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I am about to travel to Japan for a year, and I am trying to list things that shouldn't be done in the country so that I don't offend anyone while I am there. One thing I have heard a lot is that Japanese people would rather sniff a lot than blow their nose, as snot is apparently something as badly seen in public than pee.

As I totally respect their way of seeing it, I feel like it may be a problem during my trip. I am often (at least once every two weeks) sick, as if I had caught a really bad cold, and I am used to often blow my nose so that I can breath normally again. The problem is that, as I really don't want to be disrespectful to anyone, I am not sure how I will manage this situation at the moment, except trying to live with it until I reach a private place where I could do it.

Is blowing your nose in public really badly seen in Japan? And, if that's the case, are there any places where it is accepted, except in total privacy?

  • Sneeze? Or sniff? – Blaszard Sep 7 '17 at 21:03
  • @Blaszard Sniff. I went for the wrong term there. – Isuka Sep 7 '17 at 21:04
  • wikihow.com/Blow-Your-Nose-in-Japan ? – chx Sep 7 '17 at 21:09
  • @Isuka In general most people (especially in Tokyo) don't care about whatever you do that is considered bad for locals, as long as you look foreigners. Don't worry that much. – Blaszard Sep 7 '17 at 21:28
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Yes, loudly blowing your nose in public is considered bad manners in Japan - not quite public urination level of bad, mind you, but distinctly rude nonetheless. On any Japanese commuter train you can observe stuffy-nosed people valiantly sniffing for an hour, but not blowing their nose to clear it. Particularly in more formal settings (meetings, group dinners etc), most Japanese would excuse themselves and go to the bathroom if they need to blow their nose. This applies in particular to women.

That said, quietly dabbing at your nose with a tissue is acceptable, in less formal settings (say, in a park) nobody will mind, and there will always be people who are untroubled by observing social norms. Which, incidentally, also applies to public urination, as you can easily verify by visiting an entertainment district late on a Friday night; there's a reason an underpass north of Shinjuku station is called 小便横丁, lit. Piss Alley.

And a final note: as a foreigner, you're largely exempt from observing most social niceties anyway, so no, nobody is going to be mortally offended or cut you down with katana if you honk your horn in public.

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It is not offensive to blow your nose in public. That Japanese people prefer sniffing to blowing is because many people (especially men) don't usually carry tissues, and also because of the lack of trash cans in public.

To keep sniffing your nose is likely considered more rude than to blow your nose (one-off sniffing is no problem at all).

However, some people (likely from 15% up to 40%, I guess) find it disgusting to see someone blow his/her nose while eating. It is OK in fast-food chains such as cheap beef-bowl restaurants since no one cares about the manner there, though (actually it is common to see middle-aged salarymen eat like a barbarian, chewing with his mouth open and issuing obnoxious noises, which is considered far more offensive). But in normal restaurants (price per person exceeds 2,000 JPY) you might be better to avoid it if possible.

If you could still be more attentive, go to a toilet and blow your nose there. But I feel this is going too far.

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    This doesn't quite align with my experience. Everybody carries tissues in Japan (it's difficult to leave a major train station without being handed one plastered with ads!), and sniffing for an hour is (IMHO) more socially acceptable than blowing your nose loudly once. And as for blowing your nose while eating with other people, the percentage of Japanese who'd find that disgusting is closer to 100%. – jpatokal Sep 8 '17 at 3:57
  • @jpatokal Definitely not "everybody" and "closer to 100%". In general if you see anything about the manner in Japan is either close to 0% or 100%, it is almost always true that you are quite biased. Japan is essentially a homogenious country where racial divide on the lifestyle doesn't exist (unlike Western countries), but there is quite a strong difference on the culture and lifestyle between gender, generation, and where you grew up, far more stronger IMHO compared to US and UK. – Blaszard Sep 8 '17 at 7:44
  • @jpatokal Although there is no reliable survey found (usually these kind of surveys are not conducted by gov or research companies), here is one brief questionnaire on "What is the most unforgiving behavior during eating?" on a random website, which asked 200 people. Blowing your nose got 6 votes and ranked 7th while sniffing got 14 votes and at 4th (The top is what I described in my answer and got 56 votes). – Blaszard Sep 8 '17 at 7:45
  • @jpatokal As to "Which is more disgusting between sniffing and blowing", I only found one website which is targeted for middle-aged women, and in the thread the OP asked its readers which is more unpleasant. The result is sniffing got 41 votes while blowing got 7. – Blaszard Sep 8 '17 at 7:49
  • I agree it's more unpleasant. The paradox is that it still seems to be more socially acceptable. </shrug> – jpatokal Sep 8 '17 at 7:51

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