Japanese people making V sign in photos

Working in central London, I see a lot of tourists from around the world - I cross Tower Bridge every day on the way to work, and there are always lots of people taking the obligatory “I was there” photos.

One thing I’ve noticed is that when Japanese people pose for these pictures, they almost invariably make a V-sign with their fingers (palm facing the camera, rather than the “rude” way round). It seems like it’s pretty much a reflex reaction, as soon as the camera comes out, just like a cheesy grin is the standard for many Westerners. It seems more natural when you see teenage girls doing it, but even staid-looking businessmen and grandparents adopt the same wacky hand gesture.

In video games, too, often the characters give the V-sign after completing a stage, or posing on the menu screen or whatever. Is there any particular reason for the V sign, or is it just “that’s how we pose for photos”?

A few examples from Google Images (not from London, necessarily!)




4 :wink:


Do you mean, ‘Why is the “Peace” gesture so popular amongst Japanese?’?

It’s often used as a victory sign as well.

Yeah I read the Wiki link but it doesn’t really seem to explain what it has to do with tourist photos, other than presenting three guesses. I was wondering if it is the “victory” connotation, as demonstrated by Mario-san in the link above…

Really I was hoping to get a view from either a Japanese doper (if we have any?) or an expat living over there.

My wife (Chinese) sometimes does this. I gather she does this because it’s popular in Asia, and it’s popular in Asia because people do this. :slight_smile:

FWIW, An earlier discussion

They do it because everyone else does it.

Why do we all smile when we get our picture taken?

Thanks for that. So it seems it might be an equivalent of saying “Cheese!” - either “piisu!” (= peace) or “nii!” (= two).

I once had a friend stationed on the Okinawa Naval Base who posted several pictures of himself in uniform with locals. Unfailingly, every Japanese man or woman in the photograph with him made the two-finger V symbol. I asked him what was up with that, and he told me that while he had no idea the guys on base got a kick out of thinking that it was them saying “You bombed us this many times.”

Ridiculously insensitive and my laughing at it is on the long, long list I’m sure I’ll have read to me when I get to hell, but damn. I chuckled.

Japanese children are taught to give the peace sign when taking photographs from when they’re very young. It’s a very reflexive gesture. Most don’t even consciously think about it, their hand automatically flying up at the hint of a camera in the vicinity pointing in their direction. What’s strange is Japanese people, from what I’ve seen, don’t give the peace sign if they know the camera is shooting video. They will only do it for still photos.

is the other way considered rude in Great Britain?

It’s roughly the equivalent of our middle finger.

Yes, although the middle finger has become more common in recent years. The two-fingered salute has more of a retro, Sex Pistols-era, “Up yours grandad” kind of vibe.

I’m not Japanese, but I’m Korean and it’s pretty much the norm among Koreans as well. As others have said, it’s just a reflex sign. In the US amongst 2nd gen (or beyond), it is sometimes called “fobbin’ it up” (fob = Fresh Off the Boat, or a slightly derogative, slightly affectionate term for people who just came to the US).

It is purely reflexive and is bloody, bloody BLOOODY annoying! Whenever I try to take pictures of my kids in their English classes, the second they see the camera, they drop whatever they are doing and freeze with their hands up in the stupid pose. At which point I put the camera down and say “I’m not taking a picture with ANY HANDS UP” and they all stare at me, utterly confused as to what to do now. (With their hands still in the air!!) This is compounded when we do group shots and I’m there with the camera steadily repeating “Put your hands down” and the mothers behind me are all shrieking “PIIIIIIIISU”


Can you tell this is a sore subject?!

Yeah when I was a kid it was rude, now if you did it to anyone younger than say late '20s here I doubt they’d have a notion it was meant to be offensive.

Yes, which I learned by accidentally offending my British boss one day. He asked me how many copies of a book we had in stock (this was a Waldenbooks). There were two copies, and he was too far away to hear me, so I indicated that fact digitally. He got pissed off for just a moment. Then explained an aspect of British culture that this American lad didn’t know about.

This is equally common in China, and it is purely reflexive. Even I have to resist throwing the “V” when I see a camera. There are also a few variations- the gun/camera frame, etc.

Asian photo culture is pretty interesting and notably different than our own.

Self-portraits are the way to go. People- especially young women- will gladly show you 100,000,000 photos of themselves. They don’t do a lot of the “my friends acting wacky” or “documenting my family party” or “famous stuff I saw but am not posing in front of” that we’d expect. It’s mostly about the self portrait. Even travel photos are “me in front of a museum, me in front of a statue, me in front of the ocean” etc.

Furthermore, these portraits are often of the “glamor” variety. A picture of you smiling happily in front of the Eiffel tower wouldn’t be enough. You’d want to be posing in a white dress holding a rose and looking wistfully into the distance. Or smiling softly into the camera wearing a floppy hat and clutching a giant teddy bear. Or laying in the grass pretending to read a book while the wind artfully blows your hair. It’s not just “I was there.” It’s “I was beautiful there.”

Indeed, collecting these glamor photos seems to be a pretty common purpose for travel. Any Chinese tourist attraction is going to be full of young women in their best clothes posing as their sheepish looking boyfriends click thousands of pictures. Many of my students will consider “taking pictures of myself” to be a good weekend outing, and the richer ones will spend no small amount of money on professional photos on a regular basis. Beauty and image are, in my experience, much more important to young women in Asia.

I always thought this was a reason behind the peace sign- in this culture photos are supposed to be about people and they are supposed to be posed. So should you be caught without your rose or floppy hat, the peace sign is the least you can to do make it known that you care enough about your image. It wouldn’t do for people just to be taking pictures of you doing whatever. You want to at least be projecting something, even if the “I’m young and wacky and getting my picture taken aren’t we having fun!” peace sign is all you can manage.

That’s my wife to a T! I thought it was a bit strange, but I’ve gotten used to it by now. Although it drives me nuts to try to fit something large (like a big statue, say) in the same picture as my wife without either making my wife look tiny or chopping off most of the statue. :slight_smile: