Meaning of Japanese Gestures and Body Language

Japanese Sign Language

While the subtleties of gesture and body language in Japan may take a lifetime to master, there are a few basics you can learn so as to at least not offend and help you communicate without fluently speaking the language. Understand the meaning behind these few basic gestures and you will be well on your way to impressing the locals.

  • Hands in a circle above your head: everything is ok.
  • Raised pinky: girlfriend, wife, or even mistress. When asked by your friends if you want to go out on the town that night, simply raise your pinky to show you are going to spend the night with your girlfriend instead.
  • Raised thumb: Same as above but for boyfriend/husband.
  • Making an “X” in front of you with your arms: “No” or not allowed.
  • Two index fingers placed on the side of your head like horns (one of my favorites): this means you are very angry.
  • When signaling someone to come towards you, make sure your palm is facing down and sweep fingers back.
  • The bow. Nuances of the bow are endless but here are the basics: the lower and longer duration of the bow, the higher degree of respect displayed by the bowee. Females maintain both arms to the front, with hands on top of legs. Males keep arms to their sides. According to our Japanese guides, unless you bow while saying arigato, the words will have no meaning.
Amy Jurries

Amy is a freelance travel writer and editor.

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