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Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Essential Phrases and Body Language

In learning a language, we're often blitzed with grammar and vocabulary and expected to use only that to get our point across; obviously, this approach glosses over much of the other elements that decide how what we want to get across gets across, the most neglected being unspoken communication. The nod of the head, the thumbs down, the middle or pointer finger used to make a point are all among the gestures we use in communication, and without them, we find it much harder to complete the message the way we want to. Japan's society is no different, with not only its own interpretation of those gestures, but also those unique to the culture and their day to day interactions, of which you'll be treated to a sampling of, along with phrases to help you get by and dip your toes into the language.

Each entry aims to break down the gesture/phrase and give you the background info needed to use it well and in the right context-including video examples, where available. By the end of the 20 entry series(10 phrases/10 gestures), you'll have a solid base to work from and that much more ability to interact how you want to and make sure your message rings loud and clear. With all that established, we'll jump right into the first of each, starting with a gesture made famous by a random cat who helped a traveler avoid a bad end with a simple wave of their palm.

Gesture #1: The Beckoning Wave
Actual Gesture: the palm of the person's hand faces the ground and the hand waves inward towards the body

It's Function?: It's meant to signal the person on the receiving end to come closer, similar to the palm-up version used in many Western countries, but much less of a tough guy vibe

Any Associated Phrase?: Yes, and with this one, one of them is 「こっちにおいで!(Over here, please!)」

Anything else?: If you've seeing the waving motion go outwards from the body, it means they're pissed off at the recipient and are telling them to piss off.

What's this about a cat and a traveler?: One possible origin of this gesture and the cat itself, known in Japan as まねねこ, is that a loaded feudal lord, seeking shelter from a thunderstorm, ducked under a tree; that tree happened to be near Gotoku Temple in western Tokyo, home of a broke priest and his cat. The cat made the gesture at him and he, probably curious about what the cat wanted, approached it; not a moment later the tree was struck by lightning, which might've made him a think twice about what do to with his riches after speaking to the priest and learning of his situation. In time, the priest and he became buddies, and the temple prospered as their friendship prospered, perhaps prompting the feudal lord to have a sculpture of the cat made in its beckoning pose when it passed on.

Phrase #1: ありがとう

Literal Meaning: It's tough for this to exist

Intent: Thank you

Usage: Like 'Thank You', it's used when someone does something for you and you want to express appreciation for it, like when you find you don't have money for the last train home, and someone pays your fare

Notes: One possible origin for this phrase is from the full, formal version of this phrase, ありがとうございます, itself derived from the adjective describing being grateful for something, ありがた

Example: 色々いろいろありがとうございます。ごおんけっしてわすれません。 (Thank you for everything you've done. I certainly won't forget the kindness you've shown me)

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