Blow Fish Face

Being that this is my first ever blog post, I though I would kick start this blog with an analysis of what I call “blow fish face”; or BFF.
What is BFF? Well, it is NOT a detailed analysis of how to prepare and cook fugu. In fact it has nothing to do with fish or culinary delights of any kind. Rather, it is a non-verbal expression unique to Japanese females across most age ranges. BFF, like many things Japanese, is an unoffending expression that has a much deeper and complicated meaning. I have asked my Japanese friends if there is a word for this expression in Japanese. Apparently there isn’t. So what is this expression?
This expression is created by the puffing out of one’s cheeks ( with perhaps a slight head tilt ). On the surface this expression is quite cute ( kawaii ). Undoubtably this is its purpose. However, its meaning is not cute.
Having lived in Japan for 3 years; Tokyo to be precise, I have seen this expression innumerable times; on streets, in restaurants, bars at funtions, etc. I always thought this was an expression designed to display cuteness. So when I was the recipient of BFF, I naturally thought the girl was being cute. As it turns out, I could not have been more mistaken in my westernized analysis. BFF signifies, to various degrees, a woman’s displeasure or disagreement with something you have done, said, inferred, etc. So the cute face is really saying ” I am making a cute face, but I really disagree with what you just said ( or did )”. Obviously a Japanese man would understand its meaning and get BFF replaced by a smile. However, the western ( or any non

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Japanese male ) would likely see it in quite a different light; continue doing what he did to recieve this face and likely never see the girl again.
So why would I write about “blow fish face”?
Well, BFF is just one of many non-verbal communication expressions the Japanese will use with each other. They are generally mild ( by Western standards ), but signify one’s feeling about something without having to impolitely express it verbally. By contrast, Western ( or at least American ) verbal communication tends to be very direct. There is generally very little need for nuanced non-verbal expressions in western language and particularly in American English. But Japanese is much more vague. Being direct is not polite. So people have to verbally or non-verbally dance around the intent of their meaning.
For example, a typical conversation between a man and a woman in the U.S. might be:
Man: “do you want to go to the movies”.
Woman: “No”.
Very short and to the point. In Japan it might go something like this:
Man: “do you want to go to the movies”
Woman: -blow fish face-.
She “said” no, he understands and they do something else.

My personal interest in Japanese culture and society stems in part from the intricacy of Japanese communication. It takes a tremendous amount of effort to communicate one’s displeasure regarding another’s behavior whilst using polite, non-offending language. Having grown up in the west ( Europe and America ), these subtleties often escape me; adding more fuel to my interest in understanding them. I will likely never fully understand Japanese communication. However, my intent is to learn what I can and to write about it. So my goal for these pages is to ferret out the various nuances within Japanese language and communication and hopefully provide some measure of understanding for the non-Japanese reader. I will also be writing about Japanese cinema, music, art and anything else that might be of interest.