This is a fascinating question to many people.
Two things make the answer ambiguous.
- First, Japan has no strict rule prohibiting holding hands between opposite sexes.
- Second, general rules of conduct vary among individuals and groups depending on age, sex, social status, etc.
Understanding these points, Japanese people would feel offended if somebody tried to hold hands with them. And they would refuse or let go of your hand politely.
You’d better not preserve the moment by force because this will be regarded as sexual harassment in Japan.
The same thing is said about kisses on cheeks and lips. It depends on whether they want to be kissed, but it will be sexual harassment if anyone tries to kiss them by force.
I believe it is safe to say that Japanese people are generally against public displays of affection. “Generally against” does not mean they are 100% against.
But if you see someone who publicly shows romantic interest in another person, you may consider it rude or a provocation.
Is holding hands in Japan wrong?
No, not at all. In the West, some people think it’s an intimacy of a romantic couple, or they may see it as a sign of love.
It is natural to have those feelings because we have been brought up under those values.
On the other hand, many people don’t care even if someone holds hands with a stranger in the West. By contrast, many Japanese think it’s impolite to keep hands if you don’t know well for the latter reason.
Most individuals in Japan feel that holding hands is a hint of close friends or lovers. However, I want to emphasize this point again; it doesn’t mean the Japanese are not interested in touching each other.
The reason why you were told that holding hands is terrible might be one or more of the following reasons.
- The area you live in has strict people.
- Japan has lots of old-fashioned-minded people.
- You are told that it’s rude by the first person you try to hold hands with.
- Your partner doesn’t want to because it’s embarrassing in front of others.
What does holding hands mean in Japan?
It’s kind of like the winking emoticon in English. It’s a way to say “I love you” without saying it. If you hold hands around your significant other, they know you mean, “I’m not going anywhere.”
It signifies security, comfort, peacefulness, and happiness wrapped into two little fingers intertwined just right.
Another thing you should know about Japanese culture is that it’s not easy to get physical with someone you see.
French kissing, for example, gets a lot of flack in Japan.
You don’t go around making out with your friends at the party or hugging goodbye before you leave because these actions suggest something more intimate than the relationship entails.
However, the physical contact that does exist is much more passionate and erotic because it’s used to show deep feelings for someone rather than “just to be touching.”
So holding hands is a much bigger deal in Japan than it is anywhere. It’s a very romantic way to express your feelings for someone.
Holding hands is, in fact, the first thing you do when you start dating someone in Japan.
Can you show affection in Japan?
Many people living in Japan complain about not expressing affection because it’s viewed as a sign of sexual interest.
However, this is a myth. There are many ways to show your feelings without touching someone or saying something too direct in Japan.
It might be surprising for some people, but I will explain later how you can show you care for someone without being too explicit.
In Japan, expressing emotions indirectly rather than saying what you feel is more common.
Japanese are much more indirect in their behavior than Westerners are.
For instance, one of my Japanese female friends would probably never call me if she wanted to see me, but she would wait until I called her after several days when I missed her.
On the other hand, if I called her first, she would be surprised because it is unusual for a man to call a woman first in Japan.
Regarding this situation, the Japanese usually say that Westerners are more straightforward and even rude when they don’t beat around the bush!
For instance, two Japanese people who are good friends will probably hug each other when they meet after a long time, even if it is to greet.
But this behavior would never occur between Japanese and their boss because they want to show respect to senior colleagues.
How do the Japanese show affection?
So, what are some specific ways to show you care without being too direct?
1) Giving a unique nickname
If you call your boyfriend or girlfriend by a unique nickname only the two of you know, it makes him/her happy.
2) Giving little gifts on special occasions
It doesn’t matter how simple the gift is; paying attention to your partner’s interests and hobbies will make them happy.
So next time you see something related to their favorite sport, game, or animal, don’t hesitate to buy it!
3) Holding hands when you walk together
Holding your partner’s hand, even briefly, means a lot.
Japanese people think holding hands with someone is lovely, and especially if the weather is good, they enjoy walking together in the park.
4) Giving a massage
Many people have stiff shoulders in Japan, and giving a massage is one of the most effective ways to show that you care.
Ask your friend or partner how their shoulders are, and then give them a nice massage!
5) Showing attention to small details
For instance, I like advertisements that catch someone’s attention by writing or saying something with a hidden meaning.
This is very common in Japan because Japanese people want to play with words, and even if you didn’t do it on purpose, your partner would be delighted if you noticed these small things!