What are the facial differences between the Japanese and Chinese
From a European perspective, it's verystrange, perhaps, but Chinese, Korea, and Japan aren't just countries. They'realso regions with their own distinct populations. There's been some gene flowback and forth, but not as much as between neighboring countries in Europe. Thelanguages aren't closely related to each other either.
Think about it this way. If, instead of dozens of countries, there were onlyIreland, Sweden, and Greece separated by mountains and oceans in Europe, wouldyou be able to tell them apart most of the time? If you saw someone with redhair, someone with blond hair, someone with curly hair and dark skin, whatwould you think? It's like that. It's not enough to go on to be right all thetime, but it's enough to have a stereotypical mental image of what eachpopulation's people look like.
But it's more than just a stereotype. The following image is from Dieneke'sAnthropology blog. It's actually the most popular image on the site.
This image is a composite of, from left to right, Chinese, Korean, and Japanesewomen. To me, the most noticeable thing about that composite image is thedifference in skin tone, but the general shape of the face and the hair is alsodifferent.
This is a cluster analysis from Dieneke's Anthropology blog which shows how theChinese, Japanese, and Korean people fall out genetically:
As you can see, there's a lot of genetic variability in China, reflecting thefact that it's a big, multiethnic country, a fair amount in Japan, whichstretches from the Ryukyu Islands to Hokkaido, and the people of Korea are insomewhere in between, but tightly clustered so that they don't overlap witheither.
One of the reasons we don't notice this is that Hollywood casting agents reallydon't care about the difference. They seem to especially like to cast Koreanactors as Japanese characters.
This image is Zhang Ziyi in makeup and costume in the movie Memoirs of aGeisha.
The movie caused a big stir in Japan and China because, to a movie goingaudience accustomed by long exposure to telling the different between Japaneseand Chinese actors, Zhang Ziyi, so obviously and conspicuously Chinese, wasmiscast. That is, American eyes might look at this picture and think, What'sthe big deal? They're both Asian. Memoirs of a Geisha might havegotten away with it if it was just one character. But all three of themain geishas were cast with Chinese or Malayo-Chinese character actors. If"Asian" isn't a relevant category for you, this is no better thanPeter Lorre as Mr. Moto.
On the other hand, Korean actress Jun Ji-hyun did a pretty good job of playinga Japanese character in Blood: The Last Vampire. Although she doesn'tlook like the typical Japanese girl, I think she looks passably Japanese,perhaps from somewhere in the north. Ignore the blue eyes. Those are a vampirething.
The inability of Americans to notice these subtle differences is probablyrelated to our general inability to tell individual East Asian people apart,something that affects Asian-Americans just as much as any other category ofAmericans with a similar level of exposure.