I teach a cross-cultural communication class in English/Japanese to Japanese college students, and I wanted to give my students an example of  “the inscrutable Oriental”, or an example of how ways to express emotion are not always the same across cultures, and therefore not always easy to “read”. I used this example:

Why is this girl smiling? Are you sure?

I used these quotes from the Internet:

  1. The mysterious Japanese smile should be understood in the context of the social situation. When a Japanese commuter misses a bus, he smiles if there are other people on the site, but he does not if he is alone…
  2. The only problem is that Japanese smile for various reasons, including when they are embarrassed, apologetic and mentioning unfortunate events. Someone who knows Japanese well can distinguish between these “types” of smiles and

Any other suggestions or examples?

(This photo comes from a rather creepy blog-post: “The Japanese have always been very particular about behavior and mannerisms: acting appropriately is very important. They have also been very innovative in their technology. Now, the appropriateness of a smile has been digitized. A Tokyo railway company introduces a smile scan for their personnel, hoping to improve their communication skills with their customers.

“Here’s how it works: A video camera captures an image of the employee’s face. The face appears on a screen, highlighted in a small frame. By measuring the curvature of the mouth, the system’s software determines whether the employee’s smile is sufficiently enthusiastic and grades it accordingly.”)

Woah!