Horribly Racist Asian Question?

Horribly Racist Asian Question?

I hope not, but will ask anyway.
Over the weekend I was at our local casino and there was a huge tour group that I am fairly certain was Japanese. I could tell by the little flag the leader was carrying and the hoards of tourists following her - easily over 100 if not many more.

I realized I am fairly clueless at discerning Asians by nationality based solely on appearance - I would be hard-pressed to determine if someone were Chinese or Japanese or Korean or Thai, etc. simply visually.

Granted, I could go to the International Terminal at any airport and have just as much difficulty trying to figure out if someone were from Sweden, Germany, Russia or Switzerland. I am talking about body types, not listening in to conversations that would at least help me there. Having lived in Europe, I might be tipped off by fashion styles and offer an educated guess - there are some who would be a bit easier to figure out, but I wouldn’t bet the farm on the accuracy of my guess.

So my question is, can Asians determine what country another Asian might be from, simply by looking at them and not listening to them speak? Or is is equally difficult to be sure, base solely by physical appearance and not listening into conversation?

It is my understanding that yes, they can, and easily.

I sort of can a little bit.

I don’t think you can ever be “sure,” because of migration and what-not, but I also think there are slight differences between Chinese, Koreans, Japanese, southeast asians, etc.

Then again, I am white, so I will defer to the actual target of the question.

I, a white guy who spent not too long in Asia in the military, can even make a pretty good guess.

You might or might not be able to tell the difference between folks from Germany, Sweden, and Switzerland, but you can surely take a stab when presented with a multipe choice test of Spaniard, Swede, Egyptian, and Romanian.

Edit: For some reason, I find it really easy to tell Koreans. Donno why.

My theory is that Asians born in Asia grow up needing to rely on more subtle cues for distinguishing people. Here in the USA variety of appearance usually falls under hair color/eye color/skin color. When those are all the same for a population you rely more on eye shape, nose shape and size, eye spacing, cheek bones. These features are more subtle to Americans since we don’t grow up relying on them to distinguish one neighbor from another.

So yes, Asians born and raised around Asians will be better at distinguishing Asian nationalities. Similarly a non-Asian born and raised in Asia would learn to distinguish just as well. But Asians born and raised in America will be less able.

I’m white, and I do think that it is possible to look at someone from Europe and make a reasonable (beyond pure chance, but not to certainty) guess as to whether or not they are from northern or southern Europe. For example, you probably could divide a group of Europeans into one group of Spaniards, Portuguese, Italians, and Greeks and another into a group of Germans, French, people from the British isles, Swiss, Scandinavians, and Russians and, in the end, do better than random chance in getting it right.

Here’s a relatively recent thread on the subject.

In my experience, the answer is “sometimes they can tell the difference, but context helps a lot”.

There’s an app for that.

I know I sure as hell wouldn’t try it. The ethnic stew of East Asia is at least as varied as Central Europe’s. The Japanese, I believe had an influx of people from the north (Mongolia and Siberia) and the south (southeast Asia and Pacific islands) as well as aboriginal tribes (like the Ainu and the Okinawans) who didn’t even have contact with each other until relatively recently.

The Koreans have been conquered by both the Chinese and Japanese so many times that, like the Poles, their ethnic identity may now be more a function of their national identity than anything genetic.

I don’t know that much about the Chinese, but I do know that China spans more than 35 degrees of latitude (that’s basically the same distance from the equator to Memphis, Tennessee) so I’m guessing there will be a lot of difference in how various groups look.

Assuming you mean East Asia…

I think you can often tell the difference between South and North (ie, Vietnamese vs Korean). Telling the difference between a Han Chinese, a Korean and a Japanese is going to be difficult. Dress is often a give-away, as are certain hair styles. Koreans often have much more rounded faces than Japanese or Chinese, but not always.

In general, though, the more geographic separation, the more they are going to look different. No surprise there.

I’ve spent a lot of time in Asia, and I usually rely on language more than appearance. It’s not at all difficult to tell the difference between spoken Japanese, Korean or any of the Chinese languages.

And Filippinos (or Malays) might be much easier to tell apart from the others.

I find Asian ethnicities easier to distinguish than European ones. In any case, I don’t think the points of distinction are more subtle, just different. Asians definitely had trouble distinguishing me from other foreigners they might be familiar with. If I had 10,000 dong(*) for every time some kid call me Mr. Bean …

Anyway, check out the Average Faces here, and you can definitely see the differences among various Asian countries, and other countries as well.

  • Save your dong jokes. I’ve heard them all.

At one former employer there was a fairly large contingent of workers from east Asia. I had a discussion with one co-worker who honestly didn’t know who I was referring to when I indicated the person he was looking for was Irish (pale, freckled, red hair, green eyes). He rather sheepishly added, “You have to remember, you all look alike to us.” He said the differences between Chinese, Japanese, Korean and Vietnamese people were very obvious.

I’m a white guy, and I can usually discern between Chinese, Japanese, and Korean.

My wife is Chinese, and she has a hard time telling them apart.

I’m of European ancestry, but I work with a number of people of Asian ancestry and I’ve gotten pretty good at guessing if someone’s background is Chinese, Japanese or Korean. It depends a lot on if they match the typical look for that ethnicity.

It’s just like in Europe. There are plenty of people living in Ireland or Sweden or Italy who don’t “look” Irish or Swedish or Italian, but if someone has the typical look for that country its pretty clear where they must be from.

It’s not racist at all. It’s excessive political correctness when you’re afraid to ask legitimate questions for fear of offending the prudes.

I’m ethnically some sort of Chinese, born in Taiwan and spent the first 18 years there, where everyone looks the same no matter how nuanced their cheekbone-to-mid-upper-nose ratio may be. Then spent the next ten years in California. I can broadly tell apart East Asian vs South Asian vs Indian vs Middle Eastern vs European vs Mexican/Hispanic, but not any more nuanced than that (within Asian or Caucasian or any other sub-group). Did horribly on the AllLookSame test pitting Chinese faces against Korean and Japanese ones. If an East Asian crosses my path, I wouldn’t even bother venturing a guess because I was wrong the last few dozen times.

I want to point out that it’s probably easier to identify an outsider when you live in a very homogenous Asian country. If not facial features, clothing and body language will usually give a foreigner away. However, mix a bunch of people together in a more diverse society like California, where everyone dresses and acts across a far broader spectrum, and you’re left with only physiological cues to rely on and it becomes much harder.

My Japanese SIL was able to pass as ML Chinese to the point where she and her (Japanese) friend were able to travel on the ‘peasant’ class of train car - something strictly prohibited by non-Chinese. Then when she and her friend were actually on the car and began conversing in Japanese they were mobbed by Chinese nationals trying to get assistance finding ‘lost’ relatives, ‘missing’ uncles, etc.

So, if you were to line up a variety of Asian folks in their traditional dress it would probably be pretty easy to guess who was who. However, with very limited effort members of one race can easily pass for members of another within the Asian realm with a simple change of clothing.

I think generally, they can tell the difference. However, in most circumstances, it’s not just physical genotype, but also a plethora of context clues. For example, I know from visiting Asia that many of the Hong Kongers I know can tell if someone is from mainland China. If something like that is readily discernible to many folks, I have to imagine that local groups are differentiable to a large degree if you have the practice. But of course, any skill gained solely through anecdotal experience is going to be less than rigorous.

This wiki page about the cross-race effect supports the theory that one will typically have a easier time differentiating between members of their own group, and similar groups than they will dissimilar groups. So it stands to reason a Japanese person would be better at identifying a Korean than an German might.

Or if you can’t tell, just pick up an US Army pamplet.

A lot of it is the way they carry themselves. Japanese people (at least those from Tokyo or Kansai, don’t have much experience with other areas) just have a certain posture, way of walking, and default facial expression that I almost never see from people from different regions. Other country nationals have the same, I assume, but I don’t have as much experience with them so I can’t always guess.

As mentioned above, though, if somebody was aware of the differences and wanted to “pass” for another region’s native, it probably wouldn’t be too hard.

Several people have told me that Japanese are easily recognizable from their dress sense.

Let’s put it another way. I bet you could watch an American, and if asked whether they were from Los Angeles or New York, do better than chance. You couldn’t tell from their facial structure or race, because LA and New York are cosmopolitan cities with people from every ethnic group on Earth. But you could look at how they dressed, how they spoke, their body language, and so on.