Rudeness in Japan

The famously polite Japanese appear to be embroiled in a crisis as they struggle to control an explosion of rude behavior that could have dire consequences for all.

In every age and in every country older people complain about the rudeness of the young — but rarely is the gulf between the two as great as in contemporary Japan. Exposed to the corrosive crudeness of Western popular culture, young Japanese are abandoning the sometimes stifling codes of politeness for which their country is famous, while older people look on in horror.

Apart from putting on their make-up at stations, young Japanese have adopted such “vices” as swinging umbrellas, eating in public and crossing their legs on the subway. While these are minor sins elsewhere, in Japan they are being taken with the utmost seriousness.

The Tokyo Metropolitan Government has taken the step of convening a commission of eminent experts known, without a hint of irony, as the Study Group Relating to the Prevention of Behaviour that Causes Discomfort Among Numerous People in Public Places.

Although the commission name sounds like it’s straight out of a Monty Python skit, theirs is a serious purpose indeed. Just look at what they’re up against!

Take the list of offences compiled by the Tokyo authorities, which includes using strong perfume, carrying large bags, kissing, infants, crying, sitting on the floor and, most unexpectedly, using an umbrella to practise golf swings.

Tokyo’s subway stations are decorated with large coloured posters featuring the characters from Sesame Street. “Fold your newspaper!” they implore. “Please don’t take up too much room with your newspaper.”

When it comes to speech, it appears you can’t really be very rude in Japan, for the simple reason that rude language scarcely exists in Japanese:

The worst that one can do in daily speech would be Shine bakayaro!, which means little more than “Drop dead, you idiot!” Such is the dearth of salty invective that angry Japanese turn increasingly to a reliable English expression, pronounced the Japanese way: Fakkyuu.

(Funny, how that phrase has made its way into the universal vocabulary. Which makes me wonder, are the Chinese using it yet as well?) The article’s a good reminder of how, despite mass media and the Internet and globalization of everything, a lot of people are holding onto their cultural traditions, or at least trying to.

The Discussion: 12 Comments

I’ve heard quite a few Chinese say it; but I can honestly say I’ve never seen anyone in Beijing use their umbrella to practice golf swings.

May 14, 2005 @ 9:38 pm | Comment

Using an umbrella to practice golf swings? HAHAHAHA!! Pretty funny if you ask me, but what’s wrong with crossing your legs on the subway? I wish more women in China would learn to cross their legs when they are wearing skirts or better yet, not to wear skirts when riding a bicycle.

As for the F-word, I’ve heard it used a lot here in China. In fact, I was trying to correct a colleague on his pronunciation of the word “sheet” because he, as most Chinese, pronounced as “shit”. When I explained that his pronunciation was actually an explicative in the English language, he said “oh, you mean like f@&$ You”?

Unfortunately I was taking a drink of my tea at that moment….

May 14, 2005 @ 10:04 pm | Comment

I urge you all to check out this link for Japanese magazines:
Especially investigate SAKURAGUMI at, – the magazine for all aspiring prostitutes! Incredible, especially the cartoon section that allows you to determine which field of sex work especially suits you. Check it out now. Smartest thing you’ll do this week.

May 15, 2005 @ 1:58 am | Comment

Why would the Middle kingdom gentlemen and -women have to resort to mere English if they all have it in their own language:

F*k! => 肏!
F*k you! => 肏你!
F*k you all! => 肏你们一个一个!

May 15, 2005 @ 2:51 am | Comment

Tuur, nice job with the hanzi. Apparently most Chinese don’t even know how to write the word.

May 15, 2005 @ 5:03 am | Comment

Tur, I think you mean ÈÕÄã or ²ÙÄ㣡

Unless of course that is a regional dialect?

May 15, 2005 @ 8:22 am | Comment

Thanks for the chuckle. Especially after seeing people innocently wear t-shirts with expressions such as “HARLEY FUCKING DAVIDSON”.

May 15, 2005 @ 11:38 am | Comment


“²ÙÄã” is a euphemism (or rather eugraphism) for “ÃHÄã”. The powers that be in the People’s Republic some years ago officially scrapped the character “ÃH”, apparantly in the expectation that by so doing the entire concept would disappear. Curiously, it somehow didn’t…

I don’t know about “ÈÕÄã”. Never heard about that one. Anybody?

May 15, 2005 @ 12:49 pm | Comment

Phoneey, though I could read Tuur’s Hanzi for some reason the exchange between Gordon and tuur came out as gobble…betcha Tian could answer this! I think we had a similar discussion a few months ago…

May 15, 2005 @ 1:04 pm | Comment


That might explain why I hadn’t seen the character you were using.

From what I have learned, 日你 is about one of the worst things you can say.

I was sitting around with some friends one evening and we were exchanging various explicatives. I would give them the English version and they would reciprocate with theirs in Chinese. Before we got started however, they wanted to know which ones I was familiar with first and when I said “日你”, they all gasped (of course they were females).

Anyway, thanks for the explanation.

Other Lisa,

I’m not sure why our hanzi came out scrambled. If you right click on the window however and select “encoding” and switch to “simplified Chinese” it shows up just fine.


May 16, 2005 @ 12:29 am | Comment

Sure, it starts with not folding your newspapers on the train, then next thing you now …. your a democrate.

May 16, 2005 @ 1:42 am | Comment

Japanese are so full of crap. The way they bash other countries (especially China and Korea) on their FORUMs is just disgusting.

Let’s see some intelligent discussions in Japan Today Forum!

May 18, 2005 @ 2:34 am | Comment

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URL

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.