Is it Rude To Point in Japan?

Traveling around the world is one of the most valuable experiences one can gain in this lifetime. There is no better way to explore a culture or country than to steep yourself in its diversity by visiting.

But, you must be aware of proper etiquette in such foreign lands as Japan is to westerners.

In fact, things that you don’t even think about may be rude, such as pointing, in countries like Japan.

Read on below and discover the truth about pointing at Japan, and just how rude it really is (or isn’t)!

Is it Rude To Point in Japan?

Pointing at people in Japan is one of the highest “casual” offenses you can accidentally commit while visiting this beautiful island nation.

In fact, pointing with the index finger, at anything in general, in Japan, is considered highly rude. 

Even more, the person doing the pointing is associated with judging, condemning, or accusing someone of something bad. 

Repeatedly pointing at someone, or something, is, not surprisingly, seen as extremely rude and uncalled for. It is one of the highest etiquette breaches in Japan.

How Rude Is it?

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On the rude meter’s scale of 1 to 10, pointing at someone in Japan rates 9. Pointing is something that is very much frowned upon in Japan. 

Not only is pointing at people rude, according to basic Japanese culture but pointing at things and places is also offensive.

Rather than pointing at people, places, or things, that are interesting or they “point out” to someone else, Japanese people make a wave-like gesture.

Hence, the correct and polite way to point at someone, a location, or something you want to buy, is by doing a sort of half wave-like motion. 

In other words, you don’t point with a single finger, or directly at the person or thing… rather you slightly wave towards it.

Why is it Rude?

Pointing at people, places, and even things, in Japan, has long been an extreme taboo. 

Japanese people, traditionally speaking, seek to live in a highly honorable manner.

That is why, when someone points someone or something out, in Japan, it, historically speaking, has been in an accusatory manner… not in a friendly way.

The truth is that in the minds of the Japanese, and those who practice proper Japanese etiquette, pointing is the same as shouting at someone that they are guilty of some serious offense.

Common Questions

Why is pointing at things in Japan rude?

There is little to absolutely zero difference in the eyes of a Japanese person between someone pointing at them and someone angrily yelling at them and condemning them guilty of something. 

That is why, when you “point” in Japan, you do so with your entire hand (like a sideways wave), rather than any single finger.

What to do instead of pointing in Japan?

In Japan, if you wish to bring something to someone’s attention, or to point out a place, thing, or even person, the least rude way to do so is by slightly waving in that general direction. 

If you need to further point something out, try using a combination of words and another wave, this time more directly pointing toward whatever it is you are pointing out.

What are the main rules of etiquette in Japan?

The main rules of polite and proper etiquette in Japan include no staring or pointing at people, no smoking out on the street, no being loud for no reason, always cleaning up after yourself, and putting the group above the interests of an individual (including yourself).