One of the more interesting things about body language is that it's only partially cultural. And it's the weirdest things that turn out to be learned. Ever see a girl run in anime and think, God that's weird, it must be some sort of visual shorthand for something, or just the way the running motion is traditionally stylized. And it even looks like evidence that Hitomi in Tenkuu no Escaflowne -- a young woman who's unusually gender-neutral in most things in an anime that's infamous for, among other things, being one of the few to straddle the genre line between 'boy's cartoon with giant robots in' and 'girl's cartoon with melodrama and romance' -- moves like Westerners would expect when she's practicing on the school athletic track, but does the weird arm wave thing when she has an emotional epiphany later and sprints for her romantic foil at the end. Nope. Japanese girls really do run like that. Not all of them, because human variation will always to some decree triumph over acculturation, but most of them seriously do have their elbows tucked in and flap their hands around all limp-wristed at like shoulder height when they run. It's not their idea of how to propel oneself faster that dictates this -- I wager that if a Japanese girl had to honestly run for her life, she'd windmill around as much as any American would -- but a socially-installed idea of how fast is too fast to scoot around in a public place, and how to look reasonably dignified while doing it.

I'm going to continue picking on Japan for my example, largely because my Chinese and Arabic are rubbish and Japanese is otherwise the farthest away from their own civilization that most norteamericanos and Europeans can conceive of being and still have common points of reference, like cell towers and McDonald's and internet porn. I know there are significant differences between, say, France and England, or Germany and basically everyone else on the damn continent, but a lot of the friction in those cases has historically stemmed from things like land rights and vicious fights over what kind of Protestantism is the right kind of Protestantism. Those guys next to you do almost everything in an acceptable fashion, except for that one fucking important thing that makes you wonder if their world is a little cockeyed. You might think your neighbors are crazy and wrong, but you don't normally ask yourself if they're extraterrestrial. Japan, you just run across some of this stuff and stare at it and have to double check to see if it really is that alien, or if you're maybe having a stroke or a temporal lobe seizure and just haven't noticed yet.

Below is a clip of exist†trace doing a fairly long interview (~15 minutes). It's unsubtitled, but that's not important -- if you're curious, they're being asked the normal boring questions, mostly about how they met and why they do music and how other people react to [insert one outstanding quality that is mentioned to the media repeatedly so they know what to talk about if they get stumped], that you ask new bands, because it's rude to just come out and say, "Nobody has any idea who you are, please spout some kind of inane platitudes to pad this out until we can mention your CD."



For contrast, the below here is an interview of a girl group called Morning Musume. Subtitles here, although they're not saying anything of any world-shattering import.



(Note that there is one large problem with this comparison, which is the age difference. exist†trace is made up of a bunch of people in their mid-twenties, and Momusu is composed entirely of people in their mid-teens to early twenties. I couldn't figure out how to fix this; while I am aware of a number of best-selling female soloists, like Amuro Namie, Hamasaki Ayumi, or Utada Hikaru, the only other all-female bands I'm even remotely aware of are idol groups like this one. Momusu is a particularly archetypal example of what Japan thinks of as a girl group. I don't know if it's actually the oldest still-extant instance, but for all its cultural influence it might as well be the ur-group. It's a sort of mix between the Spice Girls and Menudo; there are between five and ten of them at any given time, and the new members are chosen at yearly auditions, to replace the girls who "graduate" out when they get too old for idol singer status. Some of them go on to have solo careers, but most don't. They're intended to be fluffy pop stars of no serious artistic import.

This is not to impugn their talent -- they're generally a pretty kickass dance troupe known for putting on very peppy, flashy shows, and they are chosen for their ability to sing and hold harmonies as much as anything else. The songs, which they don't write themselves, are generally the sort of thing that make feminists weep as much as anything that the Saturdays have ever done, and if you were icked out by 16-year-old Britney singing "...Baby One More Time," then having someone who looks to be about twelve stretching out and attempting to make bedroom eyes at you is going to make you crawl out of your skin. The point of using them here is that they're purposely very very gender-compliant girls by Japanese cultural standards.)

And below is a band called X Japan, which was pretty much the first visual kei band to hit it super-big. All guys, yes even the one in the middle -- which is actually Yoshiki, whom I've talked about before -- and all in their mid-twenties by the time this was taken.



Bet you can tell me, even without knowing a word of Japanese, which one of these are a better match to the body language in the interview with exist†trace, and guess how they're being received by the media.

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