Japanese Gestures

About this essay

In many cultures and among many ethnic people, a significant way of communicating is through non-verbal behavior. Non-verbal behavior is important in Japanese culture. It is an integral part of their culture, values and way of life. In this essay, I will talk about 3 types of non-verbal behavior in Japanese culture and what it signifies in their culture and their values. The three types of non-verbal behavior I’ve chosen are bowing (Ojigi), expressing happiness (Banzai) and beckoning Temaneki. The first gesture is called Ojigi, Japanese for bowing.

Ojigi is a very important custom in Japan. It is customary to Bow when greeting someone. If you’re greeting a person who is either elder to you or high ranking, you would bow as low as possible. This is to show respect, which has been integral to the culture. Men bow with their hands held at their sides, palms facing inward. Women bow with their hands crossed in front of them. For a colleague, friend or laborer you would bow down to 15 degrees.

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You are needed to bow down to 45 degrees when aquatinted with a person of high status. This gesture was originally shown to the emperors.

For example, Emperor Hirohito’s subjects would kneel down and bow, and not even make eye contact. All this was done to show respect. Now however, through internationalization a simple bow is done. The second Japanese gesture is beckoning. When you need to call someone in Japan, you have to use the gesture called Temaneki.

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Japanese beckon with a waving motion with a palm down and the hand flapping up and down at the wrist. Westerners may confuse this with a wave and not realize they are being beckoned. It is polite to beckon someone of a lower status by this gesture, but it is considered impolite to beckon a superior this way.

This gesture is used by Japanese of both sexes and all age groups. According to ancient legend, a cat stood in the doorway of the Gotoku-ji temple and raised her paw in the traditional Japanese beckoning gesture to a feudal lord who was passing by. The feudal lord followed the cat into the temple and instantly, a lightning bolt struck the place where the lord had been standing. Thus the cat had saved his life. From then on, the Maneki Neko has been considered an incarnation of the Goddess of Mercy. The last gesture I’m going to talk about is Banzai.

Banzai literally means ten thousand years (of life). People shout “Banzai” whilst raising both their hands to express their happiness or to celebrate a victory. For example, in the movie ‘Karate Kid II’, Miyagi a Japanese Karate teacher raises his arms and shouts “Banzai” as we shout “cheers” and click our glasses. Although, he did this alone, it is commonly done together with the large group of people. Additionally there are a lot of situations in which you can use this gesture. For example, when you have achieved great things, if your in a bar and have made a toast or won a lottery in a casino.

If you change the word to “waa!! “, then you can use the same gesture when you are surprised. There fore when you are in Japan, it’s good to know this gesture, as it’s done quite often in bars and in casinos. Some people seem to confuse “banzai” with a war cry. It is probably because the Japanese soldiers shouted “Tennouheika Banzai” when they were dying during World War II. In this context what they meant was “Long live the Emperor” or “Salute the Emperor”. Others believe Japanese “Banzai! ” was originated from Korean “Manse! ” (or “Mansei! “). It’s a misunderstanding.

Yet, Several years ago, photocopies* of old “Imperial ordinance about the official manner of ‘Banzai’ were around in Japan. The real origin of the Banzai gesture may never be known. However, it’s a popular gesture and will not die out. Westerners have often felt a ‘culture clash’ as Japanese gestures are a language of it’s own, just like the language itself. Also, the different forms of non-verbal behavior differ from men to women like seen in Ojigi. Non verbal behavior has its ‘place’ in Japanese culture. Complete politness and respectful, comes first in their culture.

A person is always judged by the way that he or she sits at a formal gathering or even disliked because he or she did not bow correctly. Non-verbal behavior is very complex and for westerners frustrating. Of course the gestures that I have mentioned above are but a few of the numerous gestures that the Japanese people make. Gestures also depend on the person, his status, place, situation, and many other factors. Most of the gestures have been passed down by tradition. They play a big role in daily life and have become a compulsory habit of the people.

Gesturing is second nature to the strict follower of Japanese traditional culture, and the spoken word not accompanied by a gesture just does not have the same impact, respect, value or meaning.


Abe, Namiko. Japanese language with Namiko Abe. Copyright (c) 2002 About, Inc. 30th Dec 2002 <http://japanese. about. com/library/weekly/aa060300. htm>. Japanese Gestures. 30th Dec 2002 <http://web. kyotoinet. or. jp/people/s1016kyt/ngk/gesture. htm>. Non-Verbal communication. 30th Dec 2002 <http://www. shinnova. com/part/99-japa/abj17-e. htm>.

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Japanese Gestures. (2021, Jun 02). Retrieved from http://studymoose.com/japanese-gestures-essay

Japanese Gestures
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