The "Secret" to Japanese Emotions

When you read a person's emotion, do place more value on the expression of their eyes or of their mouth? In Japan, people tend to value the eyes for emotional cues, whereas Americans tend to value the mouth.This has some surprising side effects.



When you read a person's emotion, do place more value on the expression of their eyes or of their mouth? 

In Japan, people tend to value the eyes for emotional cues, whereas Americans tend to value the mouth, says researcher Masaki Yuki, a behavioral scientist at Hokkaido University in Japan.

Yuki theorizes that this is because the Japanese, when in the presence of others, try to suppress their emotions, considering them to be private, whereas most Americans flaunt their emotions, considering them to be public. 

The eyes, he notes, are more difficult to control than the mouth. Thus, it is more challenging to hide expressive eyes. Because Japanese culture tends to emphasize conformity, humbleness and emotional suppression, the Japanese can be so concerned with not showing emotion that they avoid eye contact all together, rather than look at someone and accidentally display their emotional state.

Americans, however, are often open about sharing positive emotions.  They consider hiding emotions to be inauthentic or "two-faced". The result, though is that they feel pressured to "turn that frown upside down." 

Yuki first noticed a difference in facial expressions when looking at photos of American celebrities. “Their smiles looked strange to me,” Yuki explained. “They opened their mouths too widely, and raised the corners of their mouths in an exaggerated way.” 


A Correlation with Emoticons

When Yuki entered graduate school and began communicating with American scholars over e-mail, he was often confused by their use of such as smiley faces :) and sad faces, or :(. 

“It took some time before I finally understood that they were faces,” he wrote in an e-mail. In Japan, emoticons tend to emphasize the eyes, such as the happy face (^_^) and the sad face (;_;). “After seeing the difference between American and Japanese emoticons, it dawned on me that the faces looked exactly like typical American and Japanese smiles,” he said.


Differences in Animation

Another place where this difference can be noted is in animation. American comics tend to have smaller eyes and larger mouths. Japanese Anime, on the other hand, faces are often drawn with large expressive eyes and barely perceptible mouths.  


Do You Really Want to Know?

We all think at some point that it would be helpful to read another person's mind, but Yuki cautions against that. “Would you really want to know if your friend's, lover's, or boss's smile was not genuine? In some contexts, especially in the United States, maybe it is better not to know.”


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