Japanese hands

The other day I was watching the Japanese movie ‘Okuribito’ (usually titled ‘Departures’ abroad). I absolutely love that movie and would wholeheartedly recommend it to anyone.

Japanese movie Okuribito
The Japanese movie Okuribito. It won the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film in 2009.

The movie is about a man who moves back from Tokyo to his hometown in the mountains. He gets involved in the funeral business, a profession that was despised in feudal Japan and was only carried out by the lowest social class, the eta. Even in modern-day Japan, some people still look down on the profession of undertaker. At first, the main character in the movie also has some misgivings about his new job, but gradually he learns to see the beauty in the tender ritual of preparing the dead for their departure. This ritual is called ‘nōkan’, and you can see it performed in the video below.

While watching the movie, it struck me again how beautiful and elegant Japanese hands are. One of my cherished images of Japan is the way most Japanese people perform even the simplest of daily tasks; their gestures expressing a mixture of elegance, precision and understated strength. The elegance of Japanese hands and gestures is even more apparent during the stylized movements of Japanese rituals, such as the burial ritual in the movie above or the ritual movements of the tea ceremony.

tea ceremony elegant hands
Taking hot water to pour into a tea bowl. All movements during the tea ceremony are elegant and delicate, yet precise and deliberate. Not an easy thing to accomplish!
tea ceremony elegant hands
Admiring one of the utensils that are used during the ceremony. The utensils have to be treated with the utmost care since they are very precious. Her hands look so elegant!

6 thoughts on “Japanese hands

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  1. I saw this movie last month and I still can’t get over it. I downloaded all of Joe Hisaishi’s songs that same day because the music haunted and moved me so much. One of the best movies I have ever seen.

    1. I’m glad you liked it. It is one of my favourite movies too. This was actually the second time I watched it. I remembered from the first time how moving it was, but I was surprised to (re)discover that it is also very funny at times.

  2. Japanese hands, yes. But not just any Japanese hands! Super trained ones, eh? I’d like to see my jr. high students try to tackle something like this~

    I like the idea of the film! It’s personalizing the profession which, as you write, formerly belonged to a group of people who are even today looked down upon in some circles.

    1. Of course I don’t have much experience with high school students, but when I think of elegant Japanese hands, I also think of a homemaker putting a cup of tea on a table or molding an onigiri, the way a woman will place her purse on her lap on the train, or the way people handle their mobile phone in Japan.

  3. Thank you for sharing this. I added this movie to my list of things to watch. I love hands… when I look at a person I always look at their hands too. You can tell so much from hands. How they care for their hands, nails, the shape of hands, how worn they are. When people look at others and they notice eyes or hair or teeth, I notice hands. I also agree with you that Japanese to have a certain elegance to their hands due to the way they move them so gracefully.

    1. I totally get what you mean about looking at people’s hands. I love looking at a craftsman’s hands in particular. The look so worn, so strong and so deft. It reminds of the shop where I bought my tatami. There was an old guy there who made all the tatami. He had straw in his hair, his face had that reliable artisan look about it and his hands were the typical craftsman’s hands.

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