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Goin’ Japanesque!

Basics of Japanese: Gestures

Language is communicated through more than just words. Along with intonations, gestures are a major way of delivering a specific message to your speaking partner, even without actually saying anything to them at all! Just like sign language, many gestures are not universal, and some even have completely opposite meanings in different cultures! The following gestures below are ones you’re most likely to encounter in Japan–have you ever seen them before in Japanese shows?



食べる(たべる – to eat)

One hand flat, palm facing up as if holding a bowl, while the index and middle fingers from your other hand  stick out.

来て(きて – come here)

Hold your hand out in front of you, palm facing down, and wave your fingers back and forth collectively. (Note: This looks a lot like the Western gesture for “go away”!)

出来ない(できない – I can’t)

Hold your hand in front of your nose so that your thumb is toward your face and your pinky away. Wave your hand back and forth. (Note: This looks a lot like the Western gesture for “smelly”!)



良い(いい – good)

Raise your arms above your hand and touch your hands to create a circle. 〇 always represents good things in Japan!

だめ (no good)

Cross your hands in front of you like an X.

怒る(おこる – to be angry)

Raise the index fingers from both hands above your head like horns. This gesture represents the horns of an おに (demon).



私(わたし – I; me)

Point to your nose

お金(おかね – money)

Touch your thumb and index finger to make a circle (like the Western “OK” sign), then hold it near yourself so that your palm is up and your remaining three fingers are flat.

胡麻磨り(ごますり – brown-noser)

A brown-noser is the teacher’s pet; it’s someone who will do practically anything to be praised by someone in a position of power (like a teacher or boss). ごま means “sesame seed” while すり comes from する(磨る meaning “to grind”). This is shown by holding one hand out like a bowl, palm up, while the other hand is shaped like a fist, thumb facing upward. Then you ‘grind’ the bottom of your fist into the bowl.

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About the author

Katrina has worked as a Japanese language teacher and freelance translator for several years. She loves traveling and has been all over Japan. Click here --> Free Japanese Lessons Practical Japanese Lessons

View all articles by Katrina