Interpreting Japanese Body Language

Cultural Differences
Even in the current era of global satellite television, the information superhighway and mobile facetime there are many differences is physical expression between most cultures which are bound by the development of people within that culture and do not transfer across electronic media at any level. Certain phrases, gestures and nuances in behaviour may be picked up in the ether but unless you are physically present within another culture the body language and physical expression of that people is invisible. Whether it is a simple gesture of greeting or a complex credit transfer arrangement wherever you are the body language that surrounds the communication is likely to vary greatly.

A Simple Head Shake
For instance People in India shake their head gently from side to side when in agreement, whereas this gesture means completely the opposite in most parts of the US. In Caribbean culture it is regarded as offensive for a child to look their elder in the eye when they are being chastised whereas in western culture children are required to ‘look at me when I am talking to you’ by the elder in this situation.

General Japanese Body Language
Within Japanese culture interpreting body language and physical expression is very important part of forming the correct lines of communication. As with everything Japanese, physical expression by all is generally restrained and very well measured. Body language here, when used is demonstrable and even the simplest of expressions can have a resounding and serious significance.

Where to sit
Seating position is generally organized in terms of rank and importance. Within any room there will be an individual who is considered to have the seat of honour, for instance the man of the house in a general domestic environment. For all others within the room they must establish their importance relative to this person and organize themselves accordingly. As a general point of etiquette permission is required before taking a seat and also before leaving the room.

What are the limbs saying
As with all cultures arms and legs can be used for a wide variety of expression and there are some connotations from what may seem even the simplest of stances. The meaning of folded arms can be changed dramatically with how this is done in conjunction with the eyes. Folded arms with lowered eyes suggests deep thought, folded arms whilst making eye contact indicates disagreement or defiance. Generally speaking if arms are shaped in a circle this suggests agreement but arms or even fingers are arranged in a cross this will be a sign of negativity.

Legs too and in particular those appendages, the feet, can be used to emit a whole host of signals, many of which are generally rude or negative. It is advisable to take great care with how you position your legs and what you do with your feet if in company within Japanese culture. Sitting with spread legs is considered arrogant and rude. It may be used to indicate confidence and superiority and is not always a terrible thing depending on the situation to which it is applied, but generally speaking a demure sitting position with knees together and feet tucked under is appropriate.

As in many cultures for Japanese the feet are considered dirty and it is commonplace to remove shoes. Be careful how this is done as showing someone the soles of your feet is an affront and should be avoided at all costs. You should never use your foot to point as this is considered highly condescending, as is pointing using a finger. An outstretched hand or arm or a nod is a preferred form of indication.

As part of Japanese culture bowing is an art form and can take all manner of meanings. It is advisable if you are to be in Japanese company that you have some lessons in the various sorts of situations and the bow that is required in each case. Generally speaking the bow, known as Ojigi, is done from the waist. The lower the bow the greater the reverence that is indicated by it. A slight nod may be used when in casual circumstances, like saying hello or goodbye. In some cases Japanese will bow even though it is not required as in during a telephone conversation.

General tips
Never blow your nose in public, this is considered very bad manners. If you receive a business card always hold it with both hands. On introduction do not offer a handshake, bow as deeply as the situation requires.