Talking About Japan In English

Japanese Body Language

Albert Mehrabian, Ph.D.
Mehrabian's Communication Study

A study by Albert Mehrabian on how people decide whether they like one another identified the following formula: Total Liking = 7% Verbal Liking + 38% Vocal Liking + 55% Facial Liking

This suggests that in all communications:

* 7% happens in spoken words.
* 38% happens through voice tone.
* 55% happens via general body language.

How insignificant our spoken words can be, compared to our use of body language, when making new friends!

Which do you believe, words, tone, or body language? According to Mehrabian, people will look at body language first and voice tone second for evidence of untruth in words. Mehrabian's study has been criticized, but the key fact remains. Our body language is very important.

Words are only a part of communication.



"Something smells"

Oni goblin


‘Come here’ Chotto...oide

Illustrations are from
JAPANESE BODY LANGUAGE; Non-Verbal Communication in the Classroom
by Robert L. Seltman ©1991

How is Japanese body language
different from other cultures?

Peace/Victory Sign

How do you express "Excuse me"
"Sorry" "I'd like to talk to you"
"Please be quiet" "Go away"
"Come here" "I love you" etc.
In body language?

How is this different in other cultures?

Indicating numbers

‘Excuse me’

Writing Kanji
Chinese Characters

Laying it on Thick

Clashing Swords


"Pa!" Coo-Coo!, Crazy!

Which cultures use their body
more than Japan?

"Let's go eat."

Father Figure

Long-nosed goblin


Let's go for a drink/
We went drinking

What does Japanese body language
say about Japanese values?


Can you speak the body language
of other cultures?

"Something smells"

"That's difficult
to believe"

To steal

Head frozen, using the eyes.


"Let's not discuss that here"


"Boku?" or "Watashi?"

How can we learn how other cultures
talk with their bodies?

Listening with eyes closed, dozing

How Embarrassing!
I made a mistake"

The "Baka!" "You Fool!"
head slap

Bimbo Usuri
poor people's shaking

Unconscious bowing

Obstinate Folded Arms

O shape = O.K., present,
good, score, etc.

X shape = No good,
absent, bad, no score, etc.


A detail explanation of all these Japanese body language illustrations can be found in the original thesis text on-line here:
Non-Verbal Communication
in the Classroom

Hands in your pants pockets

Receiving and giving

Sitting with legs spread


Rajio taiso
Radio Exercises

How close is too close?

Bowing from the waist

Sitting on desks, Standing on chairs

Is tattooing a form of Body Language?

Certainly in Japan it has significant meaning for the Yakuza. In Japanese the word used for traditional designs or those that are applied using traditional methods is irezumi "insertion of ink", while "tattoo" is used for
non-Japanese designs.

Copyright 1995-2005,
Mark Schumacher

Has the subtle hand gestures of classical Japanese religious art influenced the grace and style of contemporary Japanese body language?
" In Buddhist sculpture and painting throughout Asia, the Buddha (Nyorai, Tathagata) are generally depicted with a characteristic hand gesture, or mudra. ... They are also used routinely by current-day Japanese monks in their spiritual exercises and worship."

How to use this site, a pedagogical perspective.

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