Common Japanese hand gestures

Some of you may or may not know, that even though I live in London, I’m not British. And even though I’ve been here for 8 years now, there’s still a lot of common British things that escape me. My friends always find it slightly surprising and amusing when I ask them the meaning of a word or have never heard of their all time favourite childhood programme. The other day they caught me out with a gesture, which was tapping their index finger on the side of their nose. This went completely over my head and I had no idea what had just happened. Apparently this was meant to mean “secret”. Oops. They then went on to trying to make me believe all these other “British hand gestures”, so I showed them a sign of my own from France:

Mon oeil!
Mon oeil! (Image credit)

This gesture in France means something like “yeah right”, “I don’t believe you”. They had never heard of it. Interestingly enough though, that same nose tapping gesture in French would mean “I’m onto you” (yes, I’m tapping my nose at those of you who tried to trick me ( *`ω´)).

Anyway, all of this actually reminded me of  a conversation I once had with my Japanese teacher. I was trying to describe a person who I thought was really skinny, and held up my little finger. But instead my teacher suddenly thought I was talking about my girlfriend and/or mistress, because in Japan that’s what that gesture means. So here my teacher was now thinking “wow this teacher-student relation has just gone to the next level” and that I was homosexual (⌒-⌒; ). Which just goes to show when learning a new language, it’s as important to know the actual language, but it also wouldn’t be a bad idea to learn some of the body language either. I’m sure there are many out there who may have got themselves in more trouble than they asked for by using the wrong gesture in a foreign country. After all actions sometimes do speak louder than words.

So here are a few common Japanese gestures I found online:

In this next video, I’m sure you can see how not knowing the meaning of the gesture could be misinterpreted.

For more common Japanese gestures, check out this article on Tofugu’s website here. But also let me know in the comments what other Japanese gestures you know! Have you ever found yourself in an embarrassing situation due to a misunderstood gesture?


2 thoughts on “Common Japanese hand gestures

  1. Interesting post! No.3: My face?! haha
    I can think of several hand gestures but most of them nsfw unfortunately 😉 There’s the hand gesture for what’s the time (tapping wrist) – must be quite universal?


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