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Japanese Public and Private Worlds

One interesting thing that most people planning a stay in Japan should certainly be aware of is that, in Japanese society, people’s public and private activities are practically considered to be separate worlds. This is immediately evident with the rather extreme example of the public display of affection in Japan. People simply do not kiss in public, unless you happen to be in the company of tourists or some rather adventurous and voyeuristic Japanese couple. A tender kiss on the cheek, rather than the lips, might be a little less shocking, should you have the urge to publically express your caring sentiments to a loved one at some point during your stay.

Lovers also rarely hold hands in Japanese society, although this is thankfully changing and is slowly becoming much more publically acceptable. This particular classical faux pas seems as though it is secretly considered quite romantic by the majority of Japanese women. A high school couple strolling along holding hands will likely draw a discreet smile from even great grandmothers, who likely wanted to have done the same during their school days. It may still draw a few scowls, but in Japanese society it is considered a basic social skill to intentionally ignore that which is not following suit.

Speaking of suits, one interesting thing to note is that the public and private worlds stay most predominately defined during normal business hours on weekdays while men’s ties are securely in place. As the tie is loosened or removed at around 6pm, people will generally be progressively less interested in adhering to professional solemnity which may have been apparent just hours before. While many activities such as kissing and even karaoke are certainly kept behind closed doors or curtains, one surprising and popular activity is considered publically acceptable on a daily basis. This particular activity is public drunkenness. This is where the private and public worlds seem to get their most blurry, which is considered justifiable as it is for the sake of good business. Every night the same suit-clad men, so solemn in the morning, head to the Karaoke clubs or to a type of Japanese restaurant known as an “izakaya”. Once there they conduct purportedly important business meetings under the guise of reckless partying. It is not uncommon for a Japanese salary man to stagger home late on a weekday night, only to rise again for the solemn morning commute and then head out once again that evening to repeat the ritualistic drunken cycle.

Another important aspect of Japanese public and private worlds, that one should be aware of during a stay in Japan, is something called a “Love Hotel”. Since many people in Japan primarily reside with their parents until they are married, or in small apartments with thin walls, Love Hotels play a rather important role in Japanese society. While one may easily jump to conclusions about such accommodations, it is worth noting that they are reportedly extremely clean and are considered perfectly respectable places to conduct certain private activities. There is usually an automated or discreet entryway and fees are generally based on an hourly rather than a nightly basis. Rooms commonly range from modern elegance to a selection of fun concepts.

While Japanese society may seem to have a relatively well defined public and private world which often seems truly worlds apart, there are exceptions. There are also many convenient ways in which it accommodates those wanting a quick jump into the more private realm.