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Are Japanese Women Intentionally Pigeon-Toed?

By Asian American in Tokyo | May 30, 2007

Ever notice how the vast majority of Japanese women walk with their toes pointed inward? The cause for this isn’t conclusive, but debate about it rages across the Internet. If you don’t believe me, use your favorite search engine and enter the terms “Japanese” “pigeon” and “toed” – see what results you get. Some say it’s due to the various Japanese ways of sitting, such as “seiza” but I personally agree with those who hypothesize that it is considered feminine to walk pigeon-toed. Note that Japanese men usually aren’t pigeon-toed. I believe it’s tied to gender-specific Japanese culture, such as women speaking in higher-pitched voices when on the phone, male/female-specific Japanese speech, crooked teeth being cute, etc. It’s interesting that while Japanese people may consider it feminine, or demure, and generally attractive, foreigners new to Japan usually exclaim “what’s wrong with these women – they can’t walk in heels!” (Note that 99% of young women walk in high heels in metro areas such as Tokyo, so it’s tough to find a test subject to see if they still walk pigeon-toed without heels.)

Here’s a photo of a toddler-age Japanese girl (cropped to protect her identity). Does her pigeon-toed stance make her more girly and cute? Interesting how cultural environmental factors strongly affect even someone this young.


Update (June 19, 2008):

I found some better examples of this, see photos below.

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Topics: Culture, Fashion | 15 Comments »

15 Responses to “Are Japanese Women Intentionally Pigeon-Toed?”

  1. Kar Says:
    March 13th, 2008 at 2:00 am

    The Japanese have all sorts of weird “cute” things- at least in my American perspective. I guess pigeon-toedness if popular since Japan focuses on cute girls, while the West focuses on sexy girls.

  2. Ashiikun Says:
    March 13th, 2008 at 2:27 pm

    This might stem back also to old customs. In old Japan, it was considered rude to point your toes at anyone, especially someone you were talking to at the time. I guess with women supposing to be subservient and docile, the rule was probably more strict for them. Anyway, obviously, the custom isn’t really in practice these days. It’s kinda picky, isn’t it?

    Also pointing your toes inward generally pushes your thighs together, handy while wearing a miniskirt.

  3. Amanda Says:
    March 13th, 2008 at 2:55 pm

    I read an entire analysis of this once, a woman, a professor somewhere I think, noticed this while she was in Japan and became obsessed with finding out why. She asked all these women why they were walking that way and they seemed to think it came naturally, which would lend itself more to the sitting position explanation… who knows.

    The raised pitch while talking on the phone is a universal female thing, if not completely universal (I’ve noticed guys doing it, too), not exclusive to Japanese women.

  4. Elizabeth Says:
    May 13th, 2008 at 4:29 am

    yes, with normal shoes i have seen this as well

    there was a girl walking in front of me with doc marin looking mid shin high boots on, and she too was walking pigoen toed.

    the boots did not look too small on her eitherl.

  5. billywest Says:
    May 16th, 2008 at 12:04 am

    If you really look at a lot of Japanese women, you notice that most don’t do the pigeon-toed walk.
    But, the pigeon-toed thing does make them look handicapped and not at all sexy. But, apparently, young J-guys go for it.

  6. Deek Says:
    June 4th, 2008 at 7:25 pm

    My take on this matter is that it is considered feminine. It’s been that way for ages honestly. They really have st standards for what is cut, or cool, or manly. If you don’t meet those then you aren’t. Honestly, Geiko (geisha) and maiko actually have to walk pigion-toed, mincingly, to even walk in the shoes they wear… that’s plain required so they don’t trip. Like I said, there are a lot of things that as a society they really feel you have to do to be one thing or the other… just like in any culture… Like here in america, the media says you have to be petite to look feminine or pretty. It’s all the same.

  7. allz Says:
    October 30th, 2008 at 10:26 am

    The bow-legged thing is called “oukyaku” (long “o”).

    All things in moderation. It can certainly be just plain nasty:


    Crooked teeth==kinda hot, IMHO …Why? I have no idea.

  8. Jason Says:
    November 8th, 2008 at 10:35 am

    I have heard the reason why women point their toes inward is due a superstitious belief. It is said that if a woman has her foot pointed inward will be better at keeping the family’s fortune. The opposite goes for woman with their toes pointed outward will likely be a gold digger. Anyone can confirm that?

  9. Toumori Says:
    November 20th, 2008 at 8:41 pm

    Ah, I have to lean towards the seiza explaination. I’ve been doing martial arts since I was a little kid, and I have to intentionally focus on NOT pointing my toes inward. If I’m not paying attention, I occasionally find myself standing this way!

  10. Sasha Says:
    February 12th, 2009 at 8:56 pm

    I have noticed this with a lot of American girls, too. A new trend?

  11. Mandy Says:
    June 14th, 2009 at 10:06 am

    When women wear Kimono they need to take small steps because the Kimono is quite tight and doesn’t allow for normal steps . I think that is wear the habit of walking with the feet turned inward came from. Also, it is considered attractive for women to look “cute” and childlike even when they are no longer children. I guess small and cute is less intimidating to Japanese men than women who appear self confident and sexy.

  12. Amy Says:
    September 12th, 2009 at 10:59 am

    I’m not sure it is intentional. I was born and raised here in an American household like most other white kids, except I am Japanese by blood. I was never taught to speak in a high voice or shown how to stand pigeon-toed. I’m pretty much “white” in my brain. But when I stand and look down at my feet, they point together, though I don’t walk that way. I have a very small voice that is mistaken for a child’s all the time. I don’t try to be cute; I hate being girly. …just a personal case study.

  13. Angel Says:
    November 4th, 2009 at 8:29 pm

    I believe the reason for the bow leggedness is the way Japanese women sit – with both their legs folded and tucked underneath their bums. It’s obvious that if you do this daily, you should be able to walk like one after awhile.

  14. Sherry Says:
    February 3rd, 2010 at 9:05 am

    I was an exchange-student in Japan and we were taught that, especially when you wear a kimono it is essential to have a pigeon-toed walk. To do this, you have to keep your thighs close together, so it represents chastity. Walking with your legs separate is considered very vulgar and unlady-like. It also lends to the appearance that you are walking on air, keeping your stride close together and smooth. It also makes for a straighter up and down figure in the kimono…curves of any kind are discouraged while wearing a kimono (even binding the breasts). It looks better per their culture.

  15. Finally a lead female trainer who can stand on her feet « kanji games Says:
    May 17th, 2010 at 12:19 pm

    [...] is being pigeon-toed significant? Many, many, many women in Japan walk or stand pigeon-toed often. There’s conflicting opinions on why this is (some insist its because they sit in seiza [...]


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