A reader asks why the peace sign is so prevalent in photos with Japanese people in the Ask The AV Club section:
Give Peace A Chance
It seems to have subsided in recent years, however, I often wonder why Japanese people flash the "peace" sign during photographs so much. I have noticed these in photos online (not that I'm into cosplay or anything… ummm, yeah) and personally when I was in Ireland, touring various IRA/Catholic monuments where a Japanese tourist group was on the same route as me. I first thought it could be considered a commentary on the subject matter of the monuments; however, the tourists flashed the peace sign in every picture they took, regardless of the background—standing in front of a tourist shop, sitting on a bus, etc. Could this be traced to something in Japanese pop culture, much like suburban white kids throwing gang signs because of all those Tupac videos?
Genevieve Koski says "konnichiwa," and offers this:
There are a bunch of theories as to the origin of the V sign—either a peace sign or a Winston Churchill-style victory symbol, depending on which story you go with—in Japanese culture, many of which can be found on the Wikipedia page on the subject. The most widely disseminated seems to be that when U.S. figure skater Janet Lynn fell during the 1972 Winter Olympics in Sapporo, she kept smiling and flashed the peace sign even while ass-down on the ice, making her an overnight sensation in Japan. Copycats followed her lead.
There's a lot of pedantic reasoning floating around rationalizing the sign's popularity in photographs—it allows expressiveness in a notoriously reserved culture; it serves as a non-verbal "cheese," indicating readiness to be photographed; and, most oddly, that it draws attention away from the subjects' small eyes—but there seems to be a general consensus on one thing: It's deeply ingrained in the culture. Japan Today asked young Japanese people why they make the V sign, and one respondent said, "I make the peace sign but I don't know why I do it, who invented it and when we started doing this. I think I've been doing it since I was born. The peace sign gesture must have been programmed in my DNA, or foreigners mind-controlled Japanese to make the peace sign subconsciously when we pose for a photo to keep the peace after the war."
Mind control may be a bit of a stretch, but it's worth noting that the sign is extremely present in anime/manga and commercial television, no doubt aiding in its popularity among school kids. The symbol's association with these have no doubt helped link it to the concept of "kawaii," or cuteness, a prominent aspect of modern Japanese pop culture and fashion (think Hello Kitty, sailor uniforms, and pigtails)...