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What does thumbs up mean in Japan?


Thumbs up is a universal hand gesture that is used to express approval, agreement, or support. However, the meaning of this gesture can vary from one culture to another. In Japan, thumbs up has a different connotation than in Western countries. It is essential to understand the cultural significance of this gesture to avoid misunderstandings and miscommunications.

Historical background

The thumbs up sign has its roots in ancient Roman culture, where it was used as a symbol of approval by gladiators. In modern times, it became popularized in the United States during World War II and has since spread globally through movies, TV shows, and social media. However, in Japan, the thumbs up gesture has a different history and context.

Japanese Snack Box

Positive connotation

In Japan, the thumbs up sign is generally seen as a positive gesture, indicating agreement, approval, or satisfaction. It is often used in informal settings and among friends or colleagues. However, it is not as common in formal situations where more traditional forms of communication are preferred.


While thumbs up is generally seen as a positive gesture in Japan, there are limitations to its use. For example, it may not be appropriate to use it with elderly people or those in positions of authority as it can be seen as disrespectful.

Cultural context

To fully understand the meaning of thumbs up in Japan, it is essential to consider the cultural context in which it is used. Japanese culture values politeness, respect, and harmony. Therefore, gestures that are seen as aggressive or confrontational are generally avoided.

Alternative gestures

If you want to express approval or agreement in Japan but feel uncomfortable using the thumbs up gesture, there are alternative gestures you can use. For example, nodding your head slightly or saying “hai” (yes) can convey a similar message without being too informal.

Body language

It’s important to remember that communication goes beyond words and includes body language. In Japan, maintaining eye contact and bowing slightly when greeting someone is a sign of respect and acknowledgement.

Cross-cultural communication

When communicating across cultures, it’s essential to be aware of how your gestures and body language may be interpreted differently. Taking the time to learn about cultural norms and customs can help avoid misunderstandings and build stronger relationships.

Celebrity influence

Thumbs up has become a popular gesture among Japanese celebrities and influencers. The widespread use of this gesture in media has contributed to its increasing popularity among younger generations.

International influence

The increase in globalization has led to greater cultural exchange between Japan and other countries. As a result, the meaning of thumbs up in Japan may continue to evolve and change over time.


There are several misconceptions about the meaning of thumbs up in Japan. For example, some people believe that it is considered offensive or vulgar. However, this is not entirely accurate as thumbs up is generally seen as a positive gesture.


In conclusion, understanding the cultural significance of thumbs up in Japan is essential for effective communication and building strong relationships. While it is generally seen as a positive gesture, there are limitations to its use depending on the context and culture. By being aware of these nuances and respecting cultural norms, we can avoid misunderstandings and build stronger connections with people from different backgrounds.

What does mean in Japan?

The gesture of raising both arms is used as a symbol of approval in Japan, but it also represents financial transactions. This gesture was added to Unicode in 2010 as “Face With OK Gesture” and became an Emoji in 2015 as part of Emoji 1.0.

What is the rude hand gesture in Japan?

In Japanese culture, it is considered impolite to point at someone because it is seen as accusing them of wrongdoing. This behavior can indicate frustration or dissatisfaction with the other person.

What does two fingers up mean in Japan?

The peace sign has become a popular gesture in Japan, used by people of all ages, from children to grandparents. Similar to the English phrase “Say Cheese!” when taking photos, in Japan people say “Peace!” while posing.

What does 3 fingers mean in Japan?

One thumb bent into the palm while others are straight indicates “one”. “Two” is shown by resting the index finger over the thumb while keeping the remaining three straight. Three fingers to the palm indicates “three” and so on.Jan 11, 2017

What are signs of disrespect in Japan?

Prolonged eye contact (staring) is considered rude. Don’t show affection, such as hugging or shoulder slapping, in public. Never beckon with your forefinger. The Japanese extend their right arm out in front, bending the wrist down, waving fingers.

What are signs of respect in Japan?

Bowing, known as ojigi, is a customary aspect of everyday living in Japan. The act of bowing involves numerous protocols that are influenced by various factors, including social status, age, and context. Generally, bowing is considered an indication of reverence and highlights the social hierarchy between individuals.

It is also worth noting that gestures are not the only aspect of communication that can be influenced by cultural differences. Language, tone of voice, and even personal space can vary greatly from one culture to another. For example, in some cultures, speaking loudly is seen as a sign of confidence and assertiveness, while in others it is considered rude or aggressive.

Another important factor to consider when communicating across cultures is the role of nonverbal cues. In Japan, for instance, people tend to use more subtle facial expressions and body language than in Western cultures. This can make it challenging for non-native speakers to pick up on social cues and understand the nuances of a conversation.

To overcome these challenges, it is important to approach cross-cultural communication with an open mind and a willingness to learn. This means taking the time to research and understand cultural norms and customs, as well as being patient and respectful when communicating with people from different backgrounds.

Ultimately, effective cross-cultural communication requires empathy, flexibility, and a willingness to adapt to different communication styles. By being mindful of cultural differences and actively working to bridge gaps in communication, we can build stronger connections with people from diverse backgrounds and create a more inclusive world.

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