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Smiling in Japan - cultural traditions vs friendliness

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Smiling in Japan - cultural traditions vs friendliness

Postby Deesan » Sun 08.28.2005 11:45 pm

I was reading another forum talking cultural politeness and someone wrote this ....

If you are the only person around smiling, at very least, you are going to call attention to yourself as a foreigner. And you may actually be being rather rude. Traditionally in Japan you were not supposed to show any kind of emotion in public. And I've been in some places where people assumed smiling foreigners were snickering at them.


Is it true that if a westener visits Japan, that if you smile Japanese people may think we are snickering???

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RE: Smiling in Japan - cultural traditions vs friendliness

Postby Harisenbon » Mon 08.29.2005 12:15 am

Nope.
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RE: Smiling in Japan - cultural traditions vs friendliness

Postby Justin » Mon 08.29.2005 12:36 am

Trust me, it's okay to smile, it's not like you need to be some kind of robot out in public or anything. I'm sure there's a chance someone could accidentally misinterpret a smile for a laugh or something, but ummm...that's the same anywhere weather you're a foreigner or not.
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RE: Smiling in Japan - cultural traditions vs friendliness

Postby Harisenbon » Mon 08.29.2005 2:34 am

I'm amused by this belief that a lot of foreigners carry that the Japanese are all these emotionless robots. When my mother came to Japan and saw all the school students running around like little lunatics she looked at me and said, "I always imagined japanese children as so orderly and studious. I guess kids are kids wherever you go."

The only place it is weird to smile is for an official photograph, like a license or such. My licenses are an interesting trip down the path of Japanese conformacy.

Passport - Huge ass smile like the Freinds Druze guy that's looking at me now.
Gaijin Card - Kinda a half smile. More of a smirk
Drivers License - Straight Face. I will kill your children.

:D
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RE: Smiling in Japan - cultural traditions vs friendliness

Postby Mukade » Mon 08.29.2005 3:44 am

Harisenbon wrote:

Passport - Huge ass smile like the Freinds Druze guy that's looking at me now.
Gaijin Card - Kinda a half smile. More of a smirk
Drivers License - Straight Face. I will kill your children.

:D


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RE: Smiling in Japan - cultural traditions vs friendliness

Postby Kates » Mon 08.29.2005 10:51 am

Though I agree with the stuff everyone is saying... I found that strangers on the street did not acknowledge each other like I feel Americans do. Walking down a street in Michigan, I might smile as I passed someone or even greet them--even if I had no idea who they were. And I know I've been on the receiving end of the same.

But in Japan, strangers walking on the street, riding the bus/train, etc do not typically acknowledge each other without a reason. If you smiled at someone on a train they could either smile back and realize it's a friendly gesture, or think you had some strange motive for smiling at them.

But, you know, the same could be said for any country. "What're you smilin' at, bucko?!"

Now of course, just as with any generalization... this isn't true of everyone! I've been greeted by some really friendly people in Japan, and I've said "hi" and been totally ignored by some Americans. *shrug* The world really isn't all that different, wherever you go....
Last edited by Kates on Mon 08.29.2005 10:52 am, edited 1 time in total.
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RE: Smiling in Japan - cultural traditions vs friendliness

Postby Justin » Mon 08.29.2005 1:51 pm

Kates wrote:
Though I agree with the stuff everyone is saying... I found that strangers on the street did not acknowledge each other like I feel Americans do. Walking down a street in Michigan, I might smile as I passed someone or even greet them--even if I had no idea who they were. And I know I've been on the receiving end of the same.

But in Japan, strangers walking on the street, riding the bus/train, etc do not typically acknowledge each other without a reason. If you smiled at someone on a train they could either smile back and realize it's a friendly gesture, or think you had some strange motive for smiling at them.

I'm thinking the shear fact there's so many more people in a given space in Japan compared to most places in America is why start to see that kind of behavior. Living here back in America, on any given day going to and from work I see probably 30-40 different people. When I was in Osaka though, going to school and back you'd probably pass a thousand people like it was nothing.

I'm guessing that's why you probably don't see people greeting each other so much, which is probably also the reason why you don't see people apologizing for bumping into you when you're walking around either. Just too many people around, and if you took the time to say sorry and bow a bit, you'd probably smack another five people in the process of doing so. So, I think everyone just says "screw it" and just kind of stick to themselves and get moving straight to were to want to go.
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RE: Smiling in Japan - cultural traditions vs friendliness

Postby dragon89 » Mon 08.29.2005 2:54 pm

Harisenbon wrote:
I'm amused by this belief that a lot of foreigners carry that the Japanese are all these emotionless robots. When my mother came to Japan and saw all the school students running around like little lunatics she looked at me and said, "I always imagined japanese children as so orderly and studious. I guess kids are kids wherever you go."

The only place it is weird to smile is for an official photograph, like a license or such. My licenses are an interesting trip down the path of Japanese conformacy.

Passport - Huge ass smile like the Freinds Druze guy that's looking at me now.
Gaijin Card - Kinda a half smile. More of a smirk
Drivers License - Straight Face. I will kill your children.

:D


lol. I thought you weren't supposed to smile for passports/drivers license anymore. I want to pull a Naruto... if anyone knows what I'm talking about.
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RE: Smiling in Japan - cultural traditions vs friendliness

Postby Supergrunch » Mon 08.29.2005 4:09 pm

lol. I thought you weren't supposed to smile for passports/drivers license anymore. I want to pull a Naruto... if anyone knows what I'm talking about.


Actually, I think it's more acceptable now than it used to be (for an English passport that is). Why is it that there seems to be some unwritten rule that everyone looks terrible in their passport photos?
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RE: Smiling in Japan - cultural traditions vs friendliness

Postby lomagu » Tue 08.30.2005 8:37 am

In addition to what Justin said, I have this little bit.

I saw a study on TV once (done in the US) about people smiling at random people they didn't know. The researchers smiled at people at a busy, crowded subway station and noted whether they smile back or not. Then, the (same or different, I don't know) researchers smiled at the same people when they got off the subway. The subway station they got off at was always less crowded & quieter. They found that people smiled more at the less crowded station. It's like people put up a filter because there's so much going on around them. too much for the brain to handle I guess.
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RE: Smiling in Japan - cultural traditions vs friendliness

Postby Binsento » Mon 09.12.2005 5:44 pm

A very important thing my girlfriend taught me is to mind the TPO (Time Place & Occasion)
Evening + Korean bbq restaurant + friends/family = loud talking and laughing.
Daytime + Lunch + collegues = polite chatter

It's the same as in western countries only a little more important.
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RE: Smiling in Japan - cultural traditions vs friendliness

Postby randyrandy » Sat 10.15.2005 10:08 am

Well , when I lived in Japan (around 8 years old) and walked on the streets, the girls smiled and said 'Kawaii'..

So I guess it could be a mixture of both, since you can see both english and japanese in my appearance.

Am I making any sense? =I
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RE: Smiling in Japan - cultural traditions vs friendliness

Postby skrhgh3b » Sat 10.15.2005 2:45 pm

of course the japanese smile in public, but on the other hand, it didn't always used to be that way. i remember taking an intercultural communications class and we watched a documentary about smiling and there was one segment in particular where a japanese company had hired foreigners to teach their employees how to smile (because smiling is good for employee-customer relations).
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RE: Smiling in Japan - cultural traditions vs friendliness

Postby WacKostRacKo » Mon 10.17.2005 8:45 am

maybe the japanese smile differently to westerners? and the company was trying to get the workers to smile in a western way for the western customers?
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RE: Smiling in Japan - cultural traditions vs friendliness

Postby Spaztick » Tue 10.18.2005 1:05 pm

It does help to remember that Japan has had only 200 years or so of westernisation (sp?) and only about 60 years of Americanisation (sp? again), so it's hard to expect a Western country to be like ours when they've had a few thousand years of isolation in the Orient. Japan is however becoming I think more westernized with each generation. Now how this relates to smiling I have no idea, I've been met with a straight face and a face with all smiles from a Japanese student, and it still has me confused. :)
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