Almost every western tourist does a small research before traveling to a country that has huge cultural differences like Japan. And often, you come across some useful information regarding common mistakes that foreigners make when visiting a country different from their own. Blowing your nose, for example, seems to be a normal thing to most people, but there are a few tricky things about it in Japan that you should be aware of because the Japanese don’t really have the same behavior as you.
The Japanese do not blow their nose publicly because it is considered as bad manners. Since the Japanese are a quiet people, it is normal for them to not disturb others by loudly blowing their nose. Moreover, blowing the nose publicly might result in body fluids touching other people and that is not acceptable either.
Ok, so what about people that are sick or that have allergies? Does this mean that they can’t blow their nose? Do Japanese never blow their nose? In the next paragraphs, we’ll see all the details about it but as always, there’s a Japanese way of doing things and you will see that for yourself too once you land in Japan.
Can you blow your nose publicly in Japan?
The first time I’ve done some research to know how I should behave in Japan, I came across several tips, but some of them were completely different from what I’m used to seeing, especially in Western countries. By the way, I already wrote about 27 do’s and don’ts in Japan, so you might want to take a look at that article too to avoid some usual mistakes in Japan.
Obviously, one of the first things that caught my attention was this rule of not blowing my nose in public because I grew up seeing people blow their nose pretty much everywhere in Western countries. Even if I was determined to respect this and other cultural differences, I wanted to know more about it, and especially what were the alternatives. It’s easy to say “don’t blow your nose”, but if you have a runny nose, you’re not going to sit there and let it flow, right?
The first thing you need to know is that in Japan everything that comes out from your body is considered dirty. And the possibility of having any amount of other persons’ body fluids on their clothes is one awful thing for the Japanese. When you think about it, this actually makes sense. I wouldn’t like that someone spit on me, so why would I like to have a dab of mucus over me, right?
Plus, you wouldn’t go to the restroom if instead of a being a closed room, it had only a tissue all around and there were people passing by. In a certain way, this is how the Japanese see it. So what can you do to avoid blowing your nose?
Well, you can sniffle as much as you need! I know that this is probably going to shock some of you because in most Western countries sniffling is annoying and sometimes considered rude. I still remember when I was a little girl how my grandmother scolded me each time she caught me sniffling and if you had a western childhood, you probably remember the same thing. 🙂
If you’re in a private context, let’s say in a friend’s house for example, you can excuse yourself and go to the restroom to blow your nose. There’s absolutely no need to sniffle in a private context.
On the other hand, in a public space with other people around you, you have to be careful and analyze each situation and the options available. Most of the time, sniffling will be the solution, at least until you find a restroom to blow your nose.
I believe that sniffling is also preferred in Japan because men don’t usually carry tissues and also there aren’t much trash cans in Japan, which complicates the task of getting rid of your tissue once you’ve blown your nose.
Keep in mind that quietly wiping your nose is accepted if you’re not in a formal situation. For example, if you’re walking at a park, you can wipe your nose discreetly, specially if there’s not many people around. If you’re at a restaurant, you really want to excuse yourself and go to the bathroom to blow your nose.
Anyway, I guess it is better to blow your nose if you really have to rather than constantly sniffling for hours on a long train ride, for example, but blowing the nose in Japan is done like everything else, quietly.
The best tip I can give you is that if you can blow your nose discreetly (fast and without noise), then do it, otherwise you can sniffle until you find the appropriate moment and place to do it.
How to blow your nose correctly in Japan?
I guess you can say that there’s a Japanese way of doing almost everything and blowing your nose is not an exception. We already saw when you should and shouldn’t blow your nose and hopefully now you have a clearer idea of how to behave. Now I’m going to explain how you should wipe your nose, mainly if you have to do it in a place other than the restroom.
Find the perfect place to do it. One of the most important things is to find a quiet place with no people around. A quiet street or a park are good options.
Use pocket tissues. Remember that only pocket tissues are used to blow your nose. In Japan, you might see the Japanese carrying handkerchiefs, but these are only used to wipe your sweat and tears or to dry your hands. Handkerchiefs are never used to blow your nose in Japan, specially those cute handkerchiefs with Japanese designs that you can find even on Amazon.
Each tissue is for a single use. If you don’t have lots of tissues with you at the moment, you might feel tempted to reuse a tissue, but please don’t do that. Think of the tissue like it was toilet paper. You don’t reuse toilet paper so it’s the same thing for tissues. You have to dispose your tissue after using it in a trash bin, which can be really hard to find in Japan, by the way.
Wipe your nose discreetly. If you really can’t avoid it, wipe your nose, but be discreet above all. Don’t face anyone (you can turn around for example), and blow your nose as quickly as possible. Also, don’t make any sound when blowing your nose otherwise that would ruin your discretion.
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