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Is it rude to be loud in Japan?

Japan is known for being a relatively quiet and reserved society. Public spaces like trains, restaurants and shops tend to be fairly peaceful, with people speaking in hushed voices. So naturally, many visitors wonder if being loud in Japan is considered rude or offensive.

The short answer is yes, being excessively loud in public places is generally seen as impolite in Japan. However, it depends on the situation. Occasional loud talking or laughter amongst friends may be acceptable, but prolonged noisy behavior could be frowned upon. Understanding Japanese cultural norms around noise levels will help you avoid causing offense.

What is Considered Loud in Japan?

In Japan, the threshold for what is considered loud or noisy is lower than in many Western cultures. Speaking at a regular volume in places like trains or libraries may already be perceived as too loud. Things like loud phone conversations, rowdy behavior, shouting, arguing, or blasting music could be seen as very disruptive.

Some examples of loud behaviors to avoid:

  • Talking loudly on cellphones in enclosed public spaces
  • Playing music, videos or games without headphones in public areas
  • Shouting or arguing with others in stores, streets or restaurants
  • Making excessive noise while intoxicated in bars or karaoke venues
  • Slamming doors, stomping feet or other loud noises in hotels or apartments

Even at venues like bars or karaoke places meant for more boisterous behavior, the Japanese patrons will likely still be more subdued than foreign visitors.

Reasons for Quietness in Japan

There are various cultural factors that contribute to Japan’s quieter social norms:

  • Harmony – Causing a disturbance could disrupt group harmony. Keeping noise levels down prevents bothering others.
  • Humility – Loud talking can come across as arrogant or self-important. Modesty is valued.
  • Privacy – Japanese people tend to be very private. Most don’t appreciate strangers overhearing conversations.
  • Tolerance – There is a high tolerance for crowding and lack of personal space, but less tolerance for auditory disturbances.
  • Etiquette – Polite manners, respect for others and public orderliness are very important.

Additionally, with Japan’s high population density and crowded public transport, excessive noise pollution would be very disruptive for daily life. Strict social norms help maintain a peaceful, orderly environment.

Where is it Best to Avoid Being Loud?

There are certain places in Japan where it is especially prudent to keep noise levels down:

  • Public transportation – On crowded trains, buses, and subways, avoid loud talking or phone calls.
  • Restaurants and cafes – These tend to have a subdued ambience. Loud conversations would disturb others.
  • Museums, galleries, temples – Serene environments like these require quieter behavior to appreciate properly.
  • Hotels – Be mindful of noise traveling between rooms. Don’t blast television or music.
  • Outdoors late at night – Residential neighborhoods in Japan tend to be very quiet at night.

Public Transport

Public transportation is one environment where Japanese social pressure to be silent is strongest. Talking loudly into phones or to travel companions is seen as bothering others in the confined space. Even normal conversations should be kept short and quiet. The exception is at drink-up parties on trains or long-distance buses, where social norms relax a bit among the traveling group.


At most restaurants in Japan, except for boisterous izakaya drinking spots, loud talking is frowned upon. The Japanese dining philosophy appreciates the subtle flavors of food, so restaurants tend to cultivate calm, refined ambiences. Being too noisy would disrupt that. However, at informal cafes, some occasional loud chatter between friends is alright.

Outdoors at Night

Japan has lower street crime than many countries, partly because residential areas remain so quiet at night. Within apartment buildings as well, residents aim to move about silently and not disturb neighbors. Visiting foreigners used to more boisterous nightlife back home should take care not to be too loud at night, whether on the streets or at a vacation rental apartment.

When is it Acceptable to be Loud in Japan?

While moderated volume is the norm, there are some contexts where louder behavior is considered acceptable:

  • At crowded sports events, concerts and festivals
  • Cheering at sporting matches or vigorous exercise classes
  • Amusement parks on thrill rides (screaming is expected!)
  • Rowdy izakaya dining pubs late at night
  • Karaoke venues with friends
  • Dance clubs and live music venues
  • Boisterous drinking parties amongst colleagues

In these lively social settings, high energy and noise levels are anticipated, although still not excessive. Venues like karaoke bars are designed to absorb sound. And tipsy group gatherings provide some social leeway for being a bit more rambunctious.

Daytime picnics or barbecues in parks are another place where moderate noise is tolerated, though should be kept under control late at night.

New Year’s Eve is a major exception to Japan’s usually subdued streets. Most of the country welcomes the new year loudly, visiting Buddhist temples that vigorously ring bells 108 times to dispel evil. Fireworks and parties also generate plenty of festive noise.

Dealing with Loud People as a Foreigner

As a visitor or expatriate living in Japan, how do you handle situations where other people are being too loud? The Japanese way is to use non-confrontational methods:

  • Avoid eye contact or give disapproving looks to show your annoyance
  • Politely ask staff like train conductors to deal with the disturbance
  • Move away from the noise if possible
  • If all else fails, formally but gently request the person be quieter

Shouting for people to “be quiet!” or angrily telling noisy people off can seem very aggressive by Japanese standards. Causing your own scene by being loud about loudness is also not recommended. Subtler de-escalation and shaming tactics are the local approach.

Is it Rude to Wear Headphones?

Because having an auditory bubble is so frowned upon, you may wonder if wearing headphones in public is considered antisocial or rude in Japan.

The answer is no – wearing headphones is perfectly acceptable and commonly done. On trains, many locals listen to music, watch videos or take calls on speakerphone. In moderation, headphones are not seen as isolating yourself or tuning others out.

However, wearing over-the-ear DJ-style headphones may look less considerate than smaller earbuds. Noise-cancelling headphones also signal you want to block out your environment. As with volume levels, it is all about degrees.

Generation Gap in Noise Tolerance

There is a generational shift happening in Japan regarding strict noise norms. Many younger Japanese have become more tolerant of increased sound levels in public spaces. Being glued to smartphones, they often play videos or games without earphones. Loud phone conversations are more common too.

This rising noise tolerance is partly due to influence from China and South Korea’s more boisterous cultures. Some youth see Japan’s expectation to be silent as too restraining and dull. However, the majority of Japanese society still favors respectful quietness, especially among older age groups. This generation gap leads to some intergenerational noise clashes.

Noise Differences by Region

Noise tolerance can also vary slightly between different regions of Japan:

Region Noise Level Tendency
Large cities (Tokyo, Osaka) Higher noise levels tolerated
Commercial areas More noise acceptance
Residential areas Expectation of quietness
Rural areas Very low noise tolerance
Okinawa More outgoing and boisterous culture

In packed urban areas with more foreign residents, norms are gradually relaxing compared to quieter suburbs and villages. But even in large cities, local residents still expect a basic level of noise etiquette.

Fines for Being Too Loud

In some municipalities, excessive noise can even lead to legal penalties. Japan’s Noise Regulation Law sets national standards for permissible decibel levels in different zones. Local authorities have power to penalize residents, businesses or public spaces violating noise rules through warnings, fines or compulsory orders.

Noise violations include:

  • Late night or early morning loudspeaker announcements
  • Construction noise outside permitted hours
  • Industrial machinery exceeding zone requirements
  • Cars or motorbikes with modified mufflers
  • Loud music from restaurants, shops or vehicles
  • Boisterous patrons of nightlife districts

Fines are usually around 10,000 to 50,000 yen, but can potentially reach 500,000 yen. Japan takes noise control very seriously.

Speaking Volume Differences

Beyond behavioral noise levels, even the average speaking volume in Japan is lower than many other countries. Here is a comparison of average conversational decibel levels by culture:

Country Average Speech Volume (dB)
Japan 50 dB
China 63 dB
Italy 65 dB
USA 67 dB
Arab countries 68 dB

Partly for etiquette, but also due to language characteristics, Japanese speech is simply less loud by nature. Combined with cultural norms discouraging noise, public spaces in Japan become very quiet compared to other nations.


While Japan has strict cultural standards around noise, this does not mean you must be completely silent at all times as a visitor. With some consideration for local noise etiquette, you can still enjoy lively socializing without causing offense. The key is being mindful of your surroundings, and avoiding prolonged disruptive noise, particularly in confined public places. Blending in with the calm ambience of Japanese life will gain you respect. But the occasional outburst of excitement is understandable too. Just try to keep the volume dialed down, and your time in Japan can be both tranquil and welcoming.