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December 15, 2005

Comments

Won Joon Choe

I can actually see clear differences in most cases.

Besides, a lot of people will tell you that the Japanese entertainment world houses a disproportionate number of ethnic Koreans anyways! :)

Won Joon Choe

Besides, some of these examples appear to be parodies; Harisu is/was a man, and she/he is a sui generis in terms of looks.

Abiola Lapite

"I can actually see clear differences in most cases."

Are you sure that you're "seeing" those differences based on facial features, or due to the fact that you can actually read Korean and are therefore primed to see what you're expecting?

"a lot of people will tell you that the Japanese entertainment world houses a disproportionate number of ethnic Koreans anyways! :)"

How true! Then again, the fact that some people with too much time on their hands devote it to trying to "out" celebrities of Korean descent just goes to show how futile it is to tell Koreans from Japanese by looks alone.

http://www.japantimes.co.jp/cgi-bin/getarticle.pl5?fl20051211x1.htm

"Besides, some of these examples appear to be parodies; Harisu is/was a man, and she/he is a sui generis in terms of looks."

I wouldn't be so sure about that: it's not exactly as if the androgynous look is unknown in Japan ...

http://38.116.159.12/albums/v649/Minekawa/kamijo03.jpg
http://music.yahoo.co.jp/jpop/music_topics/barks/20031224/abet3509.jpg
http://svenrii.dark-thirty.com/gazet.jpg

Besides, it's perfectly possible to pick up facial similarities between people who are related even when they're of different sexes, so there's nothing illegitimate about such comparisons.

Won Joon Choe

I think I can tell differences usually regardless of my ability to read Korean.

But on the same token, I agree with your general thesis that Koreans and Japanese are ethnically not far apart as each of them claim, and perceived differences are often exaggerated.

Another factor that may be relevant is also how ubiquitous cosmetic surgery is in both Korea (and I am told) in Japan. Perhaps there is a correspondence in how women of both countries desire to look?

Abiola Lapite

"I agree with your general thesis that Koreans and Japanese are ethnically not far apart as each of them claim, and perceived differences are often exaggerated."

Given what I know of genetic studies done on both populaces, as well as the linguistic and archaeological ties binding them together (Japanese actually has more shared vocabulary with the language of Old Koguryo than modern day Korean does!), I'd be even more surprised if there was a reliable way to tell them apart by physical features alone than I would be if someone claimed to be able to do the same for Germans and Englishmen, that's just how little genetic differentiation exists between Koreans and Japanese. About the only groups in Japan who couldn't easily be mistaken for other North-East Asians are the Ainu, who are almost extinct, and the Okinawans, who have a notable Polynesian/Aboriginal influence in common with native Taiwanese: neither of these two peoples exist in enough numbers to make any real difference.

"Perhaps there is a correspondence in how women of both countries desire to look?"

To the extent that it is true, it's just one more coffin in the nail of the claim that people from country X should not be allowed to take roles as people from country Y, and the reasoning extends to the rest of East Asia, seeing as the other countries take their stylistic pointers from Japan and Korea.

Jim

"I'd be even more surprised if there was a reliable way to tell them apart by physical features alone than I would be if someone claimed to be able to do the same for Germans and Englishmen,"

There actually is a trait that differentiates English from the western, more Celtic part of the island from English in the eastern, more Germanic part, average foot width. People in the west tend to have, longer, narrower feet, and the difference was regular enough at leats at one point in history that is possible to distinguish British from otherwise identical Saxon burials during the first decades and centuries after the Saxons started settling in Britain. But this only proves Abiola's point, because this was only noticed a few decades ago, among archeologists and not among the general public. In other words, even where there was an observable physical difference that correlated to a racial cline, no one paid any attention to it.

Kenji

"Another factor that may be relevant is also how ubiquitous cosmetic surgery is in both Korea (and I am told) in Japan."

I'd be shocked if the rate of cosmetic surgery in Japan is anywhere near that in Korea!

Chuckles

Howard French:

http://www.howardwfrench.com/archives/2005/12/16/letter_from_china_hollywood_you_have_a_problem_with_asians/

[...Some indeed have gone so far as to say an American audience is unlikely to be able to distinguish between Chinese and Japanese in the first place, and even less likely to care.
It may come as a surprise to people with this mindset, but East Asians do not tend to find that Koreans, Chinese and Japanese look alike. Nor for that matter do many outsiders who spend much time in this part of the world...]

I happen to think that "normal" Koreans and Japanese look different - and both look different from normal Chinese people. However, this is a perception that is entirely absent when I am dealing with Korean or Chinese or Japanese celebrities. I think the make-up etc messes up my radar. It could also be that there are other mannerisms that bias my assesment of "who is from where".

http://www.alllooksame.com/ has an interesting test of the same variety.

Abiola Lapite

I saw that Howard French article earlier, and it got me so mad at the Orientalist nonsense in it that I felt like writing a blog post tearing it apart, but just didn't have the time to do so. His argument is absurd, and uncritically buys into all the essentialist, self-aggrandizing nationalism that all too often passes for common wisdom in that part of the world. What next, he's going to insist one can tell a Pole by eye from a German?

"I happen to think that "normal" Koreans and Japanese look different"

I happen to think this opinion to be completely unfounded in empirical reality, at least as far as raw physical attributes are concerned. These are two peoples with minimal genetic differentiation, less so than there is between most of the peoples of Western Europe, and yet I'm supposed to buy that they look different? Not even the anthropological evidence supports such a claim - Yayoi skeletons look like those of today's Japanese, and both look like those of today's Koreans.

"both look different from normal Chinese people"

There is no such thing as "normal Chinese people" - there are northern Han Chinese who look pretty much like other northeast Asians such as the Manchus, the Koreans and the Japanese, and there are southern Han Chinese who look pretty much like their neighbors in Thailand, Vietnam, etc., with a transitory region in between due to two millenia of admixture. In the case of the northern Chinese, as you go west phenotypes gradually fade into what is typical for Turkic central Asians and "Caucasians" [sic], and the only reason something similar doesn't hold down south is due to the Himalayas.

"I think the make-up etc messes up my radar. It could also be that there are other mannerisms that bias my assesment of "who is from where"."

That is the only possible basis I can see for making the argument that Koreans and Japanese can be differentiated by eye - through clothing, hairstyles, mannerisms and suchlike, all of which are irrelevant in period costume dramas starring accomplished performers.

Chuckles

Yes of course - seeing that I didnt impress myself on the alllooksame test, I am not going to push the point. I have been thinking about it, and I think it is the dressing that sets Koreans apart from Japanese - a mode that is showing all signs of convergence. When I say "normal" Chinese - I am of course referring to the Han, and my "normal" Japanese would exclude Okinawans - of course, not a very nice use of the word "normal" but I was typing in a hurry.

I think French is an interesting character. He reminds me of a certain sort of Richard Burton lite character.

Have you read "A Continent for the Taking"? French is perhaps matched in his globetrotting only by the likes of Pfaff and Kaplan (and perhaps Fisk) - folks that I am not too fond of myself.

However, I like two points made in that article: 1.) His take on the "The Last Samurai" and 2.) This line about Africa:

[...This same reflexive disregard was on display during the Iraq war-related “uranium from Africa” controversy, where few in politics or in the press could bring themselves to say the name of the country concerned - Niger. Africa was specific enough.
Although it may not be well-advised, it is still safe to treat Africa this way, as an undifferentiated blob, a backdrop for tragedy or adventure, according to our humors. Africa, weak, poor and riven, is not about to strike back. Asia, however, is a different matter...]

PS: I cannot count the number of times I heard congressmen, pundits et al refer to Uranium purchase from "Nigeria".

Abiola

"However, I like two points made in that article: 1.) His take on the "The Last Samurai" and 2.) This line about Africa:"

The funny thing about his take on "The Last Samurai" is that the Japanese absolutely *loved* that movie, noble white interloper and all - in fact, Tom Cruise's participation was a major reason why they (especially the women) loved it, as for once they could put themselves in the place of the samurai widow who garnered the attentions of this most handsome of white knights (insert gagging and retching noises here). It isn't historical accuracy or orientalism which has Japanese critics of "Geisha" upset, it's that it fails to cater to their prickly nationalistic sensitivities on the terms they demand, and if the actresses had been white (and ideally blonde) rather than the Chinese many of them look down on and hate to be associated with, Howard French would have found himself devoid of most of his present allies in spite of the egregious innacuracy of such a casting decision (it isn't as if the average manga or anime character looks anything other than Caucasian as it is).

His point on "Africa" is well made; it's just too bad he has to make it in service of the preposterous chauvinistic claims of Chinese revanchists and Japanese exclusivists. The idea that the average 芸能人 アイドル has some special insight into the mannerisms and mores of the geisha gathered through some mysterious process of cultural osmosis (perhaps during her high school years traipsing down Shibuya's Center-gai?) is utterly ridiculous in its overestimation of how in touch the average Japanese person is with a highly specialized way of life which was already dying at the beginning of the previous century, and which was affordable to only a wealthy, leisured few during its heyday: it's nothing more than the old, mystical Nihonjinron b.s. about "Wa" and so forth warmed over for gullible Western audiences, as stupid as someone insisting that today's average ciggie-smoking, beer-swilling, footie-watching English girl has some genetic fast lane to insight into how to act a proper lady of the nobility which is unavailable to American actresses.

Chuckles

[...The funny thing about his take on "The Last Samurai" is that the Japanese absolutely *loved* that movie, noble white interloper and all...]

Suprisingly, yes! I was about to start hurling accusations of false consciousness left, right and center. A friend of mine told me that the movie was produced to teach the Japanese how to be Japanese again - how to attain the noble samurai spirit of Tom Cruise if you will. Japan...ah well. The sad thing about such criticisms of LS, which I happen to think contain a kernel of truth - is that they are completely lost on the Japanese themselves.

[...if the actresses had been white (and ideally blonde) rather than the Chinese many of them look down on and hate to be associated with...]

True enough. There is substantial evidence in the representation of anime characters with regards to this.

[...perhaps during her high school years traipsing down Shibuya's Center-gai?...]

More likely to have gathered something *else* there, har har.

Sebastian Holsclaw

Interesting. I'm pretty sure I can't tell them apart at all. I'm sure quite a bit of the perceived understanding of difference comes from childhood experience. My Japanese grandparents (pseudo-adopted, long story not worth getting in to) have the rounder faces that many people associate with Korean ancestry. As a result I think of the rounder-faced people as 'Japanese' while I think the similar-yet-different thin faces as more Korean because they don't fit with my childhood perception (data set of 2) of what a Japanese person looks like. I think this is the exact opposite of the general stereotypes of Japanese and Korean people. I sometimes reverse the stereotypes to get the 'correct' answer. For instance when I first saw Margaret Cho my brain went: same basic facial style as my Japanese grandparents BUT they aren't typcial so she must be Korean. Which as we say in my group of friends is "Right Answer, but totally Wrong". It would have been just as good to notice that my grandparents fit the general Korean stereotype but are in fact Japanese--data point against the idea that the two are easily distinguishable.

radek

"What next, he's going to insist one can tell a Pole by eye from a German?"

Um, well, except that you can. There's been at least dozen times when someone has walked up to me and asked "Are you Polish or Russian?" and I myself have done it couple times, always getting it right. It could be mannerism or whatever but I don't think so, since personally I'm pretty Americanized and so where some of these people.

We just have this vaguely thuggish look about us.

Abiola

"Um, well, except that you can."

Not a chance in hell that's true. Most of the "German" inhabitants of the former Prussia were Germanized Slavs, which is why one saw so many names like Wisliceny, Lewinski (Von Manstein) and Bach-Zelewski amongst the Nazi leadership. There is no genetic barrier separating Poles from Germans - see Cavalli-Sforza's book or any study of European genetic history if you doubt this - and indeed Poles are closer to the Baltic center of origin of the "blond-haired, blue-eyed Aryan" look than Germans are, which is exactly why so many Polish children were stolen from their parents for "eindeutschung" during the war.

"It could be mannerism or whatever but I don't think so, since personally I'm pretty Americanized"

Or it could be that you're witnessing a selection bias - if you looked more obviously "Nordic" as many of your countrymen do, I'm sure you'd find your experiences would be very different.

"We just have this vaguely thuggish look about us."

Doesn't exactly set you apart from the neighbors to your left, does it? (Insert Falty Towers-style goose-stepping here)

radek

"Not a chance in hell that's true. "

I thought about it right after I hit post and was going to heavily qualify it. Essentially I think you're right, and if presented with a random Pole and a random German I doubt I could tell them apart. But there are some people who just have a very Slavic look.

"Doesn't exactly set you apart from the neighbors to your left, does it?"

Yeah, but the Germans look thuggish only when in uniform. I mean, it's tough to look tough in Lederhosen

Factory

Hmm I think I've commented on this topic previously, but looking 'japanese', 'korean' or indeed 'teutonic' and 'nordic', is really just a collection of physical features that indicate ethnicity. IMHO not _every_ person of that ethinicity will have all (or indeed any) of those traits indeed those that do have a significant amount of these traits will prolly not even be in a majority for that ethnicity. But that does not mean that the 'look' doesn't exist, or that it is indistinguishable from other 'look's.

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