The exact reasons for this are not known, though one theory is that it is because the Japanese attempt to suppress their emotions in the presence of others more than the loud, demonstrative gaijin do, and in such cases, the eyes provide more of a clue to someone's emotional state. One consequence of this, of course, is the difference between the way Westerners and Japanese draw happy-face symbols in ASCII characters, with the Japanese smiley looking like ^_^ (note the emphasis on the eyes), and the Western one being the familiar :-):
So when Yuki entered graduate school and began communicating with American scholars over e-mail, he was often confused by their use of emoticons such as smiley faces :) and sad faces, or :(.
"It took some time before I finally understood that they were faces," he wrote in an e-mail. In Japan, emoticons tend to emphasize the eyes, such as the happy face (^_^) and the sad face (;_;). "After seeing the difference between American and Japanese emoticons, it dawned on me that the faces looked exactly like typical American and Japanese smiles," he said.
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