Insulting Gestures: Japan: Gesture 5 (Pointing One’s Fingers)

Pointing One’s Fingers (Young Jang)

Title: Pointing One’s Fingers

General Information about Item:

  • Customary Lore: Hand Gesture
  • Language: Japanese
  • Country of Origin: Japan
  • Informant: Jong-ki Kim
  • Date Collected: 11-03-18

Informant Data:

  • Jong-ki was born and raised in Jeunju, South Korea. After graduating high school, he enlisted in the South Korean army to complete his mandatory service for two years. After his service completion, he studied abroad in Tokyo, Japan as a university student for four years. After graduation, he continued to live in Japan and work as an entrepreneur in commerce and trading between East Asian countries. He is fluent in both Japanese and Korean. As a business owner he splits his time operating and living in both Tokyo, Japan and Seoul, South Korea.

Contextual Data:

  • Cultural Context: Japanese society often has strict set of social norms that people should not act too silly or offend one another publicly. However in a tense or heated situation, someone may act in a very explicitly rude way such as pointing one’s finger at another person. Pointing the finger is considered rude in Japanese culture because the person pointing is associated with explicitly calling out the other individual for their wrong behavior or actions. Repeatedly pointing while speaking to another person is considered a sign of extreme frustration or an expression of dissatisfaction. The action is associated with aggression and anger. While it may not seem so in other countries, pointing can be considered a very rude action and even an invitation for warranted aggression.
  • Social Context: This gesture was mentioned when the interviewee was asked about any insulting gestures that exist in Japanese culture. Jong-ki stated that in arguments, someone may begin to point at you while raising their voice. In situations like this, the confrontation could possibly escalate into more serious aggression or violence.


  • The gesture begins with the actor holding out one of his or her hands. The hand is clenched in a fist and only one index finger is extended out to another person.

Associated file (a video, audio, or image file):

*Note: For personal privacy concerns, Jong-ki has asked for his face to be covered in the photo for this collection.


  • “When you’re talking, and you point at the other person, and you are repeatedly pointing at them, it means that you are not happy with the current situation. It’s a rather obvious gesture and is considered quite rude… It’s different from the indication of location, like ‘Do you see that sofa over there,’ but it is more of an aggressive and charged action. ” -Jong-ki

Informant’s Comments:

  • This gesture could be taken as quite rude, so it’s important for visitors in Japan to realize that pointing is very impolite!

Collector’s Comments:

  • While pointing could be considered as a rude gesture in many cultures, I found the level of seriousness of the pointing gesture in Japanese culture to be quite interesting. It seems that the cultural connotation behind the pointing gesture is charged with aggression and anger. I have heard stories of Japanese people being a bit startled by foreigners who visit the country and point at other people naturally without intending aggression. Because this has become a common issue due to the growing tourism industry in Japan, I think some Japanese are more understanding and are not too offended if a foreigner points at them.

Collector’s Name: Young Jang 


  • Insulting Gesture
  • Pointing One’s Finger
  • Japanese Insulting Gesture

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