Hmmmm, Don’t Do This on Your Next Trip To Japan- Culture Lesson # 14

Warning: Certain gestures, habits, and customs routinely incorporated in to daily life at home, residents on foreign soil may view as rude or insulting. 

The Deacon sat waiting patiently in the library at a metal folding table, his chair on one side, my elementary issued chair on the other, the spacial arrangement a reminder of the hierarchy  in place and a tip to the agenda for the 30 minutes ahead. I sank down. My chin resting on my knees, knuckles resting on indoor/outdoor carpet covering the floor. The lecture on the importance of Confirmation and all other forms of religious instruction commenced. I, being a parent of a child about to be Confirmed, and THE teacher of the Confirmation class, didn’t see myself as the true target audience for his diatribe. Since he was not interested in my Offspring, my evolutionary teaching techniques, my ability to hold 25 kids in the palm of my hand while teaching the riveting details of Catholic doctrine through bribes, games, and pin the vice on the disciple, he lost me.
My mind started to free associate. It freely associated to several topics. One of which was the mud clod  stuck on my shoe. I can only attribute the following action to the mind numbing droning sound buzzing from the mouth of the deacon causing my brain to short-circuit, sending misfired signals through synapses. Being a species with higher reasoning capabilities, I employed the use of a metal bar underneath the table as a tool to scrape the dirt clod off my shoe. It fell in smaller clumps to the floor. I blame the Deacon for reducing me to this child like behavior. He didn’t notice as he was thoroughly launched in to parental involvement at mass.

The smell of dog poo wafted up from underneath the table.

The Deacon must have been used to noxious odors for he continued unperturbed. Years of smoking and allergies have rendered my olfactory glands all but useless and what remains are virtually senseless after motherhood, however, this poo once unclumped was powerfully pungent. This presented quite a dilemma what should I do now?

I did what most children from dysfunctional homes would. I ignored it. It certainly was unfortunate for him, and the remaining parents, that the dog poo was left under the table. Unsure of exactly how to remove the dog poo now on the floor, underneath the table, in the library, I left it.

Without looking, I can assuredly announce, all guide books and Culture Experts would advise against tracking mud and excrement inside any sort of building, sacred or otherwise, even in the United States. I would also advise against it based on my new nickname, “St. Pious Poo Shoe,” which has stuck, not to be shaken, or wiped clean.

Similarly in Japan, there are several such taboo activities. Like blowing one’s nose in public. I have chosen this as the first to highlight due to the complexity of this seemingly innocuous issue. I read in the guide books and Culture directives:

“Do NOT blow your nose in Japan. It is considered EXTREMELY rude.”

However, in direct contradiction to those statements, please observe this extensive display of women’s handkerchiefs at Mitsukoshi- an upscale department store in Japan:

Who knew, Burberry, Louis Vuitton and Celine make such things?

Vivienne Westwood- outlandish clothes and cloths….I love them.

Row upon Row….

But NOT dear friends, on which, to sneeze and blow.

So what does one do with these precious, and expensive, pieces of cloth? Cloth napkins don’t exist here. In their place, are small, non absorbent, pieces of paper that are placed on tables in some restaurants- but not all. The issue with these “napkins” is they’re useless as the paper isn’t absorbent and are too small to use as napkins. Women use “Handkerchiefs” and substitute as napkins.

Andretti-san, truth seeker and cultural guide to the Clampitt family, disagrees with this Japanese lore. He advises that nose blowing should be discreet and performed in an unobtrusive manner to those in close proximity to the action so that sound- not the act itself- is not bothersome.

This continues to be problematic as I am an aficionado of the hankie; a love borne out of necessity not fashion. When I run, my nose does too. Where other runners strap on a water bottle, I tuck in my hankie to wave in the wind.

While I believe Andretti-san, I’m afraid to go against Lonely Planet. Nike+GPS has informed me that stopping, hiding, and blowing my nose, costs 3-4 minutes off my 4 mile time. Hummm. Do I risk the blow?

Let’s face it, with the number of mistakes I’ve racked on the Culture Lesson guide, I can’t afford to push on the questionables. But then, I know a few of you have a couple of stories you could share…

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32 Responses to Hmmmm, Don’t Do This on Your Next Trip To Japan- Culture Lesson # 14

  1. Ah, the irony around the handkerchief!

    Any rules about the appropriate use of the toothpick? In Thailand and Vietnam, one covers the mouth and toothpick holding hand with the other–discrete tooth picking only, please.



    • amblerangel says:

      Toothpicks are perfectly acceptable- they’re usually in their own dispenser on the table, and often are included in the package with take out chop sticks. I find Japan’s “taboos” more similar to China’s than the other Asian countries so far…


  2. Dear St. Pious Poo Shoe,

    What does one do if one has a cold or flu. I can’t go for a minute without having to blow by nose at this stage. Does one have to leave Japan – or risk offending the locals?

    Also, did I read correctly that you are instructing impressionable young people?! Have their parents read your blog???

    from Ignorant in Africa.


    • amblerangel says:

      I actually think it’s best to “do your business” either in a bathroom or tucked away in a corner if you can. Especially if you’re sick. Japanese people wear surgical masks a lot to avoid coughing on other people for fear of spreading germs or catching other people’s illnesses etc. I’ve never seen anything like it- probably 1 out of every 20 adults one sees wears one so I am careful about blowing around others and I keys have to blow my nose-

      Yes- for 3 years I taught our youth the fine points of Catholocism- I believe the Director only got 2 or 3 calls about my unorthodox teaching techniques. I’m not teaching now but THAT is a blog series…..


      • Surgical masks? Now that’s what the people in our town should be wearing! According to my doctor “the whole town is sick” at the moment (except him – he must be an alien because he never seems to get sick). Viruses just keep going around and around here.

        Would love to hear more about your unorthodox teaching techniques!


      • amblerangel says:

        Ahh- Lisa- truly- only the parents appreciated the skill with which I managed those kids every Sunday for 90 minutes. I don’t know if it was because I took them off their hands or if it was because of my love for all games designed to help kids memorize 50 questions questions asked and anwered in Vatican-ize so that they could each answer when the Bishop posed said questions to each individually—— which they could actually do without parental involvement by the time I was done. I also liked to use “prisoners and career criminals in the confessional” a lot for class discussions which 5th graders seem to find very entertaining. A LOT of teasing, name calling, and other things fifth graders like to do to eachother I did to them in order to keep them on their toes. Oh- I also bribed them every SUnday with toys from the dollar store. AND, we changed activities every 15 minutes. Finally, my secret to success, they did all the work while I walked around the classroom seperating the boys.


      • LOL You sound like a teacher I had at school . . . I’ve never forgotten her!


      • amblerangel says:

        I know- I would do just about anything to keep them with me….Unfortunately!


  3. Tori Nelson says:

    The endless rows of handkerchief is just cruel. It’s like someone telling you that you can’t pee, handing you a bottle of water, and then leaving you in an empty ladies room. I’d blow…my nose, even if it meant getting a few Thin Lips 🙂


  4. Olga SE says:

    Why do they produce such nice hankies then if they don’t use them?


  5. Never mind “Ambler Angel”…you will now be addressed as SPPS…glad I wasn’t drinking tea when I read that! My keyboard would be full of it right now…

    I guess I’m never going to Japan…my nose runs when I eat ice cream (or anything else)…yet another reason I’ll never get my nose pierced!

    Fun post, Emily!



    • amblerangel says:

      WW61- I’m the same- when Spouse and I read this on the plane on our visit over, we both eyed my purse and the 3 hankies stuffed inside and literally brainstormed noseblowing strategies so as not to embarrass ourselves or our host…..


  6. Dana says:

    How about clipping nails in public? That one personally drives me NUTS!! I hate the squeaky, clippy sound, and the worst part is getting decked by some stranger’s errant fingernails. YUCK!!


  7. amblerangel says:

    Hahahah ! That reminds me of a girl in college clipping away during a Chemistry class – the professor finally stopped class to ask her to stop. Everyone behind her was dodging flying fingernails. I’m with you!


  8. Piper Bayard says:

    What a hoot! I never saw so many hankies in my life.

    So this leaves me wondering. Since using hankies on the nose is a no-no, but using toothpicks in public is perfectly acceptable, how would they feel about using a toothpick to roto-rooter the nose? Couldn’t help myself. 🙂

    Thank you for your honesty, St. Pious Poo Shoe. It gave me a good laugh. All the best.


  9. Ashley says:

    Ah yes, the blowing in public dilemma! I find this incredibly annoying when I have a cold or my allergies are terrible, as it seems my nose runs more than others’ or something! (Aside from the teenagers that constantly sniffle instead). Of course, the old men often blow their nose in public (sometimes without any kind of tissue/handkerchief)… :/

    I remember how long it took me to get used to carrying around a small hand towel when I first arrived… since aside from department stores, large places of events, etc., many bathrooms don’t have paper towels or hand dryers. (That and for the all the perspiration during the rainy season/summer!)


    • amblerangel says:

      Good point Ashley- I forgot about the lack of paper in the bathrooms! I’m going to have you edit my stuff from here on out. Just Tweeted your bug ointment post by the way… Great blog you have!


      • Ashley says:

        No worries at all! I always seem to remember as I still sometimes forget my hand towel… (though I usually have a small container of hand sanitizer on me just in case).

        Thank you for tweeting my post, and for your kind words! 😀 I’m happy to find/meet another fellow Japan resident/blogger!


      • amblerangel says:

        When I find a good blog, I like to spread it around!


  10. Michi says:

    What if you have allergies and your nose is all drippy and won’t stop?! What do you do?!


  11. I’m with the Japanese and the surgical masks, wish everyone in London who takes the underground would wear them. Sometimes, I think I am seriously becoming a bit like Howards Hughes in this respect, constantly covering my mouth not to breathe everyone else’s germs and carrying paper towels to touch handles with etc, etc.

    Currently temping on a 9th floor building, I take the stairs instead of getting into a small crowded lift with other humans and their germs….eeek

    Damn. I think I should change my surname to Hughes…ha ha ha

    Anyway, lovely hankies, and very cruel they cannot be used to blow your nose. I’d be in big trouble in Japan as I am always sniffly…



    • amblerangel says:

      It’s actually a great idea- the surgical masks- I thought they had started after the sarin attacks on the subway but apparently Japan produces some very nasty tree allergens and people wear these to prevent the onslaught. I think it does cut down on the spread. thanks for checking in Howard.


  12. I’m always torn on the whole blow my nose business. I try to keep it discreet, but some of my (male) coworkers DEFINITELY blow indiscriminately!


    • amblerangel says:

      That’s pretty funny. I do escape now to the bathroom- the Offspring are so grossed out by the whole business- and of course the particular way I blow my nose is ESPECIALLY disturbing it’s just not worth the whole 15 minute discussion that comes after. Thanks for stopping by.


  13. I think there may be the same nose-blowing taboo here in China, but I have deliberately not enquired about it – this is one situation where I would rather stay ignorant (even if it greatly offends!). One way of looking at it is that it is my revenge on the offensive “spitting” and “throat-clearing” that surrounds me…. The worst is at a communal Chinese meal (all Chinese meals are communal!) where there are many dishes containing chilli – I just HAVE to pull out that packet of tissues every few mouthfuls and then try to be discreet, which is just about impossible at a round table with 10-12 people. I would spend more time running to and from the room than at the table if I had to go in for the “hide & blow” tactic.


  14. Photo says:

    Is it acceptable to simply wipe your noise with disposable tissues until you can make it to the bathroom? I’m curious. 🙂 Is the very act of wiping your noise impolite or is it just blowing your nose that does it?


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