Title: Finger Across the Throat Gesture
General Information about Item:
- Customary Lore: Facial and Hand Gesture
- Language: Japanese
- Country of Origin: Japan
- Informant: Rina Yaita
- Date Collected: 11-06-18
- Rina Yaita is a sophomore student at Dartmouth College. Both her parents are Japanese. She was born in Chicago, United States. She moved to New York City when she was three years old, and went to pre-school in the States. Her family moved to Japan when she was six years old, and Rina attended a Japanese public elementary school in Japan until 5th grade. In the middle of her 5th grade year, Rina’s family moved to New Delhi, India due to her father’s job. She attended the American Embassy School until 11th grade in India. At the end of her 11th grade year, Rina and her family moved back to Japan, where she attended the American School. Her family resides in Japan.
- Cultural Context: Japanese society often has strict set of social norms that people should not act too silly or offend one another publicly. As such, insulting gesture are mainly found in the children demographic where acting silly or doing something very “rude” or “offensive” less frowned upon and more accepted. Moving the hand in a fist with only the thumb extended is a way children make fun or tease one another. It means “go to hell,” and carries a lighter tone than what it may seem like. While the meaning does mean “go to hell,” elementary school children sometimes do this gesture in order to joke around or tease each other.
- Social Context: This gesture was mentioned when the interviewee was asked about any insulting gestures that exist in Japanese culture. Rina stated that when she was in elementary school, some of her friends would jokingly slide their finger across their throat as a means of communicating “go to hell.” The gesture was joking and childish in nature, and it does not really mean to show a serious or malicious intent. She said that she learned the gesture directly from friends at Japanese public elementary school.
- The gesture begins with the actor holding out one of their hands in front of their throat. The hand is in a fist with the thumb sticking out to the side horizontally. Then the hand moves across the throat, which makes it seem as though the thumb is sliding across.
Associated file (a video, audio, or image file):
- “You put your hand in this way and move it across like this… It means ‘go to hell.’ Some children did it when I was going to school in Japan…In Japan, you’re supposed to be polite all the time, right? You’re taught that from a young age, so I can’t imagine most adults doing this kind of gesture. ” -Rina
- While children do this kind of gesture to one another as a joke, in almost all cases Japanese adults or even young adults would not perform this gesture.
- I found this gesture to be interesting. While the finger sliding across the throat seems to be a gesture that is also recognized in the United States, the specific meaning does not seem to be the exact same. While in the United States the finger across the throat communicates the meaning of “watch out, I’m going to get you,” in Japan it has the direct meaning of “go to hell.” This folklore was an interesting one to compare how similar acts of gestures could potentially have different nuances in their meanings.
Collector’s Name: Young Jang
- Insulting Gesture
- Finger Across the Throat
- Japanese Insulting Gesture