Sylvain Savolainen

Reporter / Photographer


Where gesture reigns or Gesture and appearance for beginners

The Japanese have always considered elegance of utmost importance. In the 5th century, Chinese chroniclers describe their magnificent costumes, eventhough they considered the wearers barbarians.

Nowadays still, the Japanese have kept their love of costume and appearance. Although the kimono is still worn today, various types of uniforms have replaced it as the modern ceremonial dress.

But the nicest costumes are nothing if not worn elegantly. Therefore, the Japanese had to develop two complementary attitudes: the posture, the position of the motionless body, and the gesture, that is the body in movement.

The importance of gesture and appearance, and of their codification, has permeated all aspects of traditional Japanese culture. The codification of gesture and appearance has influenced martial arts (sumo, archery, karate, judo etc.), the classical No or Kabuki theatre, calligraphy, the tea ceremony, Zen, etc.

These traditional gesture and appearance codes have pervaded until today and punctuate the many deeds of everyday life. Exchanging visit cards, greeting clients in a department store, the attitudes of civil servants in uniform, fashion trends among young people and social rites such as bowing are the contemporary grammar of Japanese gesture.

This story presents a wide range of gestures, postures, attitudes and facial expressions that represent a bridge between traditional and modern-day Japan. Throughout the centuries, the art of gesture and the culture of elegance have maintained ancestral values: today, this language without words is still the most widely spoken idiom in Japan.