Icha Icha is a Japanese term used to describe anything from light flirting to making love. It includes things like ‘necking’ and ‘making out’, but also holding hands or even just entwining pinky fingers. Drawing close and giving long meaningful looks is also included in the realm of icha icha.
Traditionally, Japan is not a touchy country. Unless you are jammed up against somebody on a rush hour train, you tend to keep yourself to yourself. Just think of how hands off bowing, the traditional greeting between two people, is.
Although more young people these days tend to hold hands or hold on to each other in some way, kissing in public, is still quite taboo. It has always been quite shocking to see any couple kissing in the street or on the subway in Japan. (Possibly the refrain to “Get a room” or “take it elsewhere” is universal, but such public displays of affection have always been less frequent in Japan than say, the US or France.)
Being a relatively new thing, this public icha icha-ing, has no guidelines to it. More and more people find themselves in the uncomfortable situation of coming face to face with icha icha without knowing how to react to it.
Yahoo! Japan asked readers for their thoughts on where they draw the line on public displays of affection. In other words: How much public icha icha you are willing to put up with?
A thirty-year old man said – “Holding hands and linking arms is fine, but putting your arms across each other’s shoulders should be reserved for a bar or a park at night.“
A twenty-seven-year old woman said – “In wide open areas it’s alright, but not in the train or in an elevator. In such confined space it is not nice to deal with.”
The line as to what is acceptable seems to fluctuate according to place. Yahoo! broke it up into areas where there is relatively little space, or areas which are usually crowded with people, in town, on the train, and in even more confined spaces like elevators and izakayas (Some Izakayas, or Japanese drinking establishments, are teeny tiny!)
“When I see a couple kissing on the street I can’t help but wonder if they wouldn’t be embarrassed to be seen by somebody they know.” (30 year-old man)
“When I see a woman clinging to a man as they walk down the street, I can’t help but feel like the woman is loose and untidy.” (27 year-old man)
“It looks so difficult to walk with your arms across another person’s shoulders. It’s OK if I am observing from afar, but it is irritating to have to walk behind a couple like that.” (28 year-old woman)
In town, it looks like as long as you aren’t getting in the way. Walking arm in arm or with your arms around each other’s shoulders is OK. But kissing on the street corner is frowned upon.
On the Train
“Recently on the train I saw a foreigner and a Japanese couple kissing. A lady who was a stranger to them stopped them by saying ‘This is Japan, we don’t do such things here.’ They got a lecture from her!” (28 year-old woman)
“Putting your arm around a girl on the train is not acceptable behavior. Holding hands is OK, but putting your arm around her is too erotic!” (28 year-old male)
“When I was sitting in a four person box seat, where two people sit face to face with two other people, the girl next to me was making googly eyes with her boyfriend sitting across from her. They brought their faces close together and stared at each other a lot. I didn’t like it, because there was no place to get away from it, even closing my eyes didn’t help. They should be more considerate of the people around them.” (27 year-old woman)
In the limited area of a crowded train, once again, holding hands is OK, but it appears that too much touching in any other way is not acceptable.
Elevators and Izakayas
“I found myself sharing an elevator with a couple who couldn’t keep their hands off of each other. They were standing behind me, but even though I couldn’t see them I could hear them, and it wasn’t nice. I didn’t like the giggly gaspy sounds they were making.” (31 year-old woman)
“From the closed in booth of this izakaya we couldn’t see anything but we sure could hear it! The couple next door were into some heavy icha icha. They weren’t showing anything but the sound was enough to make things very awkward for us“. (25 year-old man)
“The couple I ended up riding in the elevator with weren’t icha icha-ing but they didn’t stop their conversation of explicit things that I didn’t want to hear.” (26 year-old woman)
It looks like not only is most icha icha unpleasant to watch, but also to hear.
Well it looks like the answer to the original question posed in the title of this article is a definite ’no’. Forget kissing, people are offended by so much less, or more, depending on how you look at it. So don’t kiss your girl or your guy on the street corner in Japan! Icha icha is generally looked upon with disgust, but maybe that is mostly due to the confined space limits where it is in your face whether you like it or not. (or ears in some cases) Play it safe, save it for places where you can’t be seen, or heard, by anybody!