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.


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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