Q. From the American point of view, what seems strange about Japanese gestures?


A member of a Japanese group tour of Hawaii once mentioned to us that although he did not speak or understand English he was able to communicate by means of gestures. This is very difficult to believe because even the gestures are different in the two cultures. Where a Japanese person may wave his hand in front of his face to indicate “no,” an American will shake his head sideways. Seeing the Japanese gesture, an American may wonder, ‘Why is he waving good–bye?’

It was once common for Japanese to indicate themselves by pointing their index finger at their noses. To an American, this draws attention to the nose and leaves them wondering why the person’s nose is an issue. The American would touch his chest to indicate himself.

The Japanese gesture for money, with the thumb and index finger forming a circle, is the American gesture for “okay” when the hand is held at chest height.

Among other gestures that leave Americans perplexed are the upraised little finger (which Japanese men use to indicate “a woman”), the hand held behind the head as a person bows (to indicate embarrassment), and the “chopping” movement of the hand when a person wants to politely pass through a group of people. Oh yes, there is also the habit of bowing repeatedly while talking on the telephone.

Americans regularly find Japanese women irritating, because of their habit of “giggling” with a hand over the mouth. To Americans, this seems either childish or outright rude.