Japanese squatting

One of the first things you notice when you arrive to Japan (Or any other Asian country) is that there are lots of people crouching on the streets. For me, and most of my European friends it’s very difficult to squat during more than one minute, but Asian people seem to have an special ability. Many times you can even see groups of friends squatting and eating noodles while chatting and relaxing. I could never relax in that position!

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Las picture was taken by friend P.J. Marquez.

By the way, English speakers, what do you prefer: to squat or to crouch? is there any difference?

61 Comments
  • Gen Kanai

    July 17, 2007 at 3:58 am

    I saw this TV show about leading doctors in Japan and there was this one profile of a surgeon who’s specialty was knee replacements.

    This surgeon talked specifically about how Japanese people bend more at the knee than other people (your photos are a great example, as is sitting ‘seiza’) so he had to modify the artificial knee joints developed in the US so that they could bend more to fit the Japanese usage patterns. I thought that was pretty interesting.

  • kirai

    July 17, 2007 at 4:29 am

    wow, that’s a great example!

    Knees are different but I wonder if Japanese hips are also different.

  • jouju

    July 17, 2007 at 5:14 am

    Crouching is what the people in these pictures seem to be doing and from what I can see the term squat has turned more into a fitness maneuver(http://www.building-muscle101.com/images/squat.jpg)….although there are terms “pop a squat” which is to crouch down and relieve your self. But I guess you could use either term..

  • Stef

    July 17, 2007 at 5:25 am

    to answer your questions about which word is better crouching or squatting, i think that squatting is the better word. Squatting specifically deals with the act of remaining in this position for a period of time such as squatting down to sit or squatting down to go to the toilet. However crouching means to be in this position for a temporary period of time. eg: you can crouch down to walk under a low space.

    Im not exactly sure if this is 100% correct but this is what my guess would be.

  • xman

    July 17, 2007 at 6:03 am

    Stef is exactly right – crouching can be as simple as bending over to go under a door. Those people are squatting.

  • Jamaipanese

    July 17, 2007 at 9:09 am

    squatting in the streets, lol @ special ability, I would almost never see that in my country.

  • sheerblade

    July 17, 2007 at 9:17 am

    Be it called squatting or crouching it still gets pretty damn uncomfortable after a while.

  • OsakaGuy

    July 17, 2007 at 9:56 am

    It’s all about flexibility. Japanese kids have been doing this since they could first stand. If you trained a typical Western kid from a young age he would be able to do squat as well as a Japanese person. (Assuming he wasn’t 300 pounds!)

  • lain

    July 17, 2007 at 11:28 am

    huh…i’ve never heard of this. i actually sit like this fairly often @ work (so i can get up quickly). i would concur that it should be called squatting.

  • Dinosaur

    July 17, 2007 at 12:04 pm

    Japanese are trained in the art of squatting, when I was there, they expect every student from kindergarten to high school to squat on outdoor field for hours while the principals gives his never ending speeches.

    When the grounds are covered with clean grass we could sit comfortably; however, most grounds that I have experienced are not so ideal: wet, dirty or both.

    As a result squatting is the only option, and got plenty of training for it.

  • Edward

    July 17, 2007 at 4:00 pm

    I would say squat as well. To crouch is more like bending to get trough a low doorway or into a defensive posture.

    I could do this when I was younger. but because of injury from sports I just can’t get my feel flat on the floor when I squat. It’s all about training from a young age. Saying that, it does make me wonder for what purpose the Japanese and asians in general adopted this posture.

  • AS

    July 17, 2007 at 6:57 pm

    I can’t do that and I’m Asian lol, of course I grew up in the states. To me, squatting is where you go down enough that your butt touches your shoes while crouching is like sitting on an imaginary chair.

  • raindrop

    July 18, 2007 at 8:38 am

    I’m an azn and that when phoning. Maybe as an ethnic reflex, i dunno.
    but when that happens my french pals usually asked whether i’m having a poop or wot….
    XD

  • Adriaan

    July 18, 2007 at 9:02 am

    It takes some practice, but I can decently squat. And that with my surgically reconstructed ACL. The thing is, it’s not comfortable at all!

  • Ab Vag

    July 18, 2007 at 6:54 pm

    This story reminded me of this one guy I was classmates with in a 2-year college back in 1996-1997. The lunch tables had the bench seats around it and he would squat on the seat with his feet at the back edge of the seat. I kept thinking what would happen if a gust of wind hit him in the right measure.

  • Huang

    July 25, 2007 at 10:15 pm

    I was told that in Japan people believe that having contact with the ground is very unsanitary, and therefore prefer to not have direct contact with the ground. This is why you’ll probably see people either squatting or sitting on some piece of paper…

  • punktab

    August 5, 2007 at 6:09 am

    squating is also popular in Turkey. but wait, i think popular was the wrong word. in many regions, it’s a traditional behaviour. it shows that you are bored, sometimes angry or need to relax. it’s an observation position, all you do is to watch the people around when you are in this position. you can also put your elbows on your knees and spread your arms forward. thus only your head moves. and when there’s a wall that you are leaning against when you are crouching, you can not find a better place or position for resting or being safe.

  • Karisu

    November 27, 2007 at 10:19 am

    If I squat or crouch for more than 10 seconds I’d be in a world of pain.

    Can’t imagine this being comfortable at all.

  • naels

    November 27, 2007 at 12:38 pm

    it’s not only Japanese people who can squat for long time, most Asian people can do that too.

  • Paul

    November 29, 2007 at 11:42 pm

    I know they squat also in some arab and african countries, i read about and saw on tv people in these countries squatting.
    Apparently, in Mauritania, they drink tea, while suqatting. (!)
    I think that it would not be suprising if squatting is in most non-western countries.

  • Paul

    November 29, 2007 at 11:50 pm

    oops, of course, I meant squatting, not suqatting (lol)

    And second sentence, I meant if if squatting is common in most non-western countries?

    Why? Well, because they have less chairs, especially people who live in the countryside. I am sure that squatting must have been used in the West too, in the past, people had to squat to defecate, when there were no flushing toilets.

    So I think, the fact that squat toilets are now rarely used in the West has made squatting disappear, because people now don’t have the need to squat, so they don’t get the chance to learn how to do it.

    I am sure that people who lived in the era of ubiquitous squat toilets must have been proficient at squatting (because if they don’t learn how to squat, they fall into the hole in their poop)

  • Michael Goldencove

    November 30, 2007 at 6:26 am

    I know that Asian have speial bones in foot area that allows them squatting comfortably for long

  • budha

    December 5, 2007 at 2:48 pm

    squating is to be with one leg on knee while other on foot
    and crouch is like those in the pictures

  • Cambo

    December 7, 2007 at 2:40 am

    I’m asian american, the only time I squat is when i’m on the toilet, I find squating makes it easier for me to go, the bad thing about it is that when I get up I feel dizzy.

  • Michael Goldencove

    December 10, 2007 at 4:18 pm

    budha, i don’t tnink so. Squatting is like in the pictures as well.

  • SoScooter.com

    December 11, 2007 at 9:07 am

    The reason why Westerners can’t squat as well as Asians is because of the two different styles of squat they use.

    Notice that all the Japanese have their feet flat on the floor, and are hanging their bodies over their knees? This position is easy to keep for a long time.

    On the other hand, Westerners squat on the balls of their feet and have their backs straight. This means that the calves and other muscles have to constantly be working to keep one upright and a position like that can’t be held for a long time.

    Of course, there are people out there who can’t do the “Asian Squat” because their feet can’t bend towards the shin at the required angle.

    Anyway… try the “Asian Squat” and you’ll feel the difference!

  • Remon

    December 30, 2007 at 5:09 pm

    When I was in a Japanese style of karate, my sensei sometimes made us get in a squating postion and stay that way until everyone but one person gave up. (He also made us do a similar contest in a push-up postion)

  • andreas

    January 2, 2008 at 1:00 am

    interesting…didnt know that this position is uncomfortable or unusual for non-asians…i was born in germany and living here, my mom is japanese though… i do sit this way often…….even on benches and chairs sometimes in pubs…didnt saw any other till yet though doing the same here in germany, but didnt thought about it till yet…
    its really strange, i could sleep in this position, i would perhaps loose balance after falling asleep, but its definitely comfortable enough to sleep….

  • kyle

    January 2, 2008 at 6:38 pm

    Huh, they sure do like to squat.

  • Ashley

    January 3, 2008 at 1:57 am

    you need a small stomach to squat like that =/
    mostly i put pressure on my toes to squat >

  • Ashley

    January 3, 2008 at 2:00 am

    also yeah, i tried just now and my feet cant bend toward my shin enough… wowww xD

  • Ashley

    January 20, 2008 at 9:37 am

    It hurts my back to keep it so straight while the rest of my body is so bent.

  • andoroido

    January 25, 2008 at 9:54 pm

    So Scooter is right.

    If I (an American) try to squat, I have to do it almost on my toes, and it takes a lot of balance to keep the position. My feet just don’t bend enough to allow me to squat with feet flat on the ground like the Japanese.

    It seems like a flexibility issue.

    Plus, there is some kind of issue about not touching the ground. Westerners have no problem planting our asses on the ground to relax if the ground isn’t really dirty.

    Saw Elijah Wood on Japanese TV acting out a scene from LOTR, where he’s on the ground reaching up for help to the Japanese lady pretending to be Galadriel. So, he plops right down on the studio floor and the Japanese tarento all practically freak out “Is it OK to be on the floor?! We can get a blanket for you! OMG, such a huge star is lying right on the floor!”
    Elijah was mildly surprised, like, “What? Uh, no it’s fine!”

  • seraphale

    January 26, 2008 at 11:15 am

    I think it would be easier to squat like this if you’d grown up doing it. Children are very flexible, I remember sitting like this playing, but since I haven’t done it in 20 years, this position is fairly difficult for me. I also used to watch TV while doing a headstand on the couch, but I think that that would kill me now… 😀

  • ijanders

    January 27, 2008 at 7:51 pm

    Doesn’t the design of the typical Japanese toilet require you to squat over an elongate bowl while you go? I bet all that squatting over the toilet gives you some good muscles for street squatting.

    Maybe that is why westerners like to sit down everywhere – because it reminds us of being on the john.

  • Hugh G. Rection

    February 8, 2008 at 9:24 pm

    Squatting with feet flat on the ground was difficult at first, but when I got used to it I found it relaxing!

    It’s actually very calming to do it occasionally in the concrete jungle.

  • Val

    March 11, 2008 at 10:08 pm

    I guess you gotta train your muscles since childhood. I tried the typical japanese toilets once and could barely work after

  • Minh Nguyen

    March 17, 2008 at 10:42 am

    Squatting is an Asian thing, even i do it 😛

  • Daniel

    April 2, 2008 at 9:23 am

    *insert death note comment about L*

    People over here in singapore where i’m from squat too ^^;

    There was a comment about posture of the squat that make its easier and I think its kinda true. Oh and its rude to squat on chairs so don’t do it like L heh

  • Sara

    April 6, 2008 at 5:35 pm

    I just noticed that I squat on my chair in front of my desk like that for hours because otherwise my feet would get cold^^
    I’m from Germany actually, and I don’t know too many people who do that over here except little kids. But I’m rather flexible by nature and I guess it just has always been a habit.
    Beeing in the city/ other public spaces I would usually sit flat down on the ground or the sideway in case it looks clean. I once did that in France and people where staring at me as if I was conducting a crime. Yet they didn’t have any benches…

  • Tim Shepard

    April 24, 2008 at 1:51 pm

    When I first moved to California in the 80’s from Florida. It was quite a culture shock to meet so many Vietnamese people.

    One of the things I remember is a Vietnamese lady, who squatted down and walked around under her Workbench, cleaning up, for a half hour, while perfectly comfortable in that position. I tried it and couldn’t mainttain the position for more than a few seconds.

    At that time I finally understood why underground bunkers were so effective for the Viet Cong during the war. It seemed perfectly natural and comfortable for my vietnamese friends to get about in a place with a 3 foot high ceiling.

  • anna

    May 20, 2008 at 8:16 am

    im living in tokyo right now as an exchange student and squatting was one of the first things i noticed. i think it has a lot to do with asian thighs and stomachs being generally smaller than westerners? thinner thighs and less stomach flub in the way gives u the ability to crunch up in a little ball like that. also, flexibility and routine plays into it. the crouching toilets, which i have used, are common but not usually they only type available. lol in many bathrooms, u have a heated seat toilet complete with bidet and noise maker so no one hears ur business, then in the next stall is a squatter toilet.

  • Cherry

    June 11, 2008 at 1:47 pm

    I think their articulations and cartilage are a bit different. I’m European and my boyfriend is Japanese and he bends his arm at the elbow the other way around a bit, which freaks me out. Also his nose and earlobe are quite soft and maleable unlike mine which are more firm.

  • John

    June 25, 2008 at 5:59 pm

    Strangely, I an as Anglo as they come and have always done this. It’s natural and comfortable to me, but was told by a doctor as a child not to. Came in handy in Asia!

  • Philippe

    July 1, 2008 at 8:24 am

    I heard that if you are squatting in certain areas like the train station(EKI) platform its not viewed favorably. And for their knees beign different its because since childhood they have been sitting down kneeling with their legs pointing out sidways. I see my friend do that alot which i think also makes there feet point inwards alot…but thats only one of my observation. 🙂

  • Robert

    July 26, 2008 at 3:03 pm

    I think western butts are too big. I think it’s more a matter of balance. I’m not fat at all, but i don’t have a flat butt.

    I looked at the pictures and their foot isn’t more bent towards the shin than I can do mine, but I would have to lean too far forward to offset the weight of my butt. My butt is admired by women so it’s not fat, just muscular.

    I think very thin people, not just free of fat, but thin of muscle, can do this squat thing.

    I’ll keep working on it though, maybe it isn’t my sexy butt. lol

  • irish gangsta buwya

    September 2, 2008 at 12:51 pm

    yeah i hav friends from de philipines nd dey all squat de hole time waddup wif dat cuzz?

  • billywest

    November 27, 2008 at 11:52 am

    Japanese people call this “うんこ座り – unkozuwari”
    which means “shit-sitting”. It’s a favorite pastime activity of combini storefront loiterers.

  • die mädchen

    December 23, 2008 at 2:11 am

    BS…
    It’s not an “Asian” thing…

    There are non-Asian countries where people can squat too!
    Just because few Westerners sit in this position does not mean that is true for all places outside of Asia!

    “In contrast to Westerners, the majority of men, women and children in Asia, Africa, Middle East and developing world have no problems with the natural squatting position. ”

    source: http://www.toilet-related-ailments.com/squatting-position.html

    Rich Westerners are actually the EXCEPTION for not being able to squat.

    And please don’t spread bullshit like squatting is an Asian thing, it’s because of physical differences etc… That is 1) unproven 2) I know a white guy who grew up in Japan, he can squat! 3) it’s RACIST.

    Everyone who says “Asians can squat because their bones/articulations/whatever are different” this is RACIST. Saying people from the “Asian race” can do this because it is innate is racist. And squatting is common outside of Asia except for Western countries anyway, so if you think it’s a “characteristics” of the “Asian race” you are ignorant.

    Squat toilets are the norm in Africa and Eastern Europe. How could Africans use squat toilets if only Asians were able to squat??

    Take white kids, put them in a Japanese family in Japan, they WILL be able to squat just like the other kids!!

    People in rich Western countries don’t have occasions to squat so they don’t that’s all! In Japan, you MUST learn to squat because there still are a lot of public bathrooms with squat toilets. Don’t bring RACIST pseudo-theories into this.

    It’s really SHOCKING how racism is still prevalent and how people are quick to bring racist explanations to explain differences due only to culture and the environment…

  • Sophie Babur

    January 11, 2009 at 10:42 am

    Um, it’s not racist at all.
    Let me clarify the meaning of ‘racism’ for you. Here are some definitions.

    > the prejudice that members of one race are intrinsically superior to members of other races
    > discriminatory or abusive behavior towards members of another race

    > racist – based on racial intolerance; “racist remarks”
    > racist – discriminatory especially on the basis of race or religion

    > the belief that one’s own race is superior to another. This belief is based on the erroneous assumption that physical attributes determine the social behavior and intelligence of a group. Ultimately, the racist believes that the inferiority of others is a basis for inferior social treatment. ..

    So you see, it’s not racist at all.

    And I beleive that anyone can do it with lots of practice. All my relatives in Turkey can squat as well as sit, they sit where there are seats and they squat when there aren’t any. They tell me sitting and squatting are equally comfortable once you get used to it.

  • keeheritage

    January 26, 2009 at 11:28 am

    … i do not know why western ppl make such a big deal out of it. Squatting is not ASIAN THING… it is considered to be an improper behavior yet at most time people still do it… I would do it when i’m awfully tired and there’s no place to sit. I will never sit on the ground coz it’s dirty…

    Although i don’t think calling it ASIAN THING as racist but it’s very IMPOLITE.. without realizing it you people are labeling others..

    Hope this will put an end to this misunderstanding.

  • lol

    February 12, 2009 at 9:04 am

    haha filipinos do that too, being a phil am I have a lot of trouble trying to imitate.

  • Rolfmeister

    February 24, 2009 at 6:30 am

    Yeah, it’s an Asian thing allright. We know that. I squat aswell, I even do it here in Europe. I love it, I’m good at it.

    Much more “Japanese” is spitting on…well….EVERYWHERE. THis is what I never understood. Oh well.

  • Senbei

    April 22, 2009 at 4:48 pm

    Squatting is definitely something you get used to. I grew up in America, but since moving to Hawaii (which has a lot of Asian culture, I gradually got good at squatting. It’s pretty handy and comfortable. I’m not that thin, but my balance and achilles tendons are okay, which is probably more the issue than racial heritage.

  • Linda

    July 15, 2009 at 4:02 am

    My father was a WWII POW in Japan. He had never squatted prior to that. After being released 3 1/2 years later, he squatted off and on the rest of his life. He literally sat on his heels and could sit that way for hours comfortably. So, I believe it is learned behavior. What I’m trying to figure out is if it is harmful to squat for long periods of time. Could it injure the knees, hips, back? Or, is it possible that it actually helps your bones? Does anyone know a site that has looked into this?

  • Linda

    July 15, 2009 at 4:06 am

    The site that die mädchen posted on 23 December, 2008 is a GREAT site on squatting.

  • risa

    August 19, 2009 at 2:53 pm

    When over in Japan for a month, I had to try squat to use Japanese style toilet a few times, I found it so impossible without holding one arm out against the wall/door to steady myself. Just tried the feet flat thing as I always squat the “western” way as someone said on the balls of my feet, and no way can my ankle bend up enough! If my feet go flat, my legs go forward, my bum goes down!

    Now my ankles hurt ;(

    I’m going to bed.

  • molly

    December 8, 2009 at 7:36 pm

    I’ve always been able to squat flat footed and I’m not of Asian heritage. But I am flat footed and very flexible.

  • Leigh

    March 13, 2011 at 11:21 pm

    I as an American of Irish decent have always done this, not on the street, but when ever I needed to pick something up off the floor or play with a child. I never thought it was weird for American’s to do this until my friends pointed it out to me. I believe that this is something you have to follow through with as a child to be able to do it as an Adult. I believe anyone could do this if they wanted to.

  • mutuelle

    May 18, 2011 at 7:38 am

    Thank You For This Blog

  • SJ

    July 26, 2011 at 2:31 pm

    Decided to try the Asian squat after feeling pain in my knees…again…after doing the Western squat. I never thought much about it until I got into martial arts a little over a year ago and we started doing Western squats. Oh my gosh. After feeling pain for the second time while doing them with my toes pointed forward, I was ready to tell my sensei that I wouldn’t do squats anymore. That is until I read about the Asian squat. It took a couple of tries; I finally discovered that I have to have a fairly wide Asian squat or I’ll lose my balance. From now on, I’m squatting like this, even in class, and if people think it’s wierd…big deal.