Silence as an Expression of Femininity
It is still a common belief in Japan that an ideal woman should speak softly and only when spoken to, with her head and eyes lowered in respect and modesty, especially in the company of men. A true gentleman will ask this fragile flower of a woman only suitable, easily answerable questions and if she cannot answer gracefully, she should sit silently, preferably blushing at the cheeks, her hands gently resting on her lap.
Though this picture of innocence may appear ill-appropriate for the EFL classroom, many women, particularly when there are men in the room, will maintain this posture throughout the school year. Even English majors with extraordinary ability to read and write English, will become unbearably coy when asked to speak English with a man, or in front of the class. As most Japanese women need to practice this posture, for it is often what their parents or employers expect, even the most gregarious of female students may fall into coy silence from time to time.
There is a male variation of this mukuchi (no mouth) behavior. Sometimes mukuchi is born out of genuine shyness and/or having nothing much to say. Some students, having never been in a coed class before, may not know what to talk about with the opposite sex. Other students may be on the bottom rung of some social ladder within the dynamics of the classroom, a victim of ijime (bullying). His silent responses are often very similar to that of his female counterpart, except that he runs the added risk of becoming the laughing stock of the class. As with shy women, when placed in group activities with students he feels comfortable with, this reserve can disappear, only to resume when he senses the class is again watching.