accustomed to making eye contact during conversations. However, this cultural shift is not uniform across all age groups and regions.

Perceptions of Foreigners

Foreigners may misinterpret Japanese people’s avoidance of eye contact as dishonesty or lack of interest. However, it is important to understand that this behavior is deeply rooted in Japanese culture and should not be judged based on Western norms.


In conclusion, the Japanese people’s reluctance to make eye contact during conversation can be traced back to their cultural values and traditions. Eye contact is seen as an aggressive and confrontational act that can disrupt social harmony. Therefore, Japanese people avoid prolonged eye contact as a way of showing respect and humility towards others. It is important for foreigners to understand and respect these cultural differences when interacting with Japanese people.



Why is eye contact bad in Japan?

In Japan, making eye contact is seen as an aggressive act. When someone looks directly in your eyes, it is customary to quickly look away. Prolonged eye contact is considered impolite or invasive, so it is recommended to divert your gaze during most of the conversation, only briefly making eye contact.

Why do people not look you in the eye when talking?

If you do not have a diagnosed mental health disorder, avoiding eye contact could be due to shyness or low self-esteem. Making eye contact while speaking can be uncomfortable for individuals who are not used to socializing or prefer to avoid attention.

What country is it rude to look someone in the eye?

Eye contact that is too intense can be seen as rude and aggressive in certain cultures like Japan and Korea.

Which cultures avoid eye contact?

Different cultures have different beliefs about eye contact. For instance, in African-American communities, looking directly at authority figures can be seen as impolite. Some Asian groups view eye contact with strangers as shameful, while in some Latino cultures, prolonged eye contact might be considered rude.

Why is hugging not allowed in Japan?

In Japan, it is considered impolite to touch another person’s body, even among friends and family, and hugging and kissing are mostly reserved for romantic partners.

What does 2 fingers mean in Japan?

The peace sign has become a popular symbol in Japan, used by people of all ages, from children to grandparents. Similar to the English phrase “Say cheese!” used when taking photos, the phrase “Peace!” is commonly used in Japan while posing for a picture.

Overcoming Cultural Barriers

For foreigners visiting Japan, it may be difficult to adjust to the different norms of communication and social interaction. However, it is important to try and understand the cultural significance of eye contact in Japan and adapt accordingly. One way to overcome cultural barriers is to learn some basic Japanese phrases and customs, which can help build rapport and establish trust with locals.

The Importance of Respect in Japanese Culture

Respect is a fundamental value in Japanese culture, and it is reflected in many aspects of daily life. From bowing to elders and superiors to avoiding eye contact during conversations, the Japanese people show respect towards others in various ways. It is important for foreigners to understand and appreciate this cultural value when interacting with Japanese people.

The Role of Nonverbal Communication

Nonverbal communication plays a significant role in Japanese culture, as it is often used to convey meaning and emotion. Facial expressions, body language, and tone of voice are all important cues that can help interpret the true meaning behind words. Understanding nonverbal communication can help foreigners better navigate social interactions in Japan.

The Importance of Building Relationships

In Japan, building relationships is key to success in both personal and professional life. It is important to take the time to get to know others and establish trust before engaging in business or other activities. This requires patience, respect, and a willingness to listen and learn from others.

Cultural Exchange

Cultural exchange is a two-way street, and foreigners visiting Japan should also share their own cultural values and customs with locals. This can help promote mutual understanding and appreciation between different cultures. By embracing cultural diversity and respecting each other’s traditions, we can build stronger relationships and create a more harmonious world.

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