Traditional Japanese Taboos

Written by amy mcnulty
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Traditional Japanese Taboos
Wear a mask in public in Japan when you are ill. (Jupiterimages/Photos.com/Getty Images)

Many Japanese taboos are steeped in the ideas of traditional Japan. For example, the Japanese religion of Shinto stresses cleanliness as a way to dissociate yourself from pollution of the spirit. Cleanliness is essential in proper Japanese society, and many traditional Japanese taboos directly relate to a lack of cleanliness. Other taboos relate to traditional Japanese superstitions.

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Illness Taboos

Although most Japanese employers look poorly upon workers who call in sick for anything but serious illnesses, there are a number of traditional taboos associated with illness. It is uncleanly and rude to sneeze or blow your nose in public. If you are visibly sick, wear a face mask in public. This gives the appearance of keeping germs from other people. Wash your hands and use sanitiser frequently.

Personal Space

The Japanese believe that entering someone else's personal space exposes them to germs and infringes upon their privacy. Coming into physical contact with another person is taboo, unless you become close friends with that person. You do not shake hands with others; instead, you bow to them. Do not casually touch people, even if they are colleagues or clients.

Chopsticks Taboos

Although restaurants typically have Western utensils available, most Japanese eat with chopsticks. Traditional Japanese taboos involve chopsticks and cleanliness as well as chopsticks and ill omens. Never share chopsticks with anyone; this is highly uncleanly and improper. If you do not want to use the disposable chopsticks that restaurants offer, buy your own pair of chopsticks and carry them in a case. Also, never stick your chopsticks into your food to hold the chopsticks in place. This is bad luck, and if the chopsticks are completely upright, the gesture represents death. Use a chopstick holder.

The Number Four

In Japanese "shi" means death, and it also means the number "four." Because the words share the same pronunciation, the Japanese consider four to be an omen of death. Traditional Japanese taboos centre on the number four. Do not give anyone gifts that consist of four things, such as four books or four pieces of fruit.

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