Recently we ran an article about obscene gestures in many parts of the world, but now RocketNews would like to turn the lens inwards for a look at Japan’s hand gestures.

You may have some experience with these from spending time in Japan or from Japanese film and manga, but how well do you really think you know the gestures of this country? Take this quiz to find out.

You’re walking along the street with your Japanese friend looking for something to eat. You both come across a fancy looking sushi restaurant with a long line-up. Your friend turns to you, says “Do you have enough…?” and makes a circle with his thumb and index finger.

Is he asking:

A.  Do you have enough good feelings about this place?

B.  Do you have enough hunger?

C.  Do you have enough  life preservers?

D.  Do you have enough money?

If you answered B you’d be terribly wrong, because the answer’s D.  Although many Japanese people easily recognize this gesture as “okay” much like other parts of the world, it can also have the meaning of money.  It can also be done horizontally with the back of the hand facing downward.  The purpose is usually to avoid mentioning money in public places which can be understandably gauche at times.


Sitting at the table, the waitress offers complimentary bowls of pickled fish and Tabasco sauce as an appetizer.  Your friend begins waving their open hand under their nose in small left-right movements.

This means:

A.  That stinks!

B.  You have offended my family with this tripe and I will cut your head off with my iron tegatana.

C.  That looks spicy.

D.  No thanks, I’m allergic.

If you answered A you should be right, but in fact the answer is D.  Although waving off something is rather international, the Japanese style of waving is unique in its subtle, minute movements.


You finish eating your meal but your friend drops his chopsticks, picking them up he turns to the waitress and makes an X with both his index fingers.

How should you feel about this?

A.  Amazed that he knew you were finished and asked for the check.

B.  Shocked that he blames the restaurant for dropping his chop sticks and gives them one strike (two more and he’s out of here).

C.  Disappointed because your friend asked for another order and you’re full.

D.  Confused that he needs more chopsticks since there’s no more food.

If you answered D you’d be too predictable, because the answer is A.  Oddly enough, the check mark’s natural predator in the wild, the “X”, means “May I have the check?”  It can be a topsy-turvy world sometimes.


As you walk towards the exit of the restaurant, your friend spots a foppish gentleman sitting at a table with a group of young women. Young friend says, “My wife watches him on TV all the time. He’s…” Then puts the back of his hand to the opposite side of his mouth as if whispering something but keeping his mouth closed and quiet.

This means:

A.  The gentleman is gay.

B.  The gentleman is a gossip columnist.

C.  The gentleman is cheating on his wife.

D.  The man is adored by women.

If you said C then how dare you! I said the he was a gentleman and never would do such a thing.  The answer is A.  Like most hand gestures the origin’s not 100% clear but I heard that it refers to the old custom of women putting their hands in front of their mouths in such a way when they laugh.  However if a man were to do the same thing, it’d be – well – kinda gay. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.


Exiting the restaurant, your friend gets a phone call. After talking on the phone he apologizes and says he has to leave. He then puts only his pinky finger straight up at you and winks.

This means:

A.  Up yours, buddy!

B.  Bye bye!

C.  I totally just stole the menu!

D.  I’m cheating on my wife!

If you answered D then you’d know I have a special passion for that letter, can’t stay away from it and hence are right! Sticking your pinky straight out is an indication of a special woman in your life.  This could conceivably refer to one’s wife but by virtue of the fact that Japanese gestures tend to be used to mention the unmentionable (see Questions 1 & 4) he is clearly doing something on the DL like cheating.
One note about this gesture is that it only means “woman” if a woman made the gesture then answer C would apply. Sticking out one’s thumb would refer to a boyfriend for the straight ladies.


If you got 5 out of 5 then give yourself a pat on the back. If you got zero, don’t worry, being terrible at Japanese hand gestures is hardly the worst thing in the world.  Even among Japanese people there isn’t a solid consensus about these gestures.  One person may say there too old and never used but the next may say the opposite.

The moral of this quiz is that there is a deep well of expressions in Japan that use the hand and even face.  However, there is nothing that is quite on par with the raw power and offensiveness of the middle finger here.  Most offensive gestures are sort of silly like patting your bottom or pulling your eyelid down.  The worst thing you could do is probably point too strongly at someone.

Photos: RocketNews 24

Bonus Gallery

Here Mr. Sato is asking you to go out for a drink.  You might think Mr. Sato likes to party hard by throwing down shots as his gesture appears to mimic.  Actually he is pretending to hold a choko (small cup) often used to drink sake.

Mr. Sato isn’t saying “rock on” or “go Longhorns” with this move.  Actually he’s saying “Hey, here’s two foxes!” This move is not as useful in Japan…