The Asian Reporter 19th Annual
Scholarship & Awards Banquet -
The Asian Reporter's
From The Asian Reporter, V16, #43 (October 24, 2006), page 15.
From the serious to the hilarious
70 Japanese Gestures: No Language Communication
Translated by Aileen Chang
Stone Bridge Press, 2005
Paperback, 160 pages, $9.95
By Josephine Bridges
Many people are of the belief that Japanese keep body action to a minimum when speaking," writes Hamiru-aqui in the preface to 70 Japanese Gestures, "yet over 120 gestures are commonly used." The author expects a sizable portion of these gestures to disappear before the end of the next decade, hence this book’s title. Divided into three sections, this is an accessible, fascinating, and funny compendium of Japanese body language.
Each gesture comprises two pages. On the left is an English translation or description of the gesture and a black-and-white photograph of Engineer Takafumi Hamada making the gesture. Unfortunately, a number of the photographs are blurry, which detracts from the visual impact of the gestures. On the facing page is the Japanese word for the gesture and an English transliteration. An explanation of the gesture follows.
"General Gestures" is the first and largest section. You’ll learn here that people in Western countries "point to their chests when indicating themselves, but in Japan, people point to their noses." If you need to pass in front of someone in Japan, you can move your hand in a slow chopping motion to express apology for the inconvenience. Writes the author, "You will make a positive and favorable impression with this gesture and may find people striking up a conversation with you." Pretending to wipe drool off your chin may not be appropriate on a formal occasion, but "when someone is cooking a special dinner for you, he or she may be happy to see you make this gesture." One gesture I have had the opportunity to use already — "Point both index fingers above your head like horns" — is called "Just hopping mad" and is used only when referring to other people.
There’s a five-star rating system in the "Slang Gestures" section: "The more stars, the more angry a person may become if you direct the gesture at him." An example of a one-star gesture is "Butter someone up," made by a mortar-and-pestle motion with one’s hands. "Imitating hiding money inside the collar of the kimono," the gesture for "Bribe," earns three stars. It’s probably best to avoid making the five-star yakuza gesture, though, according to the author, members of the Japanese Mafia "value traditions, are well-behaved, and respect their elders." A "Slang Review" at the conclusion of this section is decorated with skulls and crossbones and reminds the student of dangerous Japanese how to say such things as, "That guy’s ugly, bucktoothed girlfriend is pregnant and hopping mad."
Hamiru-aqui, a Tokyo artist, saved the best for last in "Children’s Gestures." The section begins with the practice, required of children by schools in Japan, of crossing the street with an arm raised, thus increasingly visibility. There’s a vow that includes the linking of pinky fingers and the words, "If you lie, I will make you swallow 1,000 needles." Ouch! A gesture with four separate hand motions "is mainly used to make fun of someone but it can also be used to warn an unsuspecting person that his underwear is showing without announcing it publicly." How convenient.
70 Japanese Gestures concludes with "Something special for you," a two-page postscript on practicing one’s golf swing with an umbrella. While this is a common practice in open areas such as the platforms of train stations, "doing so in a place where space is limited is dangerous, and therefore earns the five stars. Exclusively for men. One never sees women doing this."