How to Spot a Jap

How to Spot a Jap

Chinese and Japanese faces

In 1942 the US War Department produced a Pocket Guide to China, which includes a comic book-like section titled How to Spot a Jap. The goal of the section is to teach American soldiers how to differentiate the Chinese from the Japanese. It covers differences in the face, feet, stride, and pronunciation of English. (Do any veterans out there remember this thing?)

I found How to Spot a Jap a fascinating little piece of wartime memorabilia. Go on and “nostalge” about the US’s racist wartime policies. (It sure is a good thing that’s all a thing of the past, right?)


John Pasden

John is a Shanghai-based linguist and entrepreneur, founder of AllSet Learning.


  1. I’m sure the Chinese will just love to bask in this example of American Japanese racism.

    • Get off your high horse Mr.Perfect…We all know you never feel haterd for any race, creed, or culture, unless they are;… White…Christian..Heterosexual….Or American.

  2. The phoneticization of Chinese sayings on the front page of the book is damn near incomprehensible. Bonus points for anyone who can tell what the following means without consulting the cartoon:

    nahAH-li yohOH SHWAY! Jee-AA!oh dee DEE FAHGN.

  3. @John: Beatcha! šŸ˜‰ Just teasing… are these the same guys that put online that commie comic from the 50s? I’ll have to check back in my archives…

    @trevelyan: I’m pretty sure this pronunciation can still be heard from a number of laowai throughout China. šŸ™‚

  4. chengdude Says: July 10, 2006 at 11:49 pm

    Wow, from the creator of Terry & The Pirates and Steve Canyon no less.

  5. Well, Chinese and Japanese do look quite different. It’s rather jarring to see an obviously Han Chinese woman like Zhang Ziyi or Rosalind Chao playing a Japanese.

  6. I think when we see war-related stuff taken out of its context, particularly when – as civilians – we’ve never been involved in war or combat, it’s easy to start seeing things as racist or ascribing other meanings to it. The military is the furthest thing from politically correct you can get. That’s why it always makes me chuckle when Hollywood actors and people who live in a totally insulated reality, so far from the rest of us, come out in public to criticize and condemn things they don’t have any concept of. To someone like you or I, pamphlets like these seem a little racist…to people in the military, it’s just a simple guide for telling the difference between people of two races, which look similar to Westerners. For those of us who are accustomed to seeing Chinese people or Japanese people, the difference is much easier to see – for most people, with far more limited exposure to the asian world, it’s a much tougher thing to do. Which is why you see so many Hollywood movies with Koreans, Japanese and Chinese playing each other’s races.

  7. So have you guys not yet seen this gem yet?

  8. So do you want the American soldiers to shoot innocent Chinese instead of Japanese?

    I just watched the world cup final, a lot of the French players looked French, and the Italians looked Italian. If they had no jerseys I’m sure I could correctly place 80-90% of them. But I bet a Chinese or Japanese couldn’t tell much difference.

    But if I say that, it’s ok because I’m white. But if I say that about Asians, I’m a racist in our pc culture. And yes, after many years in China white people started looking alike to me. When I told that to a Korean woman in the US she laughed and said, “yes! I have trouble telling them apart sometimes!”

  9. Da Xiangchang Says: July 11, 2006 at 7:14 am

    As a historical artifact, this is interesting. As a tutorial on Chinese-Japanese differences, it’s worse than useless cuz there’s no difference between Chinese and Japanese faces. And people who say Zhang Ziyi looks Chinese is cuz they know Zhang IS Chinese. If a Japanese woman who looks EXACTLY like Zhang Ziyi were to play a Chinese woman in a movie, the same enlightened people would be saying, “That won’t work! Zhangamoto doesn’t look Chinese at all!” Again, take the test that James linked:

    Tell me your score, then we’ll talk. But dude, this topic’s been done to death already, even on this blog in earlier topics. The Chinese-Korean-Japanese differences are as big and silly a myth as global warming.

    And those articles–well, the Guardian one was okay, even though it was just one Brit talking. I think the biggest mistake Americans made in attacking Iraq made was thinking Arabs, once freed, could be rational and self-governing. What a stupid mistake that was!!!

    The other one by “Malik Miah” (great name) was total crap, as deep a study of US racial relations as toilet paper. Everytime I heard some guy bitch about “institutional racism,” I always want to know 1) why are like 75% of black babies born out of wedlock in America and 2) why are black teenagers dropping like flies out of high school? Oh, yes, it’s “institutional racism” that’s making them have kids then running away–and failing on Monday’s algebra test. GTFOOH!


    “If they had no jerseys Iā€™m sure I could correctly place 80-90% of them.” That’s cuz 80-90% of the French team was either black or Arab! (Though Zidane headbutting the Italian guy was the funniest thing I’ve ever seen at a soccer match. Haha.)

  10. […] Anyway, while going through the blogs over here, I came across a gem from Sinosplice and thought I’d put the authors and readers at beezhouse to the test. […]

  11. A different view if I may. I wish they would have issued that book while I was in elementary school and jr. high. I was sick of ppl calling me a nip when I’m not Japanese at all. I find that much more offensive than being called a Chink or Chinaman. If one chooses to use racial slurs, please use the correct ones. When you use a correct racial slur, you are at least recognizing that person for what his ethnicity is!

    but that’s just what happens when you grow up in the ghettos.

  12. The comic does suggest how far we’ve come in terms of awareness and sensitivity.

  13. my husband is english and he says
    there is no way he could tell which
    european country a person is from.
    there are generalities, but please.
    i am chinese and i can’t know for
    sure another asian’s ethnicity.
    chinese people don’t even know i’m chinese
    some times. asian people talk to me in
    corean and japanese. i’m told i look
    filipina when i get a tan. people speak
    to my mom in spanish, thinking
    she is mexican. so much for being able
    to tell the difference.

  14. cyn,

    tell your husband to travel in continental Europe a bit more. Of course, there are exceptions – there are so many exceptions that they might become the rule. However, in Europe, most nationalities have distinctive features that are simply easy to spot – even between geographically close countries like Germany and Holland, an experienced eye can correctly guess the origin more often than not. I can’t really see the difference between Northern Chinese and Korean – but I’m sure that an experienced eye can, with some degree of correctness.

  15. […] Link Via: Sinosplice […]

  16. Wow, from the creator of Terry & The Pirates and Steve Canyon no less.

    Caniff was a bit of a expert on the subject. Do you realize that Pearl Harbor happened 6 months earlier. Isn’t it comforting to make comments from our middle class lives on how it must have felt 64 years ago.

  17. i can tell Says: December 13, 2006 at 3:10 am

    im from northern china. and i can distinguish if a man is a chinese or korean. its easy to tell. let say, if you are a jap, you can easily tell if this man infront of you whether is a chin or a jap. the same applies to everyone.

  18. not true, except for things like clothes and body language and the fact that the Japanese look like short versions of northern chinese there are no diffrences. Koreans do like to have curly hair(esp the men) that if a very korean traite, Japanese tourest you can spot a mile away also, but as I said if you look at their faces they are the same, the japanese who are in japan now are not native japanese, the people who own japan today are from Chinese and Korean decendence that emigrated to japan.

  19. A lot of Koreans have distinctively Korean features, but some non-Korean Chinese do as well. Also, a booklet like the above that focuses on facial features is pretty useless because of the wide genetic diversity just within China itself. Many Chinese have pretty distinct regional features (so much so that my parents usually can tell which region/province a Chinese person’s parents came from just by looking at them), but you probably can find more non-Fujian/Taiwan Chinese who look closer to the Japanese than to the Fujianese & Taiwanese, for instance.

    The feet one might work, though.

  20. Japanese are not descendents from China.If they were their spoken language would bear some similiarity with Chinese which it doesn’t.Japanese are descendents of Koreans and peoples who migrated from South East Asia.Notably Yayoi and Jomon peoples and the kafun people.0 Chinese .

  21. I’m ethnic Chinese and I can’t tell Chinese, Japanese and Koreans apart to save my life. Ok, maybe I can spot some Japanese who have strong Jomon features but there are also Chinese who look like Jomons. I took the test on alllooksame and did really poorly, something like 4 correct matches out of 18. I was a little cocky when I thought I spotted an obviously Japanese face on that test but now I’m not so sure anymore because he turned out to be Chinese! In Europe, I’ve been mistaken for a Korean by Koreans and in Japan, Japanese people thought I was Japanese (and it was a case of them speaking Japanese to me because they would speak Japanese to a Caucasian. It was those Japanese who spoke English with a group of foreigners and turned to me and spoke in Japanese thinking I was Japanese).

  22. The Zi-ca-wei library in Xujiahui has an original of this book.

    I wonder if we are publishing similar stuff today on the differences between Kurds and Turks and Arabs and so on…

  23. If you think that there was anything objectionable in this publication, compare it to the garbage that the Nazi propaganda was spewing out to the German people, most of Europe and, to one degree of another, the rest of the entire world population.

    This was 1942 folks; everybody was doin’ it, doin’ it!!!!!! Every word of it was part of the propaganda effort that each nation was making to justify the rotten things that were part of their involvement in WW-2.

    Much, maybe all, of what was in “How to Spot a Jap” also appeared in the Chicago Trubune as the current episode of Terry and The Pirates. China was a valuable ally to the US at that time and much of our military effort involved close contact with Chinese, both civilians and military and alike. The war itself also brought us in contact with the Japanese and it was often hard to tell who was who.

    Those of us in the USA read that strip with a mixture of interest and humor. You must remember that, even in 1942, the average American, was neither stupid nor uninformed. Criticism of the racist content of this material by today’s socially correct fanatics is just about the height of absurdity: Read your history, expand your mind just a little: this was wartime 1942 and we had Asiatics that were friends and Asiatics that were not friends.

    Let’s hope, that despite how it looks to us today, in 1942 and on, maybe AT THAT TIME it saved a few of the good guys from a major wound in the ass!

    P.S. This was actually of some concern to the crew members who made the B-25 bomber raid on Tokyo.

    P.P.S. Actually, you had to have been there before you can even begin to understand it

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