Look, I’m no prude… Okay, maybe I am a prude, but I am certainly no homophobe. I just have personal space issues, okay? I don’t like being touched or people standing too close to me. I don’t like brushing up against people or squeezing through a crowd. I love bowing because it dispenses with the handshake and that, Lord forbid, cheek kissing some continentals like to get busy with. Obviously it is understandable that my commute on Tokyo’s packed train system makes me very nervous, but at least you’d expect me to be safe from all this at work, no? Well, no.

Colleagues in Japan can get very familiar on occasion. Possibly because of our bad postures, hunched forward peering at monitors all day, neck pains and stiff shoulders are quite common amongst developers. So if a Japanese worker spots a colleague in obvious distress he’ll saunter on over and give him a neck/shoulder massage. He’ll stand behind him and kneed his muscles while uttering phrases of support.

I know, I know, it’s a sign of collegial friendliness but whenever they try that with me I have to brush it off and end it with a “seku-hara!” joke comment. Just. Don’t. Touch. Me. Obviously these impromptu massages are not unisex; each gender sticks to their own, possibly for fear of real sexual harassment. It doesn’t help that I have also been keeping tabs on which colleagues don’t wash their hands after using the toilet, and who just rinses them in water for two seconds as if that would accomplish anything. I don’t like most people touching my keyboard for this reason, let alone my actual physical self! Needless to say I don’t go around massaging colleagues myself so I think they have slowly, and thankfully, worked me out of the loop in this tradition. Now if I can only stop them back- or thigh-slapping me.

Massages are quite popular in Japan anyway. I’m not talking about the kinds of “massages” I was offered on a daily basis on my way home by the Chinese and Russian girls lining the streets to the station, the ones the government has put a stop to over the last few years. No, the actual therapeutic massage. These places are easy to find as they always have signs outside with a roadmap of a foot’s sensitive areas, or a hand or back. For a 10 minute massage you can expect to pay anywhere from a few hundred to a few thousand yen. It’s usually not expensive.
That said, even professional massages are a little too tactile for me.


  1. excellent image. please tell me a Japanese adaptation of The Office is coming!

  2. I wouldn't expect japanese to touch each other!
    I thought they were colder than this, but surprise massages from behind? I wouldnt know if I should felt seduced or wtf... o_O

  3. Oh yeah, the Japanese are very tactile when amongst friends and/or drunk. Surprising and off-putting, really.

  4. Just be thankful you're not an ELT. The invasion of personal space that goes on in an elementary school is unspeakable.

  5. I see it as some weird ultra macho-behaviour (and I'd be hard pressed to find a people more macho than the Japanese, actually), where extremely hetero goes full-circle and becomes gay ;) No, I agree, at first it was very shocking having somebody comradely slapping your thigh... Correction: I'm still not over it!