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As a Japanologist (hah!) I get asked a lot of questions by friends and family about Japanese life and culture, ranging from relatively simple topics to the obscure. However the question I get asked more often than anything else is “Why do Japanese people always make the V-sign in photographs?”. One cousin even enquired as to whether it is some kind of Churchill-envy. Today I will put this great mystery to rest for those of you who have always wondered.

Most people think that it has something to do with being a symbol of peace/victory, but in actual fact it is a rather old fashioned dating device. Over 100 years ago it was used as a secret signal to members of the opposite sex who could be considered partners for marriage. Since a face-to-face conversation with a stranger in the street would be far too forward, a simple flash of the signal would show interest in that person and allow for arrangements to be made for private discussions, inevitably leading to marriage. Since then, with the invention of the camera and demise of arranged marriages single people use it as a pose in photographs to indicate their single status. Whilst this might seem embarrassing, it means singletons can more successfully pick and choose prospective partners from looking at friends’ photographs. If you see a cute guy/girl making the sign in your friends’ photograph then arrangements can be made for a not-quite-so-blind blind-date. So, be careful about making the V-sign when having your photograph taken in Japan!

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