Japan is known for a lot of things. Sightseeing, nature, and neon lights are among them. But those who have been here for quite some time would also know Japan for its high context culture. If you don’t know what that is, read our blog post about it.

Anyway, an aspect of the Japanese’s high context culture is body language and facial gestures. Aside from the language barrier, you’d have to be able to decipher body language and facial expressions too. This can be quite a challenge, especially if you have no idea what to look out for in the first place.

So, if you’re looking to know how to grasp the concept of Japanese body language, you’ve come to the right place! We’re zooming into facial gestures that are part of Japanese body language in this article. Head over to this other article where we look at the top 8 body gestures to know in Japan!

Japanese Facial Gestures 

There’s no doubt that communication can be like a jigsaw puzzle sometimes. You get the pieces but you have to put them together. It’s all part and parcel of the high context culture! Japanese facial gestures take up quite a chunk of the Japanese high context culture. Sometimes, no expression is a gesture in itself!

So while it can be straightforward, it’s best to not roll the dice on it. There are a few things to take note of when it comes to the Japanese way of communication. They sometimes communicate with their facial expressions rather than saying it out loud. 

We’re going to highlight the top three facial gestures (感情表現 in Japanese) that give you an insight into what they’re trying to say: the one eyebrow raise, eye contact and the head tilt.

1. One Eyebrow Raise

This first one is the one eyebrow raise. Normally, if someone is doing that to me, I would be thinking that they’re waiting for an answer or reply. Sometimes, it also signals that they don’t understand. 

In Japan, it’s almost the same. When you get a one eyebrow raise, they’re telling you that they don’t understand. But not only that, they’re also asking you to repeat it. I guess that’s the difference – in Japan, no words are needed to ask someone to repeat.

Sometimes, you can get scrunched up brows instead, but they both mean the same thing. 

The best thing to do in cases like this is to repeat. If you were speaking in English, try repeating it slower and with easier phrases. I’ve gotten this a couple of times and in my case, they were just hesitant to ask me to repeat myself. 

2. Eye Contact

Another facial gesture to note in Japan is eye contact. To be more specific, the lack of eye contact. I’m used to making eye contact with people. It’s normal to me. In fact, I prefer talking to someone while making eye contact rather than not.

In Japan, it’s not always the case. Some people aren’t comfortable with eye contact. If that happens to you, don’t be offended. They’re not uninterested or bored. It’s just part of their body language. Prolonged eye contact is something they’re not used to or comfortable with. 

In cases like this, try to glance around to break eye contact. You’ll notice them doing the same. Try your best to be natural and not awkward about it!

3. The Head Tilt

Last but not least, the head tilt is a common facial gesture I get so often. This is often paired with the one eyebrow raise. This facial gesture is similar in meaning to the first one as it often tells you that the other person didn’t quite catch what you said.

However, this one, from my experience, is more of confusion rather than not understanding. 

Regardless of the difference, you’re also requested to repeat yourself. Similarly, rephrase your sentences so you’re not getting the head tilt again!

Are You Raising Your Brow Or Tilting Your Head? 

Body language can be quite difficult to grasp in general, regardless of which country. It’s a skill we constantly need to keep on learning. In Japan, it’s good that there’s a consistent set of gestures that can be easily decoded! You’re one step closer to mastering the high context culture here!