Why is it so easy to spot Japanese women in Seoul?

This is a regular topic of conversation between me and my wife. The easiest thing to spot is usually the particular colour of hair dye, as dying your hair is far less common in Korea and the shades are almost always different (although Thais and Chinese tourists sometimes have the same colour as the Japanese). I’m convinced the surest sign is a shuffling gait, but obviously my wife isn’t too fond of that explanation! (See another post for possible reasons why Japanese women walk that way)

Other possible explanations, but please note that the Japanese on holiday in Korea are just a small subset of Japanese and rarely include Shibuya panda girls (on the beach in Kamakura beach instead) or Ebi-kei (in Europe or planning to go):

  • Clothes- especially woolly hats, Ugg boots and other “cute” and decidedly unglamorous stuff- Sex and the City seems to have had a lot more impact in Korea than in Japan.
  • Shoes- Less likely to be wearing high heels, and walk in a particularly Japanese way in them too
  • Smiling and laughing a lot, especially if they cover their mouths with their hands
  • A lot less spontaneous in conversation, even with who you imagine are their friends if they are on holiday with them. This is particularly true with groups of middle aged or mixed aged Japanese women in a Korean cafe, where you can spot the older dominant one much quicker than with Korean groups
  • Different attitudes to eye contact with strangers, though can’t exactly define it
  • Much more likely to carrying brand carrier bags, especially one that they’ve kept to use as an extra handbag
  • Much more open neutral expressions

You can also look at it the other way round, of course, and we did spot one group of obvious Korean girls when we were back in Tokyo. Telltale (though by no means universal) signs include:

  • Very low straight fringes (not sure why, but Koreans are even more obsessed than Japanese with having a “small face”, so could be that)
  • Bushier eyebrows
  • More bodily contact, e.g. touching the arm of the person you are talking to
  • Girls holding each other’s arms or even hands as they walk along
  • Style a bit like Japanese bubble years body-con, e.g. skirts with very high waistbands
  • More likely to have had plastic surgery to get a “high” nose
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4 Comments

  1. alexcase said,

    June 5, 2010 at 5:48 am

    Oh, and the heavy eye make-up and flowery patterns that Koreans very rarely have

  2. RobG said,

    July 22, 2010 at 4:42 am

    Obviously the person who wrote this post has never lived in South Korea. With few exceptions, middle aged-plus Koreans (men and women) dye their hair.

    I never meet middle aged or older/old Koreans who don’t have the artificial shiny black hair or less shiny but still dyed black/very dark brown hair. The fact that a lot of the men look like they’re wearing shoe polish on their hair doesn’t discourage them – personally grey hair would look much better on many of them

    As for the spot the Japanese – Japanese women holidaying in Korea are obvious by their general digity. Korean middle aged-plus women have an all too well deserved rep for crass public behavior including jumping in front of others in lines (especially foreigners) and laughing proudly with their friends about how they pushed you out the way. Their loud yelling also is a clear difference between them and their Japanese equivalents.

    They also wear horrible dark sun visors which cover their faces or part of them, looking like they’re going to rob a bank. As for their physical appearance body-wise – the Japanese are slimmer and usually not as tall. Some Korean older women tend to get squat.

    But the basic rule of thumb is – yelling and screaming, pushing, and line jumping with strange headgear and you have Korean women of middle age up.

  3. alexcase said,

    November 4, 2011 at 2:13 pm

    This was about younger women, actually. With older Korean women you can usually tell by the punch perms, but with the few families who have been wealthy for a few generations it’s quite difficult to spot apart from the increasing tendency of the Japanese to be “mutton dressed as lamb”

  4. alexcase said,

    November 13, 2011 at 10:00 am

    More, this time from spotting Korean girls from miles away while in Roppongi and Ebisu:

    Korean girls stand and walk closer to each other, even when they are not linking arms or holding hands

    Japanese girls smile and laugh almost constantly when they are talking to each other, wheareas Koreans seem to scroll through a constant menu of extreme emotions

    Koreans have a different way of walking, including weaving rather wildly around the pavement


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