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Direct eye contact offensive?

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Dear visitor, if you know the answer to this question,
please post it. Thank you!

Note that this thread has not been updated in a long time, and its content might not be up-to-date anymore.

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thsnk you Watagei 2005/11/1 02:07
I am not a native English speaker, so I counld not really give a nice/right comment.
And it seems I confused some posts and commented on Stars English . Previously, that same day probably there were students writing to some post and they asked other people to comment on their English. (sorry)
by yummi rate this post as useful

. 2005/11/1 03:03
In response to the original poster:

I was at a Japanese estaurant, and the Japanese server/cook at our table seemed bothered that I was looking him in the eye.

I think anybody would be bothered Japanese or not, if someone you didn't know was staring you right in the eye.

by hn rate this post as useful

sorry yummi! 2005/11/3 03:23
It seems that both I and the other poster read yummi's message completely wrong. Really sorry about that, yummi, and thank you watagei for explaining! I should have thought more carefully before posting.

Anyway maybe it was good to get that cleared up, hopefully noone (stars, yummi, or other readers) needs to be offended by the misunderstandings now.

by (the other) Scandinavian rate this post as useful

We don't know. 2005/11/4 02:50
We don't know the interaction that Eleanor had with the Japanese chef. We weren't there, and we haven't heard his side to the story. She asked if Japanese find direct eye contact offensive. I think that it is the same in every culture, customs and certain beliefs certainly differ, but human interaction is ultimately the same. For instance a Japanese person who is telling me that direct eye contact is rude in Japan, is saying this to me while making eye-contact in a friendly fashion. I think that this person isn't meaning direct eye-contact, but because that is more polite in English than saying "staring" he says that, and doesn't realize it's "staring" that he meant to say. until I point out the English word. Then he says "Yes Yes, that's what I mean," Japanese people do make eye contact in a normal conversation, but staring at someone in the eyes is considered rude in Japan and every other culture. If someone is staring at you like you are a freak of nature, as oppose to talking to your face in a friendly conversation, you get the difference right? Japan is not so different in this way. In Japan eye contact is also polite and unavoidable, where staring is impolite like every other culture. To Eleanor, the chef may have been shy, may have been a new employee trying to make sure he didn't burn her food, Who knows. How does this one interaction become some kind of estrangment question amongst Japanese people and people who are not from Japan? Eleanor had an awkward moment at a restaurant with a certain Japanese person, so she asks if ALL Japanese people are like this, No! Japanese people have their own train of thought, identity, soul, the same as everyone else in the world. Japanese people on this thread posted different opinions.
by sarahck rate this post as useful

thank you everyone! 2006/3/4 12:41
I'm one of stars. I haven't read here for a long time and just now I noticed everyone discussed our comment.

When we read yummi's comment, we're very glad to get reader's reply through our writing rather than offended. We didn't think if yummi's post was polite or implite. We were just happy. Thank you yummi!

As yummi said, we wrote to other posts on the same day and asked everyone to write anything to us. Because we are English learners and taking part in this forum is a good oppotunity to use real English. We appreciate that everyone posted anything about content and English usage. We should have written it here to avoid your misunderstanding. We are so sorry.

I think questions written here are about Japan so anyone who knows the answer can post comments even if they are not good at English.

Now we have to move to subject about the original poster.

Thank you very much everyone.


by one of stars rate this post as useful

Direct eye contact time limit 2007/12/8 19:41
Psychologists have found that making direct eye contact with a stranger for more than 3 seconds can be perceived as threatening to most people. Yet a stare of at least 3 seconds can convey attraction in the case of the opposite sex. Or a glance that lasts less than 3 seconds doesn't convey attraction, even if the person is genuinely interested.

I think, as a visitor to another culture, people are inclined to look at others more often than normal, and it is too easy to break these natural rules.

My wife and I were just talking about how many people in the Kanto area (Tokyo area) tend to be less comfortable with direct eye contact. My wife is from western Japan and doesn't feel uncomfortable at all with direct eye contact. Most likely, it just the result of big-city syndrome (people get tired of looking at each other). In the US, I've seen the same thing.

Overall, it probably mostly depends upon the individual. Some people are shy, insecure, tired, or are simply having a bad day.

by zoogy rate this post as useful

Staring 2008/1/13 15:31
When I was in Japan (I am an American middle aged female) I found that looking at people seemed to make them nervous or even be considered rude by some. I am a writer and I tend to observe people more than most anyway, but I try not to do it in an obvious way. Once I was in a gourmet restaurant where the chefs prepare the food in front of the guests and I watched closely and made comments to my husband as I observed. I assumed, actually, that as in America this would be considered not only polite but a very respectful admiration of what they were doing. However, while the chef was tolerant I don't think he felt that way! When I left he stared at me in a way that even I considered really rude (I'd call it the "evil eye" in my Mediterranean culture) - and I got the message, but too late!
by Janine rate this post as useful

PS re Staring 2008/1/13 15:39
PS I should add that my time in Japan was very enjoyable and there were only a few incidents where I thought my eye contact might not be welcome. If I engaged even a stranger in conversation, they tended to really enjoy it and be very warm (for example when being served in a restaurant). But maybe those were people more used to dealing with the public.
by Janine rate this post as useful

oh no.. 2008/3/18 08:35
Now I'm a bit worried.. I will be in Japan soon, and I'm a young american male that is rather large and intimidating.. I've also heard my eye contact is piercing, even if only for one second. (The key to that pierce is to look right between the eyes, rather than switching your focus from one of their eyes to the other! :D)
So me being a 240lbs 196cm tall american - I had better just stare at the ground 24/7! hahaha
by John rate this post as useful

try to... 2008/3/22 20:16
just try to smile when you look to their eyes.. smiling eye comforts.. =O
by kidzroxx rate this post as useful

intimidating stature 2008/3/23 12:40
John,

Don't worry about making eye contact. Like everywhere, people in Japan are different, and Japan's culture can vary considerably from one place to another.

In overcrowded Tokyo, for example, people might seem to go out of their way to avoid eye contact or casual conversation. It's nothing personal, it's not because your tall, it's not because you are a foreigner; it is just the local culture. On the other hand, in other parts of Japan, you might be surprised by a sudden contrast of direct glances and friendly conversation. In either case, you will find exceptions.

People will respond differently based upon their own personality. Some people will look at you because you remind them of a celebrity, some people will look at you because you are from another place, some people won't notice you, some people see lots of tall foreigners.

Be friendly, be yourself and enjoy.

by Inago rate this post as useful

own experience 2008/11/9 04:15
Hello,

I'm not japanese, but I usually do look people in the eyes. Not so deeply because I don't like that much when people do it to me. Don't ask me why, I don't know.

When someone is explaining me something that need attention, unlike some other people, I don't look the eyes that much. In fact I keep my attention on my ears. I don't care of my body and listed carefully. More specially when the topic is complicated and need to listen very carefully.

by Marsu rate this post as useful

To John 2008/11/11 03:11
Don't worry about eye contact, everyone is going to stare at you because of your size. (It's a good thing though, ladies there love a big man)
by Beto rate this post as useful

staring is rude 2008/11/16 14:01
Staring at someone is considered as rude in Japan as it is in the U.S. However, when talking to someone, the Japanese have no problem looking directly at the person. You can see this on TV whether it's the news, a variety show, drama, or movie. If someone doesn't wat to look at you when specking, he/she is embarrassed and probably would rather be somewhere else.
by Natsuki rate this post as useful

eyes 2008/11/20 10:23
A friend recently returned from a couple of weeks in Niigata, his Japanese girlfriend took him there and showed him around. I asked him if there was much obvious reaction to a Western stranger there, if he received curiosity ..in the spirit of the OP he likewise said that it was difficult to tell or detect any, because Japanese rarely make eye-contact with you in the street anyway, that it is considered perhaps mildly rude, cheeky...or too familiar?
by Patrick rate this post as useful

not so different... 2008/11/20 11:40
How often do you make eye contact in the street with people you don't know in your own city? I personally don't find it any different in Japan to anywhere else.

As for reactions to "Western strangers", Japanese people are very used to seeing non-Japanese people these days, it's not like a remote Chinese village where the people have never seen a foreigner before and will crowd around- Japanese people are a bit more sophisticated than that.

If you are especially tall or have blue hair you may get a longer look, but otherwise even little kids these days hardly give foreigners a second look.

by Sira rate this post as useful

differences 2008/11/20 13:37
Yes...you will appreciate that there is some difference, a long way between 'crowding around' a stranger in the Chinese village, and behaving like it is a strange new kid in the junior school playground or a Close Encounter of the 3rd Kind...
and
.... passing eye contact with stranger coming in opposite direction in street.
It might be considered 'forward" particularly in Japan, is the better word I was searching for originally.
by Patrick rate this post as useful

Real life eye contact examples 2009/8/19 01:00
I know that this question has been answered several times, but I wanted to provide a couple of real life examples I've encountered:

While I was in Japan, a group of six college students (myself included) had angered my (native) Japanese teacher by being a half hour late to our meeting point at the base of the Fushimi Inari Shrine in Kyoto and missing our first apology to the other students, because she was taking care of the train ticktets. In our defense, we went down the wrong path and cell phone reception doesn't work on half that mountain/hill area, but she was so incensed she said we should have called anyway! She yelled at me in English the entire way to the train station and onto the train as the other members of our misshap were cowering behind me, unofficially making me the representative of the group I suppose. I took such great pains to look at her in the eye while she was doing this while also spouting out appologies inbetween her pauses for breath. It is custom in America to look at your superior in the eye as a way of accepting your punishment and your responsibility, so I was trying really hard hear to show the proper respect so that she would calm down when she seemed to be just becoming angrier (she was so angry she was shaking). It was only later that night that I realized my looking her in the eye only incensed her further (she ranted for a good forty minutes). She's lived in the US for thirty years, but she was raised by her grandparents that took care of a temple in Hyogo prefecture, and she's very strict when it comes to teaching Japanese traditions and customs. I think in her stress and anger she may have forgotten the cultural difference of eye contact, as did I in my petrification. It's amazing how scary little old women can be sometimes!

However, that is a special case of an angry elderly woman that fits the obaasan stereotype perfectly.

Other than that one instance, I think I was more unnerved by some of the Japanese language tutors looking me in the eye all the time than they were of me looking at them. I felt as if they were staring rather than just paying attention to what I was saying. An example of a shy-ish American girl meets curious Japanese English club members. Insert more comments about my looks and appearance and it was just full of uncomfortableness for me. My specific tutors actually appeared overly interested in everything that I said that I felt it appeared insincere in some cases. I did my best not to take it to heart, perhaps they had been instructed Americans prefer direct eye contact? But add constant eye contact to constant ''nn, mm, aahs, sous'', and so on and it all becomes excessive. So it just goes to say that people everywhere are different, a few students tended to like direct eye contact more than I did.


In conclusion, I really think eye contact is almost the same as the ''western'' countries that prefer eye contact except for when speaking to a superior in a formal or one-on-one sort of situation such as accepting instructions (not listening to them but the final acceptance if that makes any sense), or apologizing, such as between me and my nihongo sensei. (Don't make my mistake!) In those instances, it has been better to avert your eyes in my experience.

by sledwar (guest) rate this post as useful

Agree 2009/8/19 09:07
I agree with the last post above. If you watch the modern movies and dramas, there's not much difference from western customs, except with superiors.
by .... (guest) rate this post as useful

Its Same Like India 2009/8/19 09:46
I'm from the Northern Part of India. 'Lucknow' The place I come from is said to be the most polite city of all in India... and I see a lot of similarities in the culture of Japan.

(I know this reply is coming off late, but I suppose a lil' bit of info never hurt anybody, right?)

In our culture in India... and especially 'Lucknow'...
We don't tend to look directly in the eyes of Elders, Teachers, Parents, Elderly People...etc.
It is considered impolite.

Also, They demand respect (for us to look down in the ground... etc) when they are lectering or reprimanding us, when we have done some mistake. Looking in the eyes at that time means... you are daring them and have no respect for them.
(and all the while they would be thinking... First they make a mistake and now they have the audacity to stare me in the eye! How Dare They?)

During Teaching times and etc... is fine for one to have lil bits of eye contact once in a while... no Lingering ones... That would make people uneasy.

Hope that this helps... even if a lil.

I know that there are a lot of similarities in both our culture: India & Japan...
Thats why I gave my two paise(cents) of advice.
Hope nobody gets offended that this is a japanese forum not for Indian culture.

For the orignal poster, I hope you have gotten your answer... becoz it was asked quite some years back.
Then again, when someone is doing some work which needs focus (eg. Cutting things with knives) the person would be bothered making eye contact while working though.

by Otakon rate this post as useful

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