Why do the Japanese rub the back of their heads and hiss through their teeth?

This seems such a natural reaction to difficult questions and impossible requests that the Japanese rarely notice that they use it, but it’s definitely more common here than in any other country I know. It’s also much more common among men than women and much more common at work than elsewhere. I think it’s just a consequence of the difficulty of simply saying “No”. Note that sucking of teeth is in no way the aggressive sound it is in some cultures.

Just added to my much expanded Japanese Gestures and Body Language page here.


Why is kissing in public still taboo?

As two people’s reactions in an article in the Japan Times two weeks ago suggest, more than a general thing of not showing your feelings it is that it stirs up jealousy- by far the deadliest emotion in Japan!

Why do the Japanese still bow?

Bowing seems to be a universal human gesture, as by making yourself lower than the person you are bowing to and making yourself vulnerable to attack by lowering your head and not looking at them you show respect in an unmistakable way. Similar gestures exist in other animals. However, in most European societies bowing has almost died out, remaining only for kings and queens and possibly from servants to masters, and I think these vestiges give a clue to why it still exists in Japan more generally.

Politeness in Japan is fundamentally different from politeness in modern Britain, to take an example of another country that is famous for its manners. For example, in a shop in the UK the shopkeeper and customer will say please and thank you an approximately equal number of times, and the body language and tone of voice will also convey the illusion that both sides are equal. In Japan, the customer is king, and the king will often show that with a lack of the bowing, polite language, avoiding eye contact etc that the server will use, and in a convenience store will often not say a word during the whole interaction. The language and body language of interactions with bosses, sempai etc. often work the same way. Therefore, politeness in Japan is still a way of showing distinctions in status between people, whereas most politeness in the UK is now to pretend that those differences don’t exist.

More on bowing (not including my theory!) on the Wikipedia page here, including the interesting theory that the “scraping” in “bowing and scraping” comes from the foot moving backwards in a Elizabethan bow.

If the Japanese are so shy, modest and self-conscious, why are the guys in my gym quite happy to be seen admiring their own naked bodies?

What makes it acceptable is the habit of standing around starkers in the onsen hot spring changing room to let the heat disipate and the moisture not mopped off by the tiny towel dry off. If you are doing it front of the mirror while clenching your stomach muscles, well, same difference…

Why is a bit of cleavage still so daring in Japan?

 It’s at least partly the danger of low cut becoming very revealing when you bow

The big list of my Japanese faux pas

Giving the impression I thought the UK was safer than Japan
I think I mentioned no earthquakes, tsunami or bears, and therefore squashed the great national myth about Safe Japan Read the rest of this entry »

Why does making an X with your index finger mean you want the bill?

 No idea!

 Yes, I know the blog is called Japanexplained, but sometimes I just want someone to explain something to me instead…

Could it represent an illiterate person signing their name, I wonder??