Hand Talk

I turned on the TV to keep myself company as I ate lunch today, and stumbled across a report about a kushiyaki restaurant in Shinjuku. As the camera panned around the cave-like interior and took in its low ceiling and smoke blackened walls, I noticed an unusual amount of gesturing going on. This seemed odd as Japanese people are not usually very demonstrative.

kushiyaki_photo

It turns out the place caters specifically to the deaf community. (Or is it hearing impaired? I do believe that deaf people call themselves deaf, or is that one of those words that we can use on ourselves but others mustn’t, like I can call myself stupid but will slap you silly if you do?) The patrons were seated around the horseshoe-shaped bar, gesturing to each other across the narrow space. The owner, himself deaf, was a small, smiling man, standing inside the horseshoe grilling his succulent bits of meat and veg.

In Japanese, sign language is called the much-more-charming 手話 (shuwa, hand talk). The gestures seemed much less frantic than their American counterparts, and certainly more attractive than the flailing fingers of a person playing with a smart phone. The owner said there was a nice sense of community among the patrons, and that they’d even come up with some original signs, such as wave your hand (Hi!) + pretend to throw a ball = highball.

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