Japanese Emoticons

Simple Emoticons Keyboard Computer Graphics Metal

Diving into Invisible Culture is as much about learning about a foreign land as it is about seeing the reflection of our own cultures in the differences of those lands. Take a recent article that was written about the use of smiley faces that we use on emails or Facebook. According to Masaki Yuki, a scientist at Hokkaido University, the way we make those faces tells us something about the differences between U.S. and Japanese culture.

According to Yuki, Americans tend to put more emphasis on the mouth while Japanese focus on the eyes. He suggests that since Japanese tend to be more group oriented, maintaining harmony results in emotions being more controlled in public (iC). Nonetheless, no amount of control can mask ones true emotions which is why Japanese look to the eyes for other clues.

U.S. Americans, on the other hand, tend to be more individualistic and value freedom of expression and self-reliance. There is less need to mask emotions in public, so the tendency is to rely on the mouth to determine emotional states. You can see how American emoticons (sideways) emphasize the mouth and Japanese ones (upright) the eyes:

Happy :   : – )       ( ^ _ ^ )

Sad:  : – (          ( u _ u )  

Embarrassed:  :  $        ( ^_^; ) 

The above story is not meant to illustrate the importance of using the correct symbols (visible), but to unearth the hidden aspects of cultures that are often operating outside of our own awareness. By developing a multicultural lens for seeing what is not immediately visible (values: group oriented, harmony, emotional control) we can redefine cultural competence beyond just a list of dos and don’ts.

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