Japanese Peace Sign

Learning About Japanese Gestures through Anime

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We can all learn a lot about Japan by studying Japanese gestures in anime, the body language used by the characters we’re most familiar with to communicate with each other. The most famous of these is the legendary “peace sign,” which everyone in Japan (and Asia) makes the minute you pull out a camera. It started out as Churchill’s (sometimes embarrassingly reversed) “V for victory,” but it wasn’t commonly seen in Japan until 1972, when two things happened. First, U.S. skater Janet Lynn made the gesture during photo shoots at the Sapporo Olympics, and the Konica camera company hired actor and comedian Jun Inoue to promote its newest camera for a magazine ad. The actor ad-libbed the peace sign (possibly imitating Janet Lynn) during the photoshoot, and this visual image has reverberated with greatly with the Japanese public ever since. The gesture is closely tied to photography, since saying “peace” makes you smile in the same way we “say cheese” in English.

Let’s look at some other Japanese gestures in anime…

Taiga Anime Gesture Pointing To Self

In the West, we tend to point to our chest when indicating, “Me?” Japanese always point to their noses, like Taiga is doing here.

Akanbe Japanese Gesture Anime

Another classic gesture is akanbe, when children or cute girls expose the lower portion of one eye as an insult.

Hikari Demichan Wa Kataritai Gesture

You probably indicate “come here” with a finger gesture, but Japanese do this hand waving thing. The first few times you see it, it looks like they’re telling us to go away.

Japanese Gestures Anime Batsu No Dame

In Japan, an “X” (batsu) always means “no” or “forbidden.” A circle (maru) always means “yes,” which leads to confusion when the Japanese staff of J-List try to turn on our American coffee pot, and wonder why the “circle” button (really a zero) doesn’t cause it to turn on. The differing functions of ☓ and ◯ cause U.S. and Japanese Playstation games to work differently, too.

Japanese Gestures Raised Pinky Girlfriend

A raised pinky, like this, is the symbol for “girlfriend,” and someone might raise their pinky and shoot you a questioning glance, which would mean “So, do you have a date with your girlfriend tonight?” A raised thumb, facing out, indicates a boyfriend.

Yibikiri Genman Pinky Promise

Then there’s the “pinky swear,” which has its origins in Edo Period as a gesture of devotion that geisha would make with their favorite customers. The “cutting” of the pinky signified the women severing her own finger as a sign of eternal affection for her partner.

Onegai Shimasi Please Gesture Anime

This means “please,” or more accurately, “I’ve never needed a favor so badly in my life, please help me this one time!”

Goma Suri

The way to express someone who’s an “apple polisher” (someone who kisses up to his boss) is ゴマすり goma-suri, literally meaning “one who grinds up the sesame seeds for his superior.” The gesture of grinding up imaginary sesame seeds in your palm with your fist is how you indicate a brown-noser at work.

Live With Me If You Want To Come Asuna Sao

One of my favorite Japanese gestures is “Live with me if you want to come.”

I Will Enslave You With My Cuteness

This heart gesture means, “My cuteness has enslaved you, you must now watch my anime until the end of time.”

Yuri Goggles Anohana

This is a gesture called “yuri goggles,” and it means “I’m looking for anime lesbians, tell me where they are.”

Strike Witches Ass Slapping Gif

Finally, a Japanese gesture that means, “I understand you don’t share my tastes in hentai, and I don’t care.”

So that’s my report on Japanese gestures in anime. Did I miss any important ones? Tell us on social media!

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About the author

Peter Payne

I live in Japan and I run J-List, an anime shop famous for shimapan and Tentacle Grape. I love being able to bring Japanese culture to the world.