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YumeTwins Kawaii Culture BlogThe Fun World of Japanese Hand Gestures

The Fun World of Japanese Hand Gestures

By Kim Kahan
December 22, 2021

Understanding Japanese culture means getting a grip on the hand gestures and body language, too. Learning some crucial Japanese hand gestures can save much confusion and can even make it easier to learn the language. Some of their gestures are just plain cute too!

Although learning another language, especially all of the cute Japanese words out there, let’s talk all about Japanese hand gestures instead.

Hand Gestures in Japan

Japanese body language can be confusing if you aren’t acquainted with the basics. A key point in Japanese body language is eye contact, so remember to make eye contact when trying any of these gestures yourself. Eye contact is said to be a sign of trust, so if someone doesn’t make eye contact, the receiver may find it difficult to trust them. 

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The Cross

A very common hand gesture you will see in Japan is the big NO: The Cross. It’s made by crossing your two forearms into a cross shape, usually raised, in front of the face. 

The Cross is used to indicate that something isn’t allowed. For example, ‘No, you can’t come in.’ This is a common one, and you may see it when you try to enter a restaurant which is full or when you’re doing something wrong. It is a clear and easy way of indicating ‘no.’ 

The Mini Cross

A woman in a white shirt crosses her index fingers to form the X mark, a Japanese hand gesture.
This super hand gesture saves many of those without any English ability at restaurants. Image via Shutterstock

This gesture is made by crossing your two index fingers over each other, to make – you guessed it – a mini cross. This is useful when finishing up at restaurants when you’d like to ask for the check. It means ‘Check, please!’, so you can get it without having to say a word.

However, in kawaii (cute) culture, you may see singers or anime characters using the mini-cross to say ‘no’ as well. Even some of the Tik Tok dances to the cutest anime songs use this gesture.

The ‘Me, Myself and I’ Point

In Japanese, using ‘I’ is limited as much as possible. Ways Japanese people get around this include using their own name or pointing their index finger at themselves. In the West this may be considered strange but in Japanese this is totally okay. Try it for yourself!

The ‘Not Me’ or ‘You’ve Got That Wrong’ Wave

In Japanese, if someone is saying something that the listener doesn’t think is correct, or if they say something about you or related to you that you don’t agree with, the ‘Not Me’ Wave comes out. 

For this wave, set your hand in front of your face, thumb facing towards the face and pinky finger away, and wave your hand from right to left or vice versa, as though there’s a bad smell in the room. Bonus points if it’s accompanied by ‘Chigau!’, a word which means ‘mistake!’ or ‘that’s not right.’

The Come Here Waft

A man calls someone over with the Japanese hand gesture, using your hand palm down.
Combine this Japanese hand gesture with the word kocchi (this way) for a cuter impact. Image via Shutterstock

In The West, to call someone over, it’s common to stretch out your arm and curl your fingers upwards to signal ‘come here.’ To wave someone away, it is commonplace to stretch out the arm and wave your fingers away from you to say ‘go away.’ 

In Japan, a combination of both means ‘come here’, so try not to get this one mixed up! 

Stretch out your arm away from you, with your palm facing down. Fingers also go down, in a relaxed position. Wave the hand to and fro, like a waft. This means ‘come over here.’ 

The Pretty Please Hands

If you want someone to do you a favor in Japan, a good way is to press your palms together in front of you, raised. This means ‘please.’ Add puppy dog eyes, and you’re onto a winner.

The ‘Money’ Sign 

A hand makes the Japanese hand gesture for money, which is like an inverted 'OK' sign, with money in front of him
This Japanese hand gesture is perfect for when you have or don’t have money. Image via Shutterstock

This one is a subtle way to indicate cash. Form an ‘okay’ sign with your fingers then invert it, upside down so your palm. Possibly the coolest out of all the Japanese hand gestures. 

Japanese Body Language 

Japanese body language is succinct and very important to understanding Japanese culture. Let’s take a look at the most important.

The Bow

There’s one mainstay of Japanese body language, and that’s the bow. It’s believed to have been around for over 1500 years, since the Chinese introduced Buddhism to Japan. There are many types of bow, all of which indicate different levels of respect, superiority, and so on. To learn them all is a whole new article in itself, with the average Japanese person judging which one to use case-by-case! 

In all of the standing bows, legs and hips should not move and the back should stay straight. The back should be straight and not curved, for the seated bows.

A woman in a purple kimono smiles while doing a light bow with grass and trees in the background.
Not all bows are the same. This combines both friendliness with the angle and formality with the hands. Image via Shutterstock

The ‘Yo Wassup’ Bow

This one is a light bow, and just involves inclining your head and the upper part of your body around 15 degrees. It’s most common among friends, relatives, and peers, and has many uses, such as saying ‘thanks’ and even saying ‘hello.’ Its Japanese name is ‘eshaku.’ 

The ‘I’m Sorry’ Bow

The ‘I’m Sorry’ bow involves two hands at your side and bowing as low as 90 degrees! Limbo but the opposite way. It is used to indicate that you’re deeply sorry. ‘I’m sorry I ate all your Demon Slayer snacks’, etc.

We hope you’ve learned a little bit about hand gestures and body language in Japan! Let us know if you tried any out.

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