Japan has gone through a lot of changes in the past half-century. It emerged from the end of World War II willing to become a part of the international community, but not willing to give up some of its stranger quirks, some of which are part of the reason that we love it for today.

But some of those quirks are more annoying than others, and they’ve slowly faded away as people have realized they’re not really necessary. So with that in mind here’s the list of five things that were once taboo in Japan, but are now (mostly) okay today. Read on and find out if something you do would have once been frowned upon!

This list comes from the Japanese compilation site Naver Matome, where they collected tweets and other quotes showing changes in Japanese people’s thoughts over time.

Here’s the list, starting with…

#5. Pregnant women using onsen (hot springs)

16320883389_8e530b2a52_zFlickr (

From 1982 to 2014, the Japanese Ministry of the Environment had written into law that pregnant women should not be allowed into onsen. The fear was that the baby would get “boiled”, or birthed immediately, or… something else stupid.

It wasn’t until last year that they finally took another look at why exactly they had that law in the first place, causing them to pretty much immediately get rid of it citing a lack of evidence. When asked why the law was there originally, the only answers given were vague mentions of “foreign reports” and “old wives’ tales.” Pretty much as far away from science as you can possibly get.

Another well-known onsen taboo, the ban of anyone with tattoos, is also currently undergoing scrutiny. Who would have guessed that the warm, soothing onsen would melt away so many of Japan’s societal taboos?

#4. Using cell phones in a hospital

36596066_95a96a49ef_zFlickr (Eric Lewis)

This is another one that has only changed in the past year. Since 1997, ever since the widespread use of mobile devices, the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications has banned cellphone use while inside a hospital, fearing that it would interfere with medical equipment. Up until recently, using a cellphone in a hospital would immediately get you glared at by approximately everyone inside.

But with the phasing out of 2G phones and the improvement in medical technology, the risk posed to patients basically dropped to zero. However it still wasn’t until August 2014 that the law was done away with, now only outlawing cellphone use while near surgery rooms and intensive care units. I think as long as we all get our sweet, sweet Angry Birds while in the waiting room, we have no complaints.

This also goes hand in hand with the relaxing of cellphone use near “priority seats” on trains in Japan. The “no cellphone use” rule has been scrapped in the Kansai area since last year as well. Other areas are wary to follow suit however, citing “customer unease” as the reason. Part of eliminating taboos is educating people, so Japan needs to come up with a cute mascot to tell everyone that modern cellphones pose no danger to anyone in priority seating.

#3. Swimming in Tokyo Bay

taboo tokyo bay© RocketNews24

Ever since the 1960s, Tokyo Bay has had the reputation of not being the cleanest body of water in the world. Blooming red in the summer didn’t really help its case, and it all around was just not pleasant to look at. The Tokyo government has warned people not to swim in it, and especially not to put their faces in the water either.

However, last summer they conducted a water test and found that the bay wasn’t nearly as polluted as believed. The secret behind its success? Oysters! Lots and lots of oysters cleaning up the water and making it safe to swim in and dunk your siblings underwater in again. Of course changes in sewer technology and regulations also helped, but who cares about that? Have you seen those amazing oysters?!

Swimming in Tokyo Bay was once unthinkable, but is now extremely common. There is a “swimming zone” set up with changing areas, coin lockers, lifeguards, and nets to keep out any stingrays that might want to check out what all the fun is about.

#2. Playing ball in parks

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I have to admit I never knew about this special one. Apparently, up until recently most parks in Japan didn’t allow people to play and kind of ball games inside them. Baseball, soccer, just throwing a ball back and forth, all of it would presumably result in a man coming up to you, blowing a whistle, and demanding that you stop at once for the “safety of everyone in the park.”

 ▼ These pictures outline the park policies, including no ball-playing of any kind, and threatening to call the police if they see you with a soccer ball.
(Click on the pictures for the enlarged version. Translation of text below.)

“Adult: You are not allowed to play ball in the park.
Child: Okay then I’ll just play on my smartphone.
Adult: Playing on your phone makes you stupid!
Child: …”

Finally, some Japanese parks are actually allowing kids to do things besides just stand around and look at the trees. As long as they have a “play leader” (adult chaperone) watching over them and making sure they don’t get too rowdy or start bothering people, they’re allowed to play with their newfangled balls without fear of being whistled at.

#1. Autonomy for women

taboo womenFlickr (Quinn Dombrowsky)

This is one of the biggest changes to happen in Japan during the past 50 years. While the rest of the developed world mostly moved on to equality between the sexes as much as possible decades ago, Japan has been dragging its feet the entire way, constantly trapped in 1950s gender roles and stereotypes.

Up until very recently, women were considered taboo in many different aspects of Japanese life, from being sushi chefs to even just climbing certain “holy” mountains. And don’t forget that the birth control pill has only been legal in Japan for sixteen years, despite being available in the rest of the world since 1960.

Still, Japan has been trying hard to bridge the huge gap between men and women that has plagued it for so long. Sometimes it gets it right, sometimes it gets it wrong, but at least women are no longer thought of as “impure” or “inferior” as they were not so long ago.

So that’s it for this list of things that are (mostly) no longer taboo in Japan. What do you think will be the next taboo to disappear? Public displays of affection? Taking pictures at concerts? Something else? Let us know in the comments section below!

Source: Naver Matome
Featured/top image: Flickr (David Goehring)