We have a neighbour about a minute walk from our place. Our kids go to the same school/kindergarten, so we are looking forward to a very long relationship.

The problem is that she is extremely nosy and honestly I'm not sure how to deal with that. She shows up uninvited, plus ringing the bell is usually followed by opening our front door within a second.

Our oldest son is 7, sometimes he comes back from school before any adult. He doesn't have a key yet, so he's told to just wait those few minutes playing in the yard. Or in the winter, we do actually let the basement door open so he won't freeze outside, since it's a very safe neighborhood. (Getting to the basement is rather troublesome, since he needs to go through our parking lot to get behind the house, so anyone else but close family would raise suspicions.)

About a week ago our son entered the house through the basement, but soon went to a friend's place, locking the basement, but leaving the front door unlocked instead. Shortly after, the neighbor in question apparently showed up at our house, and actually entered it through the unlocked front door. She realized nobody's home, so she did contact my wife about it, asking what to do with the unlocked door. My wife explicitly told her to leave it like that since she would be home in an instant. Instead, she entered the house, closed the front door from the inside and exited the house through our basement. Again, against our specific instruction.

As soon as I found out about this incident I was going to go to talk to her, but my wife is the more diplomatic one in our family. Plus an important factor is that this is all happening in Japan and I'm the only non-Japanese involved in this situation. The Japanese way of dealing with things is to avoid confrontation as much as possible, so my wife is keeping a distance at the moment, without actually talking with her about the incident. But I believe that if we don't specifically tell her that even if good intentions, what she did is just not right (=confrontation in Japanese culture), next time she'll do it again.

The question is, how can we let her know that what she did is unacceptable, she can't just behave like family?

UPDATE: I'm perfectly aware of the fact that cultural differences are a big factor in this case, but I believe this goes beyond it. I did let my wife handle the situation, but my issue is that since she's so against confrontations we will end up failing at letting the neighbor know that what she did was just wrong. Culture put aside, all Japanese friends I consulted with agree that she went over the line.

As for an update, she invited the kids over for an afternoon just the day I wrote this post. My wife was not comfortable with the idea, luckily the kids weren't too enthusiastic either, so my wife came up with an innocent excuse. However, the 4 year olds have been talking at the kindergarten and our son told their son what the real reason is: "you and your mom entered the house so parents are pissed". I believe the message was escalated all the way to the mother, since we had about 24 hours of silence from her part. However, after the 24 hours things went back to normal from her part. My wife is still partly ignoring her, but can't really approach the subject.

I strongly believe that if we solve this in the Japanese way, nothing will be said or discussed about the incident, thus everyone will have its own interpretation of things. That is not good, the lines that can not be crossed will not be clear and this situation will definitely lead to other unpleasant events.

The follow up question is: how to deal with this situation, because doing it the Japanese way will not solve anything.

  • 1
    The person entering your house is not avoiding confrontation.
    – paparazzo
    Feb 9, 2018 at 8:53
  • The cultural differences and potential language barriers in this scenario are so specific that I think the question should include an element of this. Any answers that work for you may not work for anyone else with a nosy neighbour?
    – Astralbee
    Feb 9, 2018 at 10:32
  • Could you elaborate: does your wife have any suggestions on the matter? Non-confrontational is one thing, but declining to address a problem in any way is quite another. The cultural norm might be to just accept the neighbor's ways, but has she actually said that you shouldn't do anything or just that you shouldn't talk to the neighbor about it?
    – Upper_Case
    Feb 9, 2018 at 14:08
  • 3
    Please don’t write answers in comments. It bypasses our quality measures by not having voting (both up and down) available on comments, as well as having other problems detailed on meta. Comments are for clarifying and improving the question; please don’t use them for other purposes.
    – Mithical
    Feb 11, 2018 at 9:06

2 Answers 2


The cultural differences in your question are a huge influencing factor on any potential solution. It is difficult to tackle a problem interpersonally without any confrontation which you say is contrary to the culture of where you live, but it is not impossible.

You seem to understand Japanese culture very well - and no surprise, you live there and evidently speak the language so you must have done your research. Your neighbour on the other hand may not understand yours as well. Some will argue this isn't very 'interpersonal' but I agree in this case you may be best to avoid confrontation as your neighbour will not expect it and could take it personally. However you can still 'communicate' your stand 'non-verbally'. Can you be more vigilant about locking the door - both while you are IN the house and those times when it is going to be briefly unattended? Can you get different types of locks that would prevent it from being opened from the outside at any time?

See, while this may not seem an interpersonal solution you are effectively communicating your personal choices on privacy and security. The term 'an open door' is even used as a metaphor in English for a permanently open invitation to visit. If you start controlling the access to your property better, this "establishes boundaries" as your question asks and your nosy neighbour will likely 'get the message'.

When you think about it - we do accept other cultures when they are placed in front of us. When you visit another country, or even a restaurant with foreign cuisine in your own country, you see different ways of doing things and think "that's just how they do things in that country". If on the other hand someone tried to verbally instruct you how to behave in their culture you might take that very differently, perhaps as a complaint. You are not Japanese, so if you do things differently I believe your neighbour will just accept that, whereas right now you are doing what everybody else around you does and you are having to deal with the culture clash as a result.

  • 3
    I was all set to post an answer about locking the doors all the time as a matter of habit and giving the son a key. Those would both solve the (immediate) problem and also not require any confrontation.
    – Upper_Case
    Feb 9, 2018 at 14:06
  • If you give the son a key, as Upper_Case suggests, make sure he gets in the habit of locking the door whenever he's home alone, too!
    – Kendra
    Feb 9, 2018 at 21:41
  • 1
    Even if not IPS a doorknob might solve your problem...
    – Kinaeh
    Feb 12, 2018 at 14:55
  • Thank you, that is a very sensible comment. We did start by locking our front door even when we're at home. However, she will probably not get the message, so the next reasonable step will be to approach the subject not as "what you did was wrong", but from a cultural perspective.
    – vivasra
    Feb 13, 2018 at 4:15

Was there any chance that your neighbor locked the door out of a simple misunderstanding? Odds are that they aren't fully aware of the methods by which your son accesses the house, and couldn't bring themselves to believe that the house truly was to remain unlocked (or feared that if something happened with it unlocked, they'd somehow be to blame)?

People often do things we deem inadvisable or wrong; but, often if you start with a consideration of "why would a fully reasonable person do this thing?" you find that their actions might have an explanation that is far less intruding than you expected.

Should you find this a plausible misunderstanding, you now have a smaller issue; that of you having wronged them by advertising your conflict with them in a public place (the school).

I'd look to your wife, asking if this view is possibly how they might see it.

If your wife says no, she's likely confirming that they culturally overstepped their bounds.

If she says it is possible, ask her if it would be appropriate to offer some small apology (for the words relayed in school) while communicating that it was all a misunderstanding. You might regain some peace in the neighborhood at the expense of looking like a person who was deeply concerned about having your son locked out of the house, which blinded you to their attempt to do a good deed.

Again apologies are somewhat cultural, so look to your wife for the best way to apologize with the appropriate amount of dignity and respect.

In any case, your nosy neighbor likely sees their interest in you as friendliness, and under these circumstances, you might find them to be a bit more reserved, permitting you a bit more peace of mind.

  • While it may have been a misunderstanding, it was one that occurred because of negligence. Your answer seems to be the best for improving the relationship between neighbours but does not help with OP's goal of stopping any of this behaviour from happening again
    – Jesse
    Feb 16, 2018 at 6:42
  • @Jesse If one improves their relationship, then the behavior will stop on its own accord. People who esteem each other learn each other's preferences and go out of their way to avoid upsetting each other. All the people in this story could be seen as negligent, but that's just because blame is an easy thing to do, and very hard to actually get right. Odds are the neighbor will not step into the house when empty again anyway, for fear of a repeat of this kind of scenario.
    – Edwin Buck
    Feb 16, 2018 at 15:58

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