[[quoteright:350:[[Webcomic/AxisPowersHetalia http://static.tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pub/images/am_I_the_only_one_who_finds_this_oddly_moe_517.jpg]]]]
[[caption-width-right:350:Japan: So inscrutable that he can't even ''[[PerpetualFrowner smile]]''.]]

Throughout the years, people from East Asia have been depicted in European media as being more reserved and stoic than Europeans. This comes from the perceptions of European merchants, soldiers, and officials unable or simply unwilling to appreciate the astonishingly diverse social customs of a region of many million square kilmetres and more than 300 million people (from the 17th century onward). Faced with a continent ''even more heterogenous'' than their own, they more-or-less gave up on trying to figure out what [[PlanetOfHats each region's 'hat' was]] and simply wrote them all off as 'inscrutable' or mysterious/unreadable.

If treated positively, a character who follows this trope can come across as being a calm, cool, and fairly collected (if a bit eccentric) person who may also serve as a source of wisdom and encouragement. If treated negatively, characters come across as being overly dour, uptight, dull, and all around boring fellows who seem to have trouble comprehending concepts like leisure or fun. The distinction is similar to that between StiffUpperLip and BritishStuffiness, respectively.

This can be shown tropewise as being TheStoic in more serious and/or positive portrayals. And as TheComicallySerious or OnlySaneMan in more comedic and negative portrayals. The OldMaster may also be this trope.

All in all, this trope can be described as the Eastern counterpart to GermanicDepressives. Any [[TruthInTelevision kernel of truth in the stereotype]] can be attributed to the one universal social mannerism throughout East and Southeast Asia of "maintaining face", and which [[StiffUpperLip British people would understand:]] ''Don't make a fuss.''

One reason for this trope being less popular nowadays is its association with offensive YellowPeril villains, who were frequently untrustworthy, scheming {{Chessmaster}}s who used their lack of emotion to disguise their motives.

Contrast AsianRudeness.
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!!Examples:

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[[folder: Anime and Manga ]]

* [[MoeAnthropomorphism Japan]] from ''AxisPowersHetalia'', pictured above, who is extremely popular in his country's fandom due to the self-deprecating stereotypes he embodies. His memorized rules of conduct consist of gems like agreeing to consider options when he actually means 'no', never giving straight answers in a corner, becoming more polite when he is annoyed by other people, and apologizing when others are causing trouble.
** Hong Kong seems to be this way too, being depicted in his Drama CD appearance as a DeadpanSnarker EmotionlessBoy.
* Taki from ''[[HyakujitsuNoBara Maiden Rose]]'', although done rather interestingly so that he has his [[DefrostingIceQueen defrosting]] moments while at a foreign military academy and then suddenly switches to "inscrutable" mode upon returning home, only to confuse the hell out of Klaus who goes with him.

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[[folder:Comics]]

* The new Judomaster's first appearance in ''JusticeSocietyOfAmerica'' is characterized by her being silent, cold and reserved out of combat. Mind you, before then, she'd been portrayed as witty and perfectly capable of speaking English, but [[DependingOnTheWriter these things happen]]. Mind you, she did warm up a bit when she fell for Damage.
* Mocked in a strip of the italian comic ''Sturmtruppen'' where a crossdressing spy is ordered to escort the japanese ally to another base, and affirms that "Nothing can surprise these inscrutable orientals". Cue to the japanese ally trying to hump him.
-->'''Spy:''' Hey, does he know the meaning of "disguise?"
-->'''Sergeant:''' Who knows, [[IronicEcho he's inscrutable...]]

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[[folder:Film]]
* The English lawyer's Chinese assistant in ''Film/TheLetter'', who maintains his air of obsequious politeness even as he demands $10000 blackmail in return for handing over a letter that incriminates the lawyer's client.
* Mr. Miyagi from ''TheKarateKid''.
* Parodied with a line from the western comedy ''TheGreatBankRobbery'', something along the lines of: "You sure are inscrutable, Fong. Just like all you Secret Service fellas."
* Seraph and the Keymaker from ''Film/TheMatrix'' films were meant to invoke this trope, fulfilling the "Orientalist fantasy".
* Subverted in the ''Film/HaroldAndKumarGoToWhiteCastle'': Harold's coworkers ''think'' he is this, but for the viewers, he's TheEveryman with a weed habit. Culminates in a spectacular WorldOfCardboardSpeech in which Harold spells out to his coworkers how very goddamned much he is ''not'' this, thank you.
* Spoofed in ''AroundTheWorldInEightyDays'', where Fogg asks for help from a stereotypical looking old Chinese man in loud pidgin English. The man turns out to speak English perfectly.
* Subverted (and how!) by every role Sessue Hayakawa ever played. One of his greatest roles was [[TheBridgeOnTheRiverKwai a man who was doing his best to appear impassive and inscrutable]] -- but [[IneffectualSympatheticVillain wasn't]].

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[[folder:Literature]]

* Shiro and Ancient Mai from ''Literature/TheDresdenFiles'' until we learn that Shiro is a CoolOldGuy and Ancient Mai has elements of an ObstructiveBureaucrat, then they don't seem so inscrutable.
* ''ATreeGrowsInBrooklyn'' features a ChineseLaunderer character who's stereotypical in other ways, but it actually calls out this trope. The young heroine sees the Chinese man as a wise mystic and assumes he's listening thoughtfully when she talks to him, when in reality he doesn't speak English and is just waiting for her to leave.
* In ''TheWestingGame'', Mrs. Hoo is seen this way at first, but it soon becomes obvious that it's solely a language barrier.

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[[folder: Live Action TV ]]

* Seņor Chang, the StereotypeFlip Spanish teacher in ''Series/{{Community}}'', rants about this.
* Kaito Nakamura from ''Series/{{Heroes}}''.
* Agent Kimball Cho on ''TheMentalist'' is the deadest of the [[DeadpanSnarker deadpan snarkers]] and most definitely TheStoic. However, he's also willing to go CowboyCop and NotSoStoic when the situation calls for it.
* Averted on ''[[FlashForward2009 Flash Forward]]'', in which JohnCho played the more HotBlooded, emotional and temper-prone half of a [[RedOniBlueOni pair of FBI partners]]. In fact, JohnCho has pretty much made a career out of averting this stereotype (see ''Film/HaroldAndKumarGoToWhiteCastle'', above).
* In season 2 of ''Series/TheMole'', Dorothy was so withdrawn and emotionless that many other contestants suspected her of being the Mole. [[spoiler:It turns out she wasn't; she deliberately [[InvokedTrope invoked this trope]] to draw contestants' suspicions toward her and away from the true Mole so that they would flunk on the quiz about the Mole and be eliminated. It worked well enough for her to win in the end.]]
* The series bible for ''StarTrekTheOriginalSeries'' explicitly describes Sulu as being the total opposite of this.
* Agent Melinda May from ''Series/AgentsOfSHIELD''
* Namechecked in the ''Series/DrTerriblesHouseOfHorrible'' episode "Frenzy of Tongs" when a character actually yells at the YellowPeril DiabolicalMastermind after being betrayed by him, "Damn your inscrutability!"

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[[folder: Tabletop Games ]]

* [[LampshadeHanging Lampshaded]] in the description of Lacquered Tablet, an Agatean ambassador described in ''{{GURPS}} Literature/{{Discworld}} Also'':
--> Someone once told him that the rest of the world sees Agateans as inscrutable, and he decided this was a good idea. He is very inscrutable, and goes everywhere with a gang of large guards chosen for their inscrutability.

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[[folder: Web Comics ]]

* The ethnicity of [[NoNameGiven {...}]] from HannaIsNotABoysName is unknown, although he's [[AmbiguouslyBrown vaguely Asian]]: he has almond-shaped eyes (more noticeable when they're not [[LooksLikeCesare surrounded with black stuff]]) and black hair, and apparently has a sentimental attachment to paper cranes. And he matches the wise-but-stoic part of the trope well, commenting that he's been told he's "hard to read", and smiling so rarely that Hanna considers it a bit of an event when it happens. So he might be this, or he might not. Or maybe being dead leaves you a little detached from emotional ups and downs. It's hard to say.
* Damara from {{Webcomic/Homestuck}} is "[[{{Fauxreigner}} fake]] [[FantasyCounterpartCulture troll]] [[AliensOfLondon Japanese]]" and her insistence on [[BilingualDialogue speaking in bad Japanese]] while maintaining a generally deadpan expression causes Meenah to refer to her in frustration as an "INSCRUTABL-E FIS)(WIF-E".

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[[folder: Western Animation ]]

* Lampshaded on an episode of ''WesternAnimation/StarTrekTheAnimatedSeries'', during an exchange between Kirk and Sulu. Incidentally, this episode was written by WalterKoenig, who played Chekov on [[Series/StarTrekTheOriginalSeries TOS]] and was friends with GeorgeTakei in real life:
-->'''Kirk:''' Any chance of teaching me that body throw? Could come in handy sometime.
-->'''Sulu:''' I don't know, sir. It isn't just physical, you know. You have to be... inscrutable.
-->'''Kirk:''' Inscrutable? ... Sulu, you're the most ''scrutable'' man I know.

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[[folder: Video Games ]]

* Shen Yu in ''EvilGenius'' is described as "inscrutable", which is not surprising as he's a take on FuManchu.
* ''VideoGame/TheMatrixPathOfNeo'' has this for most of the Asian people, particularly the old men. Especially, the old Chinese herbalist.

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