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Why is it rude to point in Japan?


Pointing is a universal gesture used to indicate direction or draw attention. However, in Japan, it is considered impolite and rude to point at someone or something with your index finger. This cultural taboo has its roots in Japanese history and etiquette, and it is essential to understand the reasons behind it to avoid offending locals when visiting Japan.

The Origins of Pointing Taboo in Japan

The origins of the pointing taboo in Japan can be traced back to the Edo period (1603-1868), where pointing was seen as a threatening and aggressive gesture used by samurais to challenge their opponents. Additionally, Buddhism’s influence in Japan emphasized harmony, respect, and humility, which encouraged people to use less direct and more indirect communication methods.

Japanese Snack Box

Alternatives to Pointing in Japan

Instead of pointing with their fingers, Japanese people use other non-verbal cues such as hand gestures or body language to indicate directions or draw attention. For example, they may use their whole hand or even nod their head towards the object they wish to point out.

Pointing at People is Considered Rude

In Japanese culture, pointing at someone is considered rude because it’s perceived as singling them out or drawing attention to them in a negative way. It’s also believed that pointing at someone’s face can bring bad luck, especially if they’re sick or feeling down.

Pointing with Your Feet is Considered Disrespectful

In Japan, pointing with your feet is considered disrespectful because it’s viewed as dirty and impolite. The feet are viewed as the lowest part of the body and are associated with filth and impurity.

Pointing at Objects is Still Considered Rude

While pointing at objects isn’t as rude as pointing at people, it’s still considered impolite in Japanese culture. Instead of pointing directly at an object, it’s common for Japanese people to use non-verbal cues or indirect language to indicate what they’re referring to.

The Importance of Non-Verbal Communication in Japan

Non-verbal communication plays a crucial role in Japanese culture, and it’s essential to be aware of the different non-verbal cues and body language used by locals. It’s also important to pay attention to how you convey yourself non-verbally, as this can communicate just as much as your words.

Cultural Sensitivity When Visiting Japan

When visiting Japan, it’s important to be aware of cultural differences and show respect for local customs and traditions. Avoid pointing with your finger or feet, be mindful of your body language, and use indirect language when necessary.

The Impact of Globalization on Japanese Culture

As Japan becomes more globalized, some cultural traditions may evolve or change over time. However, it’s important to remember that respect for local customs remains essential when interacting with people from different cultures.


The taboo against pointing in Japan has its roots in historical traditions and Buddhist influences emphasizing harmony and respect. It’s important for visitors to be aware of Japanese non-verbal communication cues and show respect for local customs when visiting the country.


Is it rude to point in Japan?

In Japan, it is impolite to point at people or objects. A more respectful way of indicating something is to wave with an open hand rather than using a finger to point.

Is it rude to point with one finger in Japan?

In various Western countries, such as the US and Canada, it is common to point at someone or something using the index finger, but this action is considered impolite in multiple nations across Europe, Latin America, and Africa. In China, Japan, and Indonesia, it is especially disrespectful.

Is the middle finger offensive in Japan?

While it may seem like an insulting gesture to us, in Japanese Sign Language, sticking up one middle finger actually means ‘older brother’ or ‘ani’. This context shows that the gesture is not meant to be rude.

Is thumbs up offensive in Japan?

To express agreement or approval, you can use a thumbs-up gesture or form a circle with your arms by bending your elbows to make a “O” shape, which is known as maru in Japanese. It’s important to note that giving a thumbs-down is considered rude in Japan.

What is considered rude in Japan but normal in America?

In Japan, it is considered impolite to laugh with your mouth open and show your teeth, as it is compared to the behavior of a horse. This is similar to how Americans view noisy, open-mouthed eating as rude.

What is the meaning of ?

The I Love You Gesture emoji has a universal meaning, right? Well, not quite. This emoji actually represents the American Sign Language gesture for “I love you,” which involves raising the index and pinky fingers while extending the thumb.

Examples of Non-Verbal Cues in Japanese Culture

Japanese culture has a variety of non-verbal cues that are used to convey different meanings. Bowing is one such cue and is used to show respect, gratitude, and apology. The depth and duration of the bow can indicate the level of respect being shown. Another non-verbal cue is the use of eye contact, which is generally less intense than in Western cultures. Japanese people also use indirect language, such as speaking in the third person or using euphemisms, to avoid direct confrontation or offense.

Breaking the Pointing Taboo

While it’s important to respect local customs when visiting Japan, it’s also possible to break the pointing taboo in certain situations. For example, if you’re with close friends or colleagues who are familiar with your culture, they may not be offended by your use of pointing. However, it’s still important to be aware of the cultural norms and adjust your behavior accordingly.

The Impact of Technology on Non-Verbal Communication

The rise of technology and social media has changed the way people communicate globally. In Japan, the use of emojis and stickers has become popular in online communication, allowing for non-verbal cues to be expressed digitally. However, it’s still important to understand and show respect for traditional non-verbal communication methods when interacting with people face-to-face.


The pointing taboo in Japan is an important cultural tradition rooted in history and etiquette. By understanding the origins and alternatives to pointing, visitors can show respect for local customs and communicate effectively with Japanese people. Non-verbal communication plays a crucial role in Japanese culture, and it’s essential to be aware of the different cues used to convey meaning.

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