Sunday, February 24, 2013

What's with Asians and the "V" sign??

That super awesome volcano in the background
is Mount Yotei, Japan

So I realize I haven't written in this thing for awhile...I do apologize.  Blog writing is a bit like working out – if you get out of a routine then it's hard to get back to doing it regularly.  I see from my last entry that I was enjoying skiing in Korea.  Then I went to Niseko, Japan for the Lunar New Year holiday.  Let me tell you that skiing in northern Japan is WAAAAYYY better if you're looking to hit the slopes in Asia.  Korean skiing will never seem the same...

Believe it or not, this non-English-major is actually working on a case-writing project this quarter for Samsung, which has almost completely tapped my writing energies, leaving me rather unable to write in this forum.  Surprisingly, I believe that blog writing has actually enhanced my ability to write more confidently...going free-form and not having a high school teacher with a red pen hanging over my head correcting my grammar has actually left me more able to articulate important thoughts on paper.  Rather unexpected side-effect of 3 years of blog writing.

Besides a couple trips to the US, I haven't yet escaped northeast Asia since moving to Seoul*, but I have now been to both China and Japan twice in addition to living full-time in Korea.  And it seems that everybody is doing that classic Asian photo pose, the "V" sign.

"Whaaaaat's the DEAL with thaaaat???"  (cue sarcastic Jerry Seinfeld impression voice)

Korean kids at the Seoul Arts Center, get amped to view Impressionists!

Well, since moving here I've started doing it too.  It the thing to do.  I sent an American friend a picture of my latest Japan trip (with me posing holding up the deuces), and she asks me, "So are you just giving me the peace sign or are you just saying 'two'?  It's hard to tell..."  I felt this necessitated an anthropological inquiry.

Gyeongbokgung Palace, Seoul

Unfortunately, unlike most things I get curious about, Wikipedia did not have a definitive answer to this question.  Its V sign page, talks about the hand gesture's common use by Winston Churchill during World War II, and later Richard Nixon during Vietnam, to signal "victory", but despite this the sign generally only becomes apparent in the Western world when being used as a retro "peace" sign, and not frequently for photographs.  In northeast Asia, however, you see it in *at least* 25% of photographs, by my unscientific estimation  :)


The article then says that in Japan during the 1972 Winter Olympics, a popular American figure skater fell on the ice during the competition but "her cheerful diligence and persistence resonated with many Japanese viewers".  This skater, a peace activist, flashed the sign repeatedly in photographs (back when this was in vogue), and the Japanese copied her.  Then the sign became popular in China and Korea because they simply copied Japan.  I wasn't too satisfied with this explanation, especially the sign seems entirely DEVOID of meaning here (at least, I've never had a Korean or a Chinese or a Japanese explain to me that they were making a "peace" or "victory" sign).  So I dug further on the fact-o-pia that is the modern Internet.

Here I switched to "heart" – Bulguksa Temple, Gyeongju, Korea

One explanation, quite simply, is that Asians make lots of signs in photographs.  In fact, they always seem to need to pose for a picture.  Watch this for a good primer.  Fondness for the Beatles is another, somewhat far-fetched theory...I don't hear much of the Beatles in K-Pop land.  Perhaps the best explanation is put forth in this rather insightful blog, which asserts that a popular Japanese actor made the sign in a series of Konica camera commercials in the 1970s because, simply, he thought the sign was popular in the West.  I'll buy that...Western-style living is certainly aspirational to much of the young generation of Chinese and Koreans today, and perhaps may have been in Japan as well back when it was a less-rich nation. 

Sapporo New Chitose Airport, Japan

So there you have it, a somewhat uncertain answer to understanding a very widespread phenomenon.  You'd think an academic would have looked at this by now.  As an expat now breathing in Korean culture (and sometimes other parts of Asia as well), I've taken to flashing the "V" also at times as it's, well, just sort of easy.  And looks better than just standing there.  But I do find the "V" a little boring now as I think I've started to lazily overuse it**.  Perhaps time to learn another photo pose...

* A planned trip to Hong Kong in January had to be cancelled at the last minute due to a stomach virus I acquired along with several friends who ate a raw seafood dinner near the Noryangjin fish market.  Ugh, sad...
** I did have a Chinese Facebook friend comment on one photo, "Dude, get rid of your Asian 'V', you are more Asian than I am now..."
*** Though from Japan, this collection of photos is pretty awesome.  I don't know what is up with the random Stormtrooper...
**** Somehow this post became almost wholly a collection of me doing the "V" sign, not Asians.  Sorry.  You can take a trip to this continent if you don't believe me, or just do some very quick web-surfing


  1. Thanks for the theories! I have been trying to figure out why my Korean gf makes this V sign in 30% of our vacation a Canadian, it makes no sense to me!

  2. I asked my Korean colleagues about this and they gave a very unusual answer for this - they said while taking photographs they are not sure what to do with their hands hence they go for "V"

  3. The perfect article just appeared in Time magazine to answer this question!

    It also agrees with the Konica camera commercial theory.

  4. I'm Asian and what Kohinoor Devroy's friends say is actually quite true. Lol it has become an automatic reaction it feels weird and awkward without the peace sign.