Monday, September 08, 2008

The Ultimate Korean Looks List – How to Pick Koreans from Other Asians Just by Looking at Them

Dear Korean,

So many people tell me they can tell the difference between Asian groups (i.e. Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Vietnamese, etc). I can't. Are there REALLY distinctive physical features that can instantly tell a person's nationality, and what are they?


Dear Joanne,

Are there really distinctive features among Asians? Yes. Yes. A thousand times yes.

It is a skill that requires subtle differentiation. It is like tasting for difference in Merlot and Shiraz. If you were a first time wine drinker, you may not notice. However, once you get the difference, you would not be able to tolerate the philistines who do not see the obvious differences.

While the Korean has his own way of telling apart all Asian ethnicities, he will only write about how to tell Koreans apart from other Asians, since he only claims to be an authority on Koreans and no other ethnicity.

To be clear, this is an attempt to distinguish various Asians just by looking at them. More obvious indicators like looking at people’s last names or listening to their languages/accents are omitted for the purpose of this post.

Many, many thanks to our great associate editor who provided brilliant points that the Korean missed.


But first, the Korean must put out some important disclaimers, since the Korean has a feeling that this post is going to get him into a lot of trouble. Here it goes:

1. The Korean already knows that broad, stereotypical generalizations are often incorrect, and insulting to those who do not fall into that generalization. But please realize that this post does NOT contain that type of generalization.

In other words, the Korean is never saying that “All Koreans are X or Y.” Rather, he is saying that “People who have X or Y traits tend to be Koreans.” The Korean thinks this is a fair statement, as there are certain things that Koreans do that few other Asians do. Although the list may seem to sound otherwise at times, please know that the Korean never intends to say "All Koreans are X or Y."

2. The Korean also realizes that on the blog, it is sometimes difficult to tell if the Korean is serious or joking. Well, there should be no question about it in this post: THIS POST IS MEANT TO BE IN HUMOR. Please do not get upset.

How to Use the List

1. With many Asians, there is no single feature that gives away their ethnicity. Often, it is multiple factors adding up. Therefore, the Korean assigned “Confidence Level” to each category, ranging from 1 through 5. Weigh different confidence levels to calculate the probability, and make the most probable prediction.

2. This list would show that the strongest indicators are related to fashion and style. Therefore, it may not be very applicable with Asian Americans, because Asian Americans slowly assimilate their style into the mainstream American fashion. How far assimilated depends entirely on the individual; one Korean American’s fashion would be indistinguishable from Koreans in Korea, and another Korean American’s fashion would be indistinguishable from your boy/girl next door. Therefore, this list is most applicable to: Korean tourists, older Korean Americans (because they tend to retain more from their original country), and recently immigrated Korean Americans (ditto). With many Asian Americans, this list would be of little help.

3. Even when everything seems to point to one direction using the list, and the sum of confidence level is totaling in 100, you will often be wrong nonetheless. Just think how ridiculous it is to characterize the looks of 73 million Koreans worldwide! The Korean considers himself to be as good as anyone, but his success rate is about 75 percent, tops. Again, please don’t take this exercise seriously.

Enough chitchat—onto the almighty list!

The Ultimate Korean Looks List – How to Pick Koreans from Other Asians Just by Looking at Them

The Big Distinction – Let’s first make sure that you can tell East Asians (= Chinese, Japanese, Korean) and Southeast Asians (= Indonesian, Malaysian, Vietnamese, Cambodian) apart. Pushing the wine analogy a little further, the distinction between East Asian and Southeast Asian is the distinction between red and white wine. If you can’t even do this, there is no way you can apply the rest of the list. Stop reading now.

Throwing a wrench in this distinction (like Rose wine maybe) is that there are many Southeastern Asians who are ethnically Chinese who migrated to the region many centuries ago. (The Hmongs) These people, appearance-wise, are indistinguishable from regular Chinese, although they will say they are Vietnamese, Indonesian, etc., when asked. There is no way to predict this population other than geographic concentration. As far as the Korean knows, ethnic-Chinese-Southeastern Asians in America tend to be concentrated in Central California and around Minneapolis somehow. (Confidence Level = 1). There may be other regions; the Korean just doesn’t know.

Numerical Inference – In America, Korean- and Chinese-Americans outnumber Japanese Americans. Therefore when you see an Asian person in America, assuming you can make the “big distinction”, the choice is usually 50-50: Korean or Chinese. (Confidence Level = 4) Since Koreans physically look most similar to Japanese, if you can narrow a person down to either Korean or Japanese, the numerical inference says the person is likely to be Korean.
This indicator, however, loses strength in areas where tourists are prevalent, such as Times Square, Disneyland, and major airports.

General Physique – with respect to body types, on average, Koreans tend to be taller and bigger than other Asians. Asians who are on the taller side (between 5”11” and 6’3” for men, between 5’7” and 5’10” for women) tend to be Korean. (Confidence Level = 2).

General Complexion – on average, Koreans tend to be a shade lighter in complexion than other Asians, except Japanese. However, very pale skin occurs in all three ethnicities. Highly unreliable in California, where everyone is tanned. (Confidence Level = 1)

General Facial Features – on average, Korean and Japanese tend to have smaller facial features, i.e. smaller eyes, nose, lips, etc. In other words, Asians without any strong facial features (i.e. flatter face, without a strong nose or thicker lips, for example) are more likely to be Korean or Japanese. Once you narrowed it down to here, you can use the numerical inference depending on where you are. (Confidence Level = 2)

Facial Hair (Men) – Asian men who sport a strong, thick facial hair (beard, goatee, etc.) tend not to be Koreans. (Confidence Level = 4) Those who do have facial hair tend to keep it trimmed short, and beards or stubble never extend to the neck. You will never, EVER see a Korean neckbeard. (Confidence Level = 4)

Eyebrows (Women) - If an Asian woman's eyebrows have been not just plucked, but shaved and trimmed into a thin shape, she’s likely Korean. Korean women prefer to shave than pluck when styling eyebrows, because the prevailing belief is that over-plucking causes the skin around the eyebrow to sag with age. (Confidence Level = 3)

Eyes – once upon a time, the lack of epicanthic fold (i.e. “double eyelids”) tended to indicate non-Korean; with the prevalence of plastic surgery among young Korean women, this indicator lost some of its effectiveness. But among men and older people, this is still a decent indicator. (Confidence Level = 2) (Picture is from a Korean plastic surgeon website, with a somewhat NSFW name.)

Compared to other Asians, Korean eyes are set relatively shallow. To measure this, extend your index finger, and place the fingertip on your eyebrow and lower part of the finger on your cheekbone. With shallow-set eyes, your finger touches the eye. Deep-set eyes sit beneath your finger. (Confidence Level = 2)

Amongst women, Koreans are the most likely to wear colored contact lenses, or even circle lenses to make their iris (and their eye in general) look bigger. (Confidence Level = 3) Wearing glasses are uncommon for young women past high school. (Confidence Level = 3)

Nose (Women) –Due to popularity of plastic surgery in Korea, young Asian women with narrow, pointy noses tend to be Korean. (Confidence Level = 3)

Lips – On average, Koreans and Japanese tend to have thinner lips than other Asians. (Confidence Level = 1)

Teeth – On average, Koreans have a high awareness of cosmetic dentistry, and adult Koreans will have relatively well-formed, well-maintained teeth, whether it is natural or from years of wearing braces and retainers. (Confidence Level = 4) Koreans are also likely to get gold molar caps and infills – peer in when they say aaaah. (Confidence Level = 2)

Armpits (women) – Lack of armpit hair tends to indicate Korean, as Korean women are probably the only Asians who shave or wax their armpit hair. There is a lot of stigma in armpit hair, the usual lines of it being disgusting and unsightly and unladylike. Moreover, some Koreans are genetically unable to grow armpit hair. (Confidence Level = 3)

Facial Expression – in a neutral state (i.e. not talking with a friend or watching something in particular), Koreans tend to look like they are pissed off. (Confidence Level = 2)

Hairstyle (Men) – Currently, long, shaggy haircut is the trend in Korea, so a young Asian man who sports the style is likely to be Korean. (Confidence Level = 5)

Shaggy Cut - Example (Picture from a Korean shopping website that sells hair curlers.)

Hairstyle (Women) – The currently trendy haircut is the “mushroom cut” or “princess cut”. A young Asian woman with this style is likely to be Korean. (Confidence Level = 5)

Mushroom Cut - Example (Picture from a Q&A section.)

Princess Cut - Example (From here. Please pay attention to the haircut.)

With older Asian women, the ajumma perm is a strong sign. (Confidence Level = 4) (Picture from an Empas Q&A section. The lady is Kim Hye-Ja, a very famous Korean actress.)

(Also, the Korean would be remiss if he did not link to Stuff Korean Moms Like post on perms on Korean women.)

Even when not following a trend, Korean women have expensive haircuts, and their hair looks expensive and heavily layered (there is very little hair actually hanging down). Not very reliable, as there are many non-Korean women who specifically seek Korean hair salons. (Confidence Level = 1)

Headgears (Women) – Many Korean women are big fans of caps. They like to think it keeps them fair-skinned. You should see our SPF 75+ sunscreens, sold at $50 a pop. No joke. Asian women who wear caps tend to be Koreans. (Confidence Level = 4) With older women, wearing a large visor that looks like a welding mask is a sign that they are Korean. (Confidence Level = 3)

Makeup (Women) – Korean women have acquired a mastery of cosmetics unseen in other parts of Asia. A particularly well-made-up Asian woman (e.g. with well-plucked eyebrows, good level of foundation, perfectly split mascara, well-drawn eye-liners, nice selection of lipstick colors, etc.) tends to be Korean. (Confidence Level = 4)

Depending on the woman’s propensity to wear makeup, you may occasionally see a woman who has a tan line along her face, or her face is distinctively two shades lighter than the back of her hands – meet the dreaded ‘makeup tanline’. That’s right, boys and girls, she wore so much makeup she couldn’t get sunburnt. (Confidence Level = 3)

Accessories (Men) – Asian man with a “man bag” tends to be Korean. (Confidence Level = 2) Also, due to the popularity of “couple rings” -- i.e. rings that boyfriends and girlfriends wear, akin to "promise rings" in certain parts of America -- an Asian man wearing a ring at a non-wedding-ring position tends to be Korean. (Confidence Level = 3)

Accessories (Women) – Big hoop earrings and chain-type accessories are popular among Korean women currently. (Confidence Level = 2) A perennial favorite of Korean women is the shape of a ribbon tied into a bow. (Confidence Level = 3) They will wear earrings, pendants, mobile phone charms, and even clothing randomly decorated with bows often pre-tied or pre-cast in its shape, but somehow, will never actually tie a ribbon into their hair into a bow.

General Fashion (Men) – Currently, the fashion trend in Korea for men is tight-fitting clothes, especially skinny jeans. (Confidence Level = 3) Korean men have no fashion sense of their own that can’t be vetoed by the women; they are dressed by surrounding women - like how tides are determined by the pull of the sun and the moon - the largest force usually being their girlfriends. This makes their clothing rather … uh, unisex. (Confidence Level = 4)

Socks (Men) – What if they’re all wearing business suits and you can’t tell? Check their ankles. Your authentic Korean will always wear white sports socks with his business suit, and if they’re feeling dressy, some sort of hideous carpet-patterned grey socks. (Confidence Level = 2) Bonus points if the socks have a brand decal on them, and a prize goes to anyone who finds the ubiquitous Playboy Bunny! (Confidence Level = 10++ with Playboy Bunny, though “BYC” can be substituted; 5 with socks with decals; 3 with grey socks; 2 with white socks)

General Fashion (Women) – For young women, fabrics are often extremely thin and the colours are muted (primary colours are for kids, strong pastels for older women). (Confidence Level = 5) These clothing are often layered on top of another, usually combined with leggings that end at the knees and a bolero jacket. Most blouses, tops and jackets are cut very high at the waist. Wearing halternecks and singlet tops on top of baggier, longer-sleeved clothing is very common. (Confidence Level = 5) In winter, patterned pantyhose are worn under the leggings. (Confidence Level = 5) The clothing themselves often lack sequins or fancy detailing except at the chest level. (Confidence Level = 5) The clothing itself is never dressy, but the accessories such as belts, handbags and jewelry often are over the top. (Confidence Level = 4)

Add all that, and the ensemble looks like this:

The overall look is that of a literally overdressed woman who outgrew exactly half of her wardrobe. Leggings poking out of denim skirt? Korean. Three different tops and two different bottoms on at the same time? Korean. Halterneck top on top of a t-shirt? Sadly, Korean. Is that a kid’s cardigan draped over her shoulders? Yeaaaaaaah, Go Corea!

Wintertime – Come wintertime, many Koreans wear naebok (lit. innerwear), which is a type of thermal underwear. However, unlike most thermal underwear, naebok is very thin and very, very tight-fitting. They come in hilariously unflattering colors of red, pink, peach, grey, light blue and the traditional(?) peach with white horizontal stripes (or would that be white with peach horizontal stripes?) Although naebok are much tighter-fitting than the Mormon magic underwear and are designed to be worn over normal underwear, telltale bulges and bits of naebok peeking out often gives a Korean away in winter. (Confidence Level = 4)

Got a question or a comment for the Korean? Email away at


  1. Missoula, Montana is another area with a large Hmong population.

  2. Hilarious. Fantastic, too. Thanks for this one.

  3. Cool^^It reminds me something,you can test yourself here:

  4. Bigger cheek bones = likely Korean

  5. maxiemilla,

    the test on the site is somewhat rigged, because it only shows headshots. It also tends to show people whose fashion sense go against the grain of what majority of Koreans would wear.

  6. I agree: I totally bombed the Alllooksame quiz, because the site chose only people who were raised in New York: it would be much easier to identify a born-and-raised in Korea Korean from a born+raised in China Chinese, and a born+raised in Japan Japanese, than people who are ETHNICALLY Korean, Japanese and Chinese, but CULTURALLY New Yorkers. Body language is another big indicator for people raised in the different places, though it's hard to write a list for that.

    Interestingly, I put my Korean coworker through the alllooksame quiz, and she chose all the best groomed and most neatly dressed people as Korean.

  7. yeah,the unusual looking of their's bothered me too.but this is just a game,so I wanted to show you and to know what do you about the other qiuzes?have you tried?

  8. Yes, and the Korean crushed them.

  9. I got about 60% on the quiz when I took it way back when. I did okay identifying Koreans and Chinese but I sucked when it came to Japanese. I guess that's what happens when you don't meet too many Japanese growing up.

  10. OMG so TRUE about younger Korean women's clothing...

  11. Ha ha ha.


    As usual.

  12. Agree on body language being a dead giveaway. It's subtle, but little things, like how a glass or cigarette (esp. among male elders) is held. Also a certain gait (i.e., ajushi hands held behind back shuffle, or quick ajumma stride as if on her way to Nordstrom annual sale come to mind). You can't pick these things out in Korean-Americans as easily, but there still seems to be a K-radar ... in the Midwest we look each other in the eye in passing, kind of a silent "what's up". You just know. Certainly these things on their own aren't confined to Koreans by any means, but like to said is the combination of factors.

    Love the "pissed-off" expression when in neutral mood.

    - A Korean who knows a Korean when she sees one. And loves Stuff Korean Moms Like.

  13. "The overall look is that of a literally overdressed woman who outgrew exactly half of her wardrobe." Had me rolling, with tears. Awesome!

  14. Accessories (Men / Women) – asian person (male or female) with jacket, basecap, shoes or backpack from northface IS korean. (Confidence Level = 11)


  15. Have you seen the ulzang look .. extravagent eyemakeup? i have ity here in my site big eyes makeup

  16. I loved your post, especially the description of women's clothing. I think you should have mentioned Korean women and slip-on heels or brightly colored heels.

  17. those tests were very difficult for me ^^;;

  18. Hoo boy, that was fuuuu-neee! Kudos, The Korean!

  19. Very funny post. Though, I totally go against the norm with the whole facial hair thing. (I'm 100% Korean) I am a hairy, hairy dude. My beard (which I'm growing in again right now) is full and thick, extending up almost to my eyebrows (seriously, there's like a recon force of thinner beard hairs probing the borders to finally unite cheek to forehead), and down my neck, almost to my chest hair (who am I kidding, I should just go ahead and call it body hair, as it has long since past being confined to just my chest. For realsies, there's only a 3 inch band of skin between my neck beard and the chest mat--just checked). I attribute this to either genetic throwback genes to the Mongolian Horselords, or sheer force of will dating back to my teens, when I decided to become a hermit, for which extreme hairiness could provide a substitute for clothing, as well as protection from the elements...

  20. Oh, geez...According to this blog post, I look more Japanese than Korean, and I am Korean.

  21. This is so true. Although a lot of things like fashion, haircuts, and the armpit hair don't distinguish Japanese and Korean. Japanese women all shave or wax their armpits too. Korean and Japanese are the hardest to separate but you can usually tell by the texture of their face and the vertical height of their eyes. That and body language/demeanor. I've lived in Japan for a while now and I usually look at the way they walk to tell the difference. Japanese girls are almost always pigeon toed xD

  22. I know this is 9 months after the post was published, but I happened to find it again and reread it. There are two things though that I really do not agree with. I'm sure most (there are exceptions) women from all of the Asian countries shave and the fashion is quite popular throughout East Asia.

  23. hah some part is pretty good but you said young Korean women wear caps to protect their skin from sun (since sun damages your skin alot it sounds quite clever), maybe it can be partially right but they usually wear caps when they are not wearing make-ups.I am so surprised that you are mentioning the skinny jeans because skinny jeans have been popular for the past few years for both men and women all around the world. I am living in NZ and every boys here wear skinny jeans as well. It's not about fashion sense it's about the trend, I am curious what men around you wear . Men carrying bags are not something new either it's trend as well. I am studying fashion and did research on the trend of men bags last year for a school project. Apart from some misunderstanding of fashion sense this article was quite interesting and fun. Cheers ~!!!!

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  27. I used to live in Taiwan, and a lot of the clothing style is true for over there too. The leggings and 8 sizes too small cardigan. And the 'unisex' style for men.

    Asians have wacky style.

  28. Pretty accurate, I would say. However, I don't quite see one of the points on the same level. If you would allow me to express my thoughts, I shall give an explanation below. :)

    Thin lips?
    I think some Koreans have some pretty thick lips that I don't see too much on other asians though.

    Take Cha Tae Hyun, for example. His lips are pretty thick. I see a lot of Korean guys with those kind of lips too. Although not all, but quite a number. (The reason I only refer to the guys is because the women do surgery and put on a lot of make up, don't they? It would be harder to tell. However, I might add one actress who has some pretty thick lips too: Im Soo Jung)

    How about Xiah and JaeJoong from TVXQ? So Ji Sub from MiSa? Kim Hyun Jung from SS501? I'd mention David Choi from Youtube too but some might not have heard of him. They don't have lips as thick as Cha Tae Hyun, might I add, but they aren't that thin either.

    I would actually put up photos I've found but then I'd have to credit the source and upload the photos because I don't think hot-linking is such a good idea. However, take a look at their non-smiling/neutral-face photos (because smiling pulls the lips into thinner lines and pouting makes them thicker) and perhaps the thickness may be more apparent, don't you think? :)


  29. Oh your fashion details left me in stitches. Priceless. Thank you for writing this informative yet hilarious post.

  30. Hahaha, this is fun.

    Love reading the distinction.

    I'm not sure if you've written here about this one - Koreans tend to be noisy (shouting or just high volume when talking or having fun).

  31. You can always distinguish Korean businessmen from Japanese from they way their pants are hemmed. Japanese tend to have them hemmed so that break once (the front crease bends once) and Koreans tend to have it so it breaks at least twice. I have 100% accuracy in this hanging out in front of Apple campus.

  32. Although I do understand the point of what you mean by "Korean fashion sense" but I would say Koreans overall dress better than Northern Americans in general.

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  34. I had such good laugh reading this...

  35. I noticed that most Koreans have puppy dog eyes. The eyes droop.

  36. Vietnamese is ethnically East Asian. Yue people history should be your guide as to their origins.

  37. Truly enjoyed this! Frank, interesting, and perceptive.

    Something I thought I'd observed here (again, only as a generality) is that Koreans tend to have long, clearly demarcated philtrums (yes, yes, I'll define it for everyone's sake: the dip or cleft that runs between the nose and the lip). Also, the angle of the jawline tends to be broader and 'squarer' than, say, the average Japanese.

    From watching my university students, I have to note that if male, they tend to wear spectacularly 'Konglish' or 'Engrish' T-shirts - if female, they are far more beautifully groomed and neatly dressed than their Western equivalent!

    Thank you for a generally (as in overall) fascinating and honest blog - I'll be working my way through it this semester.

  38. I like this blog, "Ask a Korean!. It provides all Koreans with an arena to voice opinions and vent frustrations.

    My concern is that some idiot will actually take this as gospel and repeat this as truth rather then humor.

    I know many Korean American's live in communities that have large Korean populations, but for those of us who do not there are a lot of Korean haters.

    I also find that newly arrived Chinese immigrants have some type of animosity towards Koreans.

    I'm new to this blog. But I am quite disliked at ROKDROP -Revelation.

  39. Shallow set eyes and looking pissed off - ranks a 10 on me! My face is so incredibly flat and no depth >.< And, on several occasions, strangers in the street have asked me to "smile" and ask why I look so upset!

  40. Your physical descriptions are a bit off, especially when you compare Koreans to Japanese. Koreans look nothing like Japanese, they are ethnically similar to Northern Chinese folks (who you do not see much of in the US).

    Pure Koreans have a distinct physical look, though it can vary wildly as if you look at the migration patterns of Koreans, they do have gene pools from southern China, which further blurs the picture.

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  43. I like so much the part of this blog of the "General Fashion" love the confidence levels, are a such a cool idea, I think that I'm at level 5, I hope so hehe!

    Izzy Mayok

    how to bowling

  44. My gay lover is a Korean working in Japan. He is fluent in Japanese and is a very loving, romantic and passionate guy. I have had lovers from other Asian groups but have never been fulfilled as much as I have with my present lover. Korean men are HOT and very, very loving. I can vouch for that fact.

  45. The West Coast, in my experience (which is that of living here), has a larger Japanese population than Korean.

    I've noticed some of these traits on my own in the past and have used them for identification. It's good to know I'm not the only one.

  46. wow i know this is supposed to be humorous but the way you described the fashion for the women is exactly how my sungsaengnim dresses.

  47. Hmmm. I've lived in Tokyo, and just about everything you mentioned about makeup, fashion, haircuts, style, and habits is also largely true in Japan.

    One of the major phenotypical distinctions I found between Korean and Japanese people is that, on average, Koreans are taller by about 5cm. The average height for a Japanese man is about 165, while for Korean men it's more like 175. The only other one I could say is based on observation alone...and that's that many Koreans seem to have much softer features than Japanese.

  48. Ok - a different perspective on this discussion. As a gay man, I never felt attracted to Asian men. Perhaps this reflected my white suburban roots or lack of social diversity - who knows.

    But when I moved to Manhattan 20 years ago, I would stop at the corner grocery store (aka "the Korean market") on my way home from the gym. One night, a young guy waited on me who was not only charming and outgoing but drop-dead gorgeous. Tall, muscular, beautiful skin, well-groomed, incredible smile - the whole deal. I found myself shopping at the store so often that one of my friends ( who happens to be Chinese American and also gay) went along to see what the fuss was all about.

    He was similarly besotted by the guy behind the counter and finally explained why he looked different.

    "He's Korean," my friend announced. "Korean men are very handsome."

    It may be completely unscientific, but it's worked for me. The best looking Asian men are invariably Korean. I can't tell the difference between Chinese or Japanese and I'm completely clueless regarding ALL Asian women. But Im usually right about the Korean guys.

    As for the hunky clerk, his stint at the store only lasted a few months. He was replaced by a beautiful young woman who bore an uncanny resemblance to Kim Yu-Na, the recent Olympic skating champion.

    When I asked about her predecessor, she told me that he was her older brother and had returned to dental school at the University of Michigan. She was nice but I rarely stopped at the store afterwards.

    And so it went.

  49. Key identifying feature = mandibular osteohypertrophy

    Look in the mirror and slide your lower jaw forward, so that your lower teeth are in front of your upper teeth. Look what this does to the appearance of your lower face!

    This isn't how all Koreans look, but Mongoloid people with such facial features are inevitably Korean. (also explains the popularity of jaw reduction surgery and Botox to the jaw among Koreans)

  50. I'm one of those exceptions you talked about in the disclaimer, haha. Going by the listed traits (minus fashion sense as I grew up in Canada), I am the everyday Korean guy with the pale skin, narrow eyes, sharp bridged nose, jet black hair. Even did the index finger/cheekbone test and had to stop when I got my knuckle in my eye. Total stereotypical Korean, it's not even funny.

    Except I'm not Korean.

    I would suggest that the Japanese are the likeliest of East Asians to develop a unique look, living on an isolated archipelago for hundreds of years. Korea is physically connected to China which opens the flow of food, culture, religion, ideas and most of all, genetics exchanges.

    Due to the peninsula's literal attachment to mainland Asia, what you describe as the "Korean" look (physical features, not fashion) in my opinion, is not uniquely Korean at all as the Northern Chinese and the Mongolians have no doubt "exchanged" genetics with the Koreans over the past few thousand years. Before these nationalities even existed.

    The Chinese features described in the blog entry is based on Chinese immigrants - a pretty good place to start. However immigrant Chinese tend to be from the southern more tropical belt of the region - Hong Kong, cities of the Canton Province, Taiwan which only accounts for the lower half of China.

    What is missing is the group of people living on the big ass chunk of land Korea is attached to, sometimes referred to as Northern China. A bit more research and you may be surprised to find that the exclusively Korean features mentioned in this blog entry isn't exclusively Korean at the end of the day.

    Nonetheless, very entertaining blog post. I enjoy your sense of humour.

  51. I feel like this neatly summarizes why Koreans never think I'm Korean. When I meet other Koreans, they will exhibit shock, and then insist I must be Japanese. I've also had Japanese people claim me as one of their own, and my own aunt tell me I look half white. Really though, I think it comes down to my unwillingness to wear makeup and seven t-shirts at the same time.

  52. This post is funny, definitely stereo-typing but funny. I am one of those atypical Koreans. My whole life I've been told "you don't look Korean," and of course mainly told that by Koreans! honesty is definitely a virtue of Koreans, straight-up blunt insulting honesty is their favorite I think.

  53. Regarding the comments about Koreans looking northern Chinese. A large percentage of northern Chinese are actually of Korean descent. If you visit cities such as Harbin, Jilin, Shenyang(all in the NE) you will find them all too common.

    1. really! thanks interesting because my parents are from central china and i get mistaken for a korean all the time!

  54. Japanese men do not look like Koreans at all like 3/4 of the time. Japanese are shortier,stalkier,and pudgier.BTW I'm part Japanese not Korean so if any Japanese find that observation rude too bad its the truth lol. Also Japanese have much bigger rounder eyes than Korean people.You may have noticed more than half of Japanese are indeed more tan than Koreans, some Japanese even have SE asian features like Filipinos and Indonesians. You should also note Japanese look more rugged than Koreans and some tend to look somewhat caucasian , examples, Tamaki Hiroshi,Hiroshi Abe ,Ken Hirai. Also many Japanese have naturally pointy noses and double eyelids.
    I dont know where people get this idea that Japanese look like Koreans.Japanese look closer to Chinese,some look SE asian like Filipino/Indonesian/Thai, but all look distinctly Japanese.But for some reason Korean women do resemble Japanese women a lot, but for men Japanese look way different than Koreans. Koreans look entirely northern Asian, for Japanese maybe 1/2 look northern Asia and the 1/2 look like SE Asian/Chinese.Japanese have a very mixed look, but Koreans have a very pure northern "solid" look. Go On JREF, "Origins of the Japanese". This could be the reason why Japanese look so mixed when compared to Koreans and Chinese. Japanese may look mixed, but in the end Japanese look quite Japanese indeed.

  55. I completely disagree with this breakdown. I'm from Hawaii and literally I have 5 ethnicities, I have features that are very distinct in all, but my puerto rican side, maybe due to it really being spanish. (white) My family are all of mixed blood and I am very good in being able to tell what Asian or Malaysian as well as mixed people are. I am literally 98% of the time accurate, which amazes my friends from the states. If you're from Hawaii then you know we take pride in the race we are and able to tell the difference among them. The only people who look the same to us are the caucasions.

  56. "Facial Expression – in a neutral state (i.e. not talking with a friend or watching something in particular), Koreans tend to look like they are pissed off. (Confidence Level = 2)"

    Hahaha that is so true. My friends always tell me I looked pissed off if I have no expression.

  57. Haha so true about a lot of points, made me laugh.

    "Lips – On average, Koreans and Japanese tend to have thinner lips than other Asians."

    ^ I think this wrong. People always say I have pouty lips and my sister has pouty lips too. I think a fair few of my korean friends have lips you wouldn't consider thin.

  58. Also, Koreans, both men and women are culturally very forthright and will tell you exactly what is on their mind without softening the blow or being obtuse. My gay Korean lover always calls me "fatty" which I am but in a very loveable and cute manner which is adorable. Neither fellow Japanese or Chinese are so blunt to the point of being mistaken as "rude" by the casual onlooker as Koreans are. It's just the way they were brought up, not to hide their emotions th way Japanese and Chinese do. "Inscrutablity" or "Tactfulness" typified by Japanese and Chinese definitely does not apply to Koreans, but their lack of artifice or concealing emotions is downright refreshing though it does IRK me sometimes and I have to chastise my lover for being bumptious! This is an excellent way to distinguish between Korean and Japanese/Chinese. There are also historical relations between the 3 countries which leads to deep-rooted disdain and in some cases downright hatred and enmity because China and later Japan always sought to conquer, subdue and rule Korea and the two countries' oppression has left deep-rooted feelings in Koreans who generally disdain their colonial occupiers and medieval attackers Japan and long-time neighbour-invader China. Korea was always picked on by Japan and China but managed to fight them off with sheer gumption. This is not to say that Korea is entirely blameless, as they sided with China during the Yuan Mongol Dynasty to invade Japan. Japan invaded China and Korea of course in the modern period and controlled both Korea and China with militaristic jingoism. Therefore hard feelings exist between all 3 countries for each other. But love conquers all and my gay Korean lover and I, a Japanese-American are very content and happy with each other, loving each other despite our cultural differences! I had a lot of Chinese boyfriends previously as well as other Koreans.

  59. Most Asians don't have armpit hair because we wax/ shave them. It's not only the Korean ladies LOL I don't think I know any girl who keeps her armpit hair. That's weird. Haha!

    What I noticed is that Korean men are usually very cute. Usually. Especially the young ones. ;) And I can tell if the girl is a Korean with her clothes. Yeah, if it's layered-- korean.

  60. "Can you tell Asians apart? a thousand times yes." so true. Every time I walk past an Asian with one of my Chinese friends, she'll tell me their nationality. Like clock-work. Once she got into an argument with her mom about which kind of Asian a girl they saw at an airport was. She had her back to them and they were debating Korean vs. Japanese based on clothes, posture, etc. I think she turned out to be Korean.

  61. Dear Korean,
    I am an american women.I want a korean sleepwear called a naebok. My friend has it and it looks so comfy. It seems like its very soft. If you could, do you know any online website that sells themm?


  62. Love your posts. In humor - I'm mormon and there's nothing "magic" about my underwear, just saying.

  63. On the armpits part: that's not true. I'm Vietnamese and I shave my armpits. Same with every female in my family. I believe Japanese and Chinese women shave their armpits as well, because none of the Asian international students (whether they be Korean, Japanese, Chinese, Vietnamese, etc) at my college have unsightly hair underneath their armpits.

  64. My Korean mother forbade me from wearing a bow in my hair because she believed it would be bad luck. I'm not sure but she told me that in Korea, women wear black bows in their hair when someone has died.

  65. So not a fan of the Asian haircuts. But the K-craze is hitting the rest of Asia with residual impact on overseas too, so all young Asian people tend to look the same now.

  66. Thank you for your post. It was a long essay though. You would have got distinction on it. Also, thank you for mentioning the plastic surgery.... which, I often see on KOrean actors and actresses and think " victims of plastic surgery" , - always on dramas.


  67. "Those who do have facial hair tend to keep it trimmed short, and beards or stubble never extend to the neck. You will never, EVER see a Korean neckbeard. "

    What were you saying?

    ( Mithra Jin from Korean band Epik High )

  68. Not gonna lie, I found this post pretty hilarious. :) Especially the whole deal with neutral Koreans looking just generally pissed off, it's unfortunately true. I just thought I'd throw in my list of basic identifiers (this only works on men, I don't pay enough attention to women....), whether or not they clash/coincide with the original list or anyone else's comments here:

    1) Eyebrows. Japanese (men AND women) almost always shape AND shave off their eyebrows until all they have are they strange little gray shadows above their eyes that, being gray, are never even the same color as their hair, whether it be blonde/black/red/whatever. Koreans? Kim Heechul aside, no self-respecting Korean man would ever TOUCH his eyebrows. And unlike how most eyebrows seem to naturally grow, Korean brows get progressively THICKER as they near the outside edge, as opposed to tapering off. If he's got the widest damn eyebrows you've ever seen sitting up on his face, he's a Korean.

    2) Cheekbones. This one should work for women as well, as pretty much all Koreans have some damn gorgeous cheekbones that the rest of the world should really be envious of. High, wide-set.... Genetic beauty right there.

    3) White pants. It took me awhile to truly begin appreciating Korean fashion, and this was one of the reasons why.

    4) Ankles. Some Korean men wear capris. Most wear these God-forsaken floodwaters so that they can proudly show the world their ankles while strolling around in their man-flats. They even work in business-casual setting! Bonus points if said floodwaters are white.

    5) Lips. I've gotta completely disagree with the comparison to Japanese that Koreans have somewhat thinner lips. General Caucasian facial features include a set of lips wherein the corners are directly below the pupils, if one were to be staring ahead. Korean lip corners rarely extend that far, and are thus less wide-set than most other races will exhibit. On top of this, Korean lips are so damn FULL, I can't friggin grasp why, but they pretty much have a set of pillows on their face.

    6) AVIATORS. All Korean men have a set of aviators. Unfortunately adds to the overall asshole persona that they unwittingly radiate, especially when paired with the neutral-pissed face.

    That's all I've got for now, but I'll return if I think of enough more. Seriously though, I'd rate the eyebrows thing at like a confidence level of 5.

  69. Dear Korean,

    How come some korean stars (like 2pm) cover their armpits? Judging from your description of armpit hair, is it relative to this question? Because the korean stars don't have enough arimpit hair and they think it's unsightly for the public to see it? But my question stretches further because they cover their armpit even though they have a shirt on...why do they do that?

  70. Too funny! Sadly, based on your confidence rating system.. i'm no where near Korean.... even though i'm 100% Korean. Must be because i live in Texas. Different breed of Korean here.. although, the koreans you describe very much exist here. Wait.. now that i think about it, i dont know any korean that isnt what you described.. so i guess i'm some sort freak Korean.

    As a Korean, who pretty much does -not- fit in the Korean mould noted above, simply because I am a cactus without horns, fish out of water, (basically too British to wear a silly cap to protect my skintone) to fit in the catagory.

    BUT as a muddled Korean who have lived in Korea recently for a year or so, I absolutely agree to most of this post. Of course, knowing that Koreans are absolutely vulnerable to trends, the fashions and hair fashions noted above are not up to date, nevertheless, it is very accurate.

    This especially made me laugh:

    "Facial Expression – in a neutral state (i.e. not talking with a friend or watching something in particular), Koreans tend to look like they are pissed off. (Confidence Level = 2)"

  72. I think I can kinda distinguish Asians between them, mostly by their style, actually, more than genetical look.
    It is also hard to tell a Chinese because China is too big and Chinese people are too different between them.

    But then, I can't distinguish Europeans that precisely either (I am European).

  73. From my experience Korean women are the most beautiful in Asia. I am a non-korean Asian. Thanks for the post. It is interesting :)

  74. Huh? I am baffled by your comment about the double eyelid. Wouldn't the "lack of the double eyelid" indicate they are, in fact, Korean? While I was there, I had at least a dozen friends or colleagues that confessed to having had surgery to gain the 'western' feature of the double eyelid. Is the grammar portion in my brain just misfiring today?

    1. I think it was a misuse of terminology in this case. The Korean equated having no epicanthic fold to having double-eyelids. Those two are in fact two different things. Double eyelids appear in East Asians about half the time, and the Korean was saying that double-eyelids tend to be more rare among Koreans, which is true. But epicanthic folds are the little folds at the ends of a person's eyes where the upper lid covers the lower lid slightly, instead of coming to a point. This is something all mongoloid peoples have, i.e. 100% of the time.

  75. The one about the white socks and business suits is SO true.
    Sincerely, a white girl who knows some Koreans.

  76. Hmong people in the U.S. do not identify as Chinese at all and maintain that their roots have always been separate, though they were driven from China into the hills of Southeast Asia centuries ago. There are still "Chinese-Hmong" - Hmong people who still live in China, but they have dialects that are not wholly mutually intelligible with the White Hmong and Green Hmong dialects of those who lived in Laos and emigrated to the U.S. after the Vietnam War. Check in with some Hmong (no -s for plural) and maybe you'll hear some different perspectives on their ethnicity. (They might also offer tips on distinguishing SE Asians, including themselves. In addition, some Koreans here in Minnesota - somehow a hotspot for adoption of Korean babies thirty years or so ago - often claim to be able to distinguish Hmong from other East and Southeast Asian ethnicities. And Hmong people are concentrated in Saint Paul far more than Minneapolis! That's really splitting hairs - unless you live in the Twin Cities. Hmong ethnicity aside, I really enjoy your blog for its combination of bluntness and reasoned arguments. Oh, and the Hmong adolescent girls that I teach have Korean pop star photos ornamenting their school binders. Score another one for Korean pop culture.

  77. I used to amaze by the Koreans, even my Mum who are very conservative also said that, that Koreans eyebrows are pretty n their skins are transparent and spotless. After I married to SeungHo, I see that he also cannot avoid little freckles on the face but yes his skin makes me jealous.
    I live in Seoul so I see so many pretty girls and the way they make up themselves is effortless, the make up trend is " clear, not too thick but yes they are wearing make up" and they take make up session deadly serious. They are really proud of their milky white skin.
    My hubby is a type of a person who doesn't really take care of himself, but still his effort to not having facial hair is ashtoning me for the first couple of months. And he changes his hair colour almost every 6 months.
    White skin is considering pure, sweet, innocent and sinless therefore Korean guys prefer girls with those qualifications. They also like silent girls that call their boyfriend/husbands in baby tongue. (thanks god my hubby doesn't like it). Korean guys will buy bags and clothes to make their girlfriend since it's consider prestige to have branded girlfriend.
    Tan skinned girl consider sexy, or moreover little bit naughty and dirty.I have tan skin according to Korean custom.

  78. Wah. I usually go to malls here in the Philippines, (where more and more East Asians go to), and I always sort them just by seeing them once, saying "Oh, this is a Korean" "Oh this is Japanese." I don't know, I possibly have developed the skill, while dealing with a lot of people in different nationalities. :D

  79. Due to the crazy obsessions I have with Koreans, now I tend to differentiate them well between Koreans & Japanese. They do have a distinctive facial feature to it! And talk about fashion sense, it varies between these two as well. Sadly speaking I can't really differentiate the Chinese in Asia (eventhou I'm chinese) as they tend to be from all around the continent. You can't really know if they are from China/Taiwan or Malaysia for that matter. But, well configured post! Enjoy every part of it~!

  80. Bad English-probably Chinese.
    No English-definitely Korean.

  81. Dear Korean:

    I'm also Korean (more of a Twinkie since I have pretty much completely assimilated since coming to the US at age 6). I love this post, especially cuz non-Koreans (usually pervy middle-aged men) will come up to me and ask me questions like "Are you Chinese?" or "You must be Japanese". Once, a guy asked me both questions to which I replied "No" then he asked "Well, what ARE you then?!", as if there is nothing else I could possibly be.

    Isn't it just easier to just ask me "What is your ethnicity" or something similar??

    People are so ignorant.

    I love your blog :)

  82. Mormons don't consider their religious undergarments magical. Because it is very sacred it would be offensive to one to hear someone mock their inner covenant and commitment to God. I understand where you are comming from so I personally am not very much offended. I really enjoy your blog, thanks so much for having it!

    My sister and I like to pick up some kimchi ramen, shin ramyun and other yummy foods at a local asian grocery store and after a while I started listening to customers and casheir's languages to identify where they could be from because it was too hard for me to figure it out just by looking at them. Now I have some tips on how to identify korean fashion and some facial features maybe i will get better at it.

  83. Excuse me, but the women and men's hairstyles you uploaded are considered outdated now in Korea :)

    1. This post was written in 2008.


  84. It seems like every time you see a movie or TV show where police officers are involved, they seem to be wearing large sunglasses with mirrors on the outside. What are these shades and how did they come to be what they are today? The truth is that Mirror Sunglasses, as the sunglasses are called, are often associated with law enforcement and government officials for a valid reason.

    Crystal Custom
    Promotional Sunglasses
    Promo Sunglasses
    Personalized sunglasses
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  85. On a Korean drama, "Bad Guy" a Korean asked another Asian if he ( or she) was Korean? In a recent reading I learned that at some pt, some Chinese fled China, went to Manchuria, settled expanded and gradually moved South, often through conquest, eventually dominating and assimilating somewhat to, the indigenous Koreans of the Southernmost portion of the peninsula. The same is true of Japan, some Manchus emigrated to Japan. I suspect people notice what they believe to be true and are blind to what they disbelieve. Height seems true,however, the rest, not so clear.but Koreans typically have beautiful, shapely plump pouts, I don't think they recognize that by Western, esp, Amer. aesthetics, this is sexy and that "we" Americans would describe them as "full" not thick lips.

  86. I have never watched Korean drama.We once occupied Manchuria and fought against Romanov Russia there.You don't know of temperature and weather of Manchria. It was extremely cold and minus 40 degree in winter.Nomad and Russians could only lived.We could not find any Chinese as well as Koreans in 19th century.

    Korea never won the war against anyone in any historical documents. Koreans were always conquered, not conquer.You are probably remains between victorious nomads and handful permanent residents left.

    Japanese have lived here for more than 30000 years. Excavated Jomon earthware was used 30000 years ago oldest in the world. This was confirmed by carbon dating method.We still have the same pattern as Jomon of kimono which our girls still wear.We had simply lived here in obscuity until found by American commodore Perry. We were never mixed with Koreans.You should not pick up Japanese to explain yourself.

    It is free for you to be proud of your appearance.It is not free to look down other nationals.

    1. no one look downed on any nationals in particular but describing the physical observations in a humorous the way, being a conquer, taking stuff from other people forcefully is not something to be proud of...

  87. Oh God. Personally, the one about Koreans looking pissed off is true for me. Often times my friends have asked me why I'm so mad/sad that particular day and I'll have no idea what they're talking about, then laugh and explain that it's my neutral face. In face, my face is neutral so often that one of my classmates were mildly surprised when they saw me smile - it's also a kind of joke between some of my teachers.

  88. Yeah, we gots some bitch faces...

  89. Funny you say that there is almost no japanese in the US because I live in a place where we are regarded as white or japanese. Then again this place is called one of the japantowns.

  90. I don't need to ask a Korean! You guys have no Swedish Virtue. No beneficial quality, or power from The Swedish. Once upon a time, Chinese was plundered by Swedish People, and some of them had illegitimate marriages with us. Not to even mention ever since The Independence of Mongolia, Chinese People have this separation with them from the way I look: This was the biggest impact. As for South Korea, and The rest of Korea, I only know you people are dominated by Russians because they took over Sakhalin Island. It's okay. Russian Domination. Right? But all in all, Koreans don't look like The Swedish, nor Swedes. You guys can even accept Daniel Henney as a Korean. Everyone knows that.

  91. Very true about korean women's clothing. You can also try at fit and flare black dress

  92. just for my thought, koreans are much more mild pissed looking than the 2 nationalities which is japanese and chinese, their eyes are sometimes always not slanted but small and like a puppy eyes, south korean chinese on the other hand the country is so big and the northern and southern chinese are so different, sometimes most of the chinese have angry looking upward eyes of them all and japanese eyes really depends, because of jomon and yayoi, jomon have big eyes which is related to southeast asians but they have facial hair and body hair more than yayoi which is pure east asian slanted downward eyes look.. lol

  93. How can mountain climbing clothes not be on the list?!

  94. Indians are Asians too! I am truly fed up of mentioning this on every site :(

  95. honestly though most these apply to chinese... all the chinese i know have neat, straight eyebrows; pale, fair skin (in fact, out of my east asian friends, my chinese friends have paler skin than my korean friends do!); resting bitch face; same skincare and makeup; etc. i know a lot of chinese with smaller lips and smaller noses and eyes, koreans with bigger noses and wider jaws and bigger masseter muscles, koreans with "dark" skin, etc. in addition, there are actually a LOT of japanese in the united states. east asian fashion is also pretty universal to everyone to be honest! also all our grandmas look the same, whether they're from japan, china, or korea!


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