Is it Rude to Make Eye Contact in Japan?

Basic etiquette around the world varies widely from nation to nation.

Everything from holding hands in public, wearing a hat, and even making eye contact brings massively different reactions from the general public depending on where you are living or traveling.

So, what about making eye contact in Japan? Is it rude?

Read on below and learn the full and in-depth answer to this important question!

Is it Rude to Make Eye Contact in Japan?

To make eye contact in Japan, in itself, isn’t rude; holding eye contact for longer than a second is, however, considered rude in this Asian island nation.

That’s why children are raised to avoid eye contact with adults, and to focus on people’s necks and chests rather than their faces.

When you look at someone’s neck, you still see their eyes and facial expression, but you aren’t risking the offense of holding eye contact with them for too long (if at all).

How Rude Is it?

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On the rude meter’s scale of 1 to 10, inviting yourself over to someone’s house rates 7

The reason making eye contact in Japan rates so high on our scale of rudeness levels is that it is generally quite frowned upon in the country to make and hold eye contact.

Granted, truthfully, it isn’t the actual making of eye contact with someone in Japan that is seen as rude (rather it is not looking away soon enough, and maintaining your gaze).

Why is it Rude?

It’s considered highly rude to look someone in the eye in Japan if it lasts for more than a split second or so.

Generally speaking, most people tend to avoid eye contact altogether in Japan for fear of insulting someone.

For the most part, similar to pointing at someone with a finger (rather than with a semi-wave gesture), when people do make and hold eye contact in Japan it is a form of insult or challenge.

Common Questions

Why is it insulting to make eye contact in Japan?

Making eye contact in Japan is not rude, by itself. It is insulting to make eye contact and hold it in Japan, however. 

Basically, it is better to avoid eye contact with people in Japan as much as possible.

What should I not do in Japan?

There are a few things you should do your best not to do while visiting Japan. 

Some of the most important things to avoid doing in the country are pointing rather than waving (at people, places, and things), smoking in public, making and holding eye contact, being messy (in general), and making excessive noise in public.

Is eye contact rude in Japan, no matter what?

Eye contact in Japan, so long as it is natural, and brief, is not considered rude. 

But, if your eyes linger directly on someone else’s eyes for too long, the action does indeed become automatically rude. 

That means you should keep your random glances into strange people’s faces and eyes at a minimum (and very brief – even when ordering food or inquiring into other services).