TIME Asia

Have You Ever Wondered Why East Asians Spontaneously Make V-Signs in Photos?

Studio shot of male hand showing peace sign
SuperStock/SuperStock RM/Getty Images

It's all to do with an American figure skater, sports manga and a commercial for Konica cameras

Spend a few minutes browsing social media, or watch groups of travelers posing in front of a popular tourist attraction, and you’re bound to come across it: attractive young Asians flashing smiles and making the V-for-Victory sign (or peace sign). The raised index and middle fingers, with palm facing outward, are as much a part of Asian portraiture as saying cheese is to English speakers. But why?

To non-Asians, the gesture seems so intrinsically woven into the popular culture of Beijing, Osaka or Taipei as to make it seem that it was forever thus — but, in fact, its earliest origins date back no further than the late 1960s, and the gesture didn’t really find widespread acceptance until the late 1980s.

Some say it began with Janet Lynn. The American figure skater was favored to take home gold in the 1972 Olympics in Japan. But the 18-year-old’s dream came crashing down when she fell during her performance. The gold medal was gone. She knew it, and Japan knew it.

But instead of grimacing, the shaggy-haired blonde simply smiled. Lynn’s behavior ran charmingly counter to the Japanese norm of saving face, and in doing so earned her legions of Japanese fans.

“They could not understand how I could smile knowing that I could not win anything,” said Lynn, who eventually went home with a bronze, in a telephone interview. “I couldn’t go anywhere the next day without mobs of people. It was like I was a rock star, people giving me things, trying to shake my hands.”

Lynn became a media sensation in Japan and the recipient of thousands of fan letters. During media tours around Japan in the years following the Olympics, she habitually flashed the V-sign. A cultural phenomenon was born.

Or rather, it was consolidated — because the V-sign was already entering mainstream consciousness through manga. In the 1968 baseball comic Kyojin no Hoshi (Star of the Giants), a protagonist struggling with father issues, and the pressure of competition, gets his dad’s tacit approval when the elder throws him a “V” before a big game. The volleyball manga Sain wa V! (V Is the Sign) was created shortly after and was adapted into a television series with an infectious earworm of a theme that features the chant “V-I-C-T-O-R-Y!”

It was probably advertising that gave the gesture its biggest boost, however. Though Lynn had some influence on the widespread use of the V-sign in photos, Japanese media attribute the biggest role to Jun Inoue, singer with the popular band the Spiders. Inoue happened to be a celebrity spokesperson for Konica cameras, and supposedly flashed a spontaneous V-sign during the filming of a Konica commercial.

“In Japan, I have seen the Inoue Jun theory advanced most often as an explanation for the origin of this practice,” Jason Karlin, an associate professor at the University of Tokyo and an expert on Japanese media culture, tells TIME. “I think the practice is a testament to the power of the media, especially television, in postwar Japan for propagating new tastes and practices.”

With the mass production of cameras, and a sudden surge in women’s and girls’ magazines in the 1980s, the aesthetics of kawaii — a visual culture superficially based on cuteness — took off. Suddenly, more women were posing for more shots, and more shots of women were being shared. V-signs proliferated much like today’s “duck face” pouts on Instagram and Facebook.

“The V-sign was (and still is) often recommended as a technique to make girls’ faces appear smaller and cuter,” says Karlin.

Laura Miller, a professor of Japanese studies and anthropology at the University of Missouri at St. Louis, stresses the role played by women in popularizing the gesture in photos. She recalls hearing girls say piisu, or peace, while making the sign in the early 1970s. “Like so much else in Japanese culture, the creative agents in Japan are often young women, but they are rarely recognized for their cultural innovations,” she wrote in an email to TIME.

When Japanese pop culture began to spread around East Asia in the 1980s (prior to the emergence of K-pop in this century), the fashionable V-sign found itself exported to mainland China, Hong Kong, Taiwan and South Korea (where it already enjoyed some recognition because of the decades-long presence of the U.S. military).

These days, the habit is everywhere that Asians are. However, most young Asians who make the gesture in photos do so without thinking and are baffled when asked why they do it. Some say they’re aping celebrities, while others say it’s a mannerism that alleviates awkwardness when posing. “I need something to do with my hands,” says Suhiyuh Seo, a young student from Busan, South Korea. Little children do it without even being taught.

“I don’t know why,” says 4-year-old Imma Liu of Hong Kong — but she says she feels “happy” when she does it. Perhaps that’s all that matters.

TIME Japan

China and Japan to Arrange Summit Meeting During APEC Forum

Chinese Business Leaders Led By China Investment Corporation President Gao Xiqing Visits Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry
A staff member of Japan's Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry arranges Chinese and Japanese flags before a meeting with a group of Chinese business leaders in Tokyo on Sept. 26, 2013 Bloomberg/Getty Images

Relations between the two Asian powers are in bad need of mending, following territorial and other disputes

Japan and China will arrange a summit to ameliorate relations during the Asian-Pacific Economic Cooperation, or APEC, forum in Beijing in November, the Nikkei Business Daily reports. The announcement on Monday is reportedly the result of a visit to Beijing on July 27 by former Japanese Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda, aimed at initiating peace talks between the two Asian powers.

Territorial disputes; a 2013 visit by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to Tokyo’s contentious Yasukuni Shrine, which in part honors war criminals; and the establishment by China of an air-defense zone in the East China Sea have all contributed to worsening relations between Beijing and Tokyo in recent years.

Chinese President Xi Jinping previously refused to have a summit until Abe relinquished control over the disputed Diaoyu islands (called Senkaku in Japan) and apologized for his visit to Yasukuni, Reuters reports. Abe has not met with Chinese leaders since he took office in 2012.

News of the proposed summit comes a day after China’s state-run news agency, Xinhua, lambasted Tokyo for naming 158 islets in the East China Sea, five of which were disputed.

“Japan’s unilateral measure is illegal and invalid and cannot change the fact that the Diaoyu Island and its affiliated islands are part of China’s territory,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang said, according to Xinhua.

TIME Food & Drink

You Can Now Get Tofu McNuggets at McDonald’s in Japan

Views Of FamilyMart Convenience Store And McDonald's Restaurant As Retailers Halt Chicken Sales From China Supplier
Yuriko Nakao / Bloomberg / Getty Images

Ingredients include "onions, soybeans, carrots and minced fish"

If the “chicken” in McDonald’s “chicken” nuggets freaks you out, head over to Japan to try the franchise’s newest snack: Tofu Shinjo Nuggets, which officially go on sale this Wednesday.

They don’t include any chicken — instead, they’re made from ingredients including onions, soybeans, carrots and minced fish, a McDonald’s spokesperson told the Wall Street Journal. They’ll also come with a ginger-flavored sauce.

“Because it isn’t meat, it tastes a bit different. It’s a bit softer,” the spokesperson said. “Calorie-wise, it is a bit lower than chicken as well.”

They basically look like little patties with some pale bits of vegetables mixed in. Check them out in this advertisement:

Apparently, McDonald’s had plans to begin selling this product well before the recent allegations that the chain had been using expired meat.

TIME Japan

Japanese Heat Wave Leaves 15 Dead, Thousands Hospitalized

Summer Heat Continues Across Japan
People walk under strong sunshine on July 25, 2014, in Osaka, Japan The Asahi Shimbun/Getty Images

Even so, temperatures have not yet surpassed last summer, the hottest in the country's history

At least 15 people have died as a heat wave sweeps over Japan, bringing temperatures above 35°C (95°F) and sending an additional 8,000 people to the hospital with symptoms of heatstroke, Agence France-Presse reports.

By midafternoon on Tuesday, the mercury had climbed above 32°C (90°F) in Kumagaya, a famously hot city about 70 km (45 miles) northwest of Tokyo. In the capital, things were only marginally cooler.

This is not, however, anything especially new. Last summer marked Japan’s hottest on record, with temperatures reaching 41°C (106°F) in some parts of the archipelago.

[AFP]

TIME Crime

Japanese Schoolgirl Accused of Murdering, Dismembering Classmate

High school girl arrested for killing, dismembering friend
Japanese police officers enter an apartment building in Sasebo, in Nagasaki prefecture, Japan, on July 27, 2014, to investigate the site where Aiwa Matsuo, a 15-year-old high school girl, was murdered by her classmate Kyodo/AP

Victim's body was found in 16-year-old's apartment, where she lives alone

A 16-year-old Japanese schoolgirl has been arrested in Nagasaki on charges of murdering and dismembering her classmate.

Police say the girl admitted to killing Aiwa Matsuo, 15, by bludgeoning her with a blunt object, then decapitating her and cutting off her left hand, according to CNN. The suspect was arrested on her 16th birthday.

“I did it all by myself,” she told police, according to the Japan Times. The victim’s body was found in the suspect’s apartment, where she lives alone without her parents. Her parents reported her missing after she failed to return home Saturday night.

People who know the suspect describe her as “very smart, with emotional ups and downs.”

TIME advertisements

This Toyota Ad Is Utterly Insane — and Wonderful

Jungle Wakudoki, a.k.a. the most delightful two minutes of your day

Japanese ads are an art form in and of themselves. But this spot produced for Toyota by agency Dentsu Aegis is incredible nonetheless. The premise is dead simple: a group of businessmen are driving through the jungle in their Toyota truck. When they pull over to let one of them relieve themselves, things get … well crazy. The spot is part of a campaign dubbed “Do the Wakudoki,” which encourages consumers to submit clips of themselves dancing.

[AdWeek]

TIME Japan

These Are Japan’s Coolest New Trains

Japan has unveiled several new luxury trains, most recently East Japan Railway Company's Cruise Train, designed by Ferrari designer Ken Okuyama. Here's a look at the new opulent way to travel around Japan's most scenic routes

TIME Japan

Tokyo’s Robot Restaurant Boasts Fembot Battles and Ninja Stage Hands

The restaurant opened in the Kabukicho district at a reported cost of $10 million

What more could you ask for in a restaurant than large female robots, ninja costumes and gold urinals? You’ll find all of the above at Tokyo’s Robot Restaurant.

The neon-flashing, techno-blasting eatery opened two years in Tokyo’s Kabukicho district at a reported cost of about $10 million. And with a $35 entry fee as well as a dress code, admission can be selective.

But Japanese yuppies and college students find the cost worthwhile to watch bikini-clad women direct battles between large female robots while stage hands dressed as ninjas assist offstage. Everyone wins at the Robot Restaurant.

TIME

Police Arrest Japanese Artist Who Invited Fans to 3-D Print Her Genitalia

Emailed design files to supporters as a reward for those who crowd-funded her vagina kayak project

A Japanese artist who specializes in vaginally inspired art has been arrested in Tokyo on grounds of obscenity for allegedly emailing design files to her supporters so that they could print 3-D renderings of her genitalia. Or as The Guardian calls it, a “vagina selfie.”

Megumi Igarashi, who works under the name Rokudenashiko, had started a crowd-funding project to create a kayak designed after her vagina. The design files were supposed to be a reward for investors who backed the project.

Igarashi wrote on her campaign’s page that she seeks funding to make her art anatomically precise. “It is extremely difficult to make precise mold. Even when successful, silicone mold will gradually deteriorate, which makes mass production difficult.”

The Tokyo Metropolitan Police arrested the 42-year-old artist for breaking obscenity laws Wired notes hark back to 1907 that prohibit the display of genitalia. But the artist argues that the data itself isn’t adult material. “I cannot understand why the police recognize the 3D data as obscene material,” she said, according to TechCrunch.

Other projects Igarishi has made designed on her vagina include a comic-book, a remote controlled car, and a lampshade.

A Change.org petition has been launched to protest Igarashi’s arrest.

[The Guardian]

TIME China

Many Asian Nations Believe That a War With China Is Looming

Abner Afuang, a retired policeman, sets fire to an inverted Chinese national flag in a protest action in Manila,
Abner Afuang, a retired policeman, sets fire to an inverted Chinese national flag during a protest in Manila on June 9, 2014. Romeo Ranoco—Reuters

A majority in the Asian countries polled in a new Pew study say they fear a looming military conflict with China

China’s neighbors fear the worst is yet to come.

Strong-arm tactics and tough talk coming from Beijing in the past year have succeeded in convincing neighboring countries that war may just be around the corner, according to a new poll released by the Pew Research Center.

“In all 11 Asian nations polled, roughly half or more say they are concerned that territorial disputes between China and its neighbors will lead to a military conflict,” read the report published by the Washington, D.C.-based think tank on Monday.

In Vietnam, where relations with Beijing have been exceptionally tense since a state-owned Chinese drilling platform moved into disputed waters near the Paracel Islands in early May, 84% of participants said they were “very” or “somewhat” concerned that territorial disputes could lead to war.

In Japan, which is embroiled with Beijing in disputes over vacant outcroppings in the East China Sea, 85% concurred.

Farther south in the Philippines, 93% of those polled feared the possibility of conflict with China. The archipelago nation has a number of ongoing disputes with China in the South China Sea and, much to Beijing’s chagrin, is pursuing international arbitration in a bid to settle those claims.

While many of the territorial disagreements with China have been ongoing for years, a number of incidents initiated by Beijing in the past nine months have led to increasingly strained ties across the region.

The perennially taut relationship between Tokyo and Beijing reached a flash point late last year when China unilaterally declared the establishment of an air-defense zone that covered the skies over disputed isles in the East China Sea.

Both Manila and Hanoi have meanwhile accused China of maintaining a large presence of paramilitary vessels, coast-guard ships and fishing boats in disputed maritime areas in a bid to edge rival nations out of contested waters. Experts following the region say the tactic must have had clearance from the upper echelons of power in Beijing.

“Xi Jinping and the central military commission as well as key figures in Zhongnanhai — they took a calculated risk,” Alexander Neill, Shangri-La Dialogue Senior Fellow with the International Institute for Strategic Studies’ Asia office, tells TIME. “China is testing the tensile strength of the sort of hub-and-spokes alliance system in the region.”

A majority of the Filipinos, Japanese, Vietnamese and South Koreans surveyed considered China as their nation’s top threat and the U.S. as their nation’s most important ally, according to Pew.

Only Pakistani and Malaysian respondents named the U.S. as their top foe and saw China as their biggest ally. (Indonesia was the lone country where respondents named the U.S. as both their biggest threat and No. 1 partner.)

The publication of the Pew poll comes after Washington has upped both economic and military cooperation with its Asian allies and fostered relations with former foe Vietnam to counter China’s increasingly brazen moves in the Asia-Pacific. Beijing has not responded kindly.

“What we seem to be seeing is increasing polarization in Washington and in Beijing,” says Neill. “The Sino-U.S. relationship is going through a rocky period.”

Last week, the U.S. Senate passed a resolution calling on China to avoid engaging in behavior that would “destabilize the Asia-Pacific region” and to refrain from enforcing its air-defense zone.

But Beijing does not appear to be interested in backing down. An editorial published in the state-linked Global Times on Monday fired back at Washington.

“[China] has the right to safeguard its sovereignty and it has no intention to go to war,” read the editorial. “China will not make trouble, but equally is unafraid of any trouble.”

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