Hello! I’m Mishi. Today, I want to talk about the reason why Japanese people wave their hands as bye-bye. Have you thought about it? Even in anime, the characters wave their hands and say bye or when they leave their house, they say “see you later”. But it’s not only Japanese who do this way. It’s true, but the Japanese have their reasons for doing this way, this habit has been around for a long time. It’s like a traditional habit, and if you understand the reason why they do this, you will be convinced for sure. Let me show you the reason, today.
Let’s take a look at the meaning of it.
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History of waving hands in Japan
This is deep. Have you heard of Japanese poetry book “Manyo Shu(万葉集)”? This is the oldest existing Japanese poetry book. It’s dated back sometime after 756(Nara period). The reason why I’m talking about this poetry book is that some poems from this book mention that Japanese wave their hands. So since a long time ago in Japan, they wave their hands to say bye.
On “Manyo Shu”, waving hands is expressed as the word of “Sodefuri(袖振り)”. “Sode” means a sleeve and “furi/furu” means to wave in English. As you know, Japanese people used to wear “Kimono(着物)” and they used to wave their sleeves. This means to wave their hands nowadays, you can also see some poems that talk about “Sodefuri”.
But the meaning of “Sodefuri” in the past has a different meaning from the present meaning.
Let’s see the difference.
The original meaning of “Sodefuri(袖振り)”
Sodefuri has something to do with Shinto religion. Do you know what Shinto is? If not, let me explain what Shinto is like quickly. Shinto is to respect all of nature and Shintoism believes that there are “eight million Gods(Yaoyorozu no Kami/八百万の神)”. If you want to know Shinto deeper, here is my other post.
Anyway, Shinto has a ceremony that is called “Tamafuri(魂振り)”. This ceremony is done to call upon a God and to inspire the spirit of the God. In other words, this is to regenerate the energy of the spirit.
By the way, have you seen the white paper Shinto priests have or at the shrine in the picture below?
This is called “Gohei(御幣)”. Shinto priests use this to get rid of evil spirits. You can see that this is hung on trees or buildings. In the ceremony of tamafuri, Shinto priests use gohei. They use it to shake the air and make a wavelength to purify or remove evil spirits.
Have you been to the shrines? If yes, did you clap your hands and ring a bell? To clap your hands or ring a bell before you make a wish is part of tamafuri, think about this for a minute. To clap your hands and ring a bell makes sound right? To make a sound is how we shake the air and make a wavelength. The wavelength lets us feel the inspiration of God.
Speaking of “Sodefuri”, in the Nara period(710-794), when the women served for the God, they wore the clothing is called “Hire(領巾)”. Hire is like a long scarlet kimono that hung down on their shoulders. They waved their hire and called The Gods. This tradition was also used when the women had to say goodbye to their lovers. This meant “God bless you” and to pull the spirit of the lover.
By the way, I don’t want you to misunderstand, what I meant by goodbye is not saying goodbye as in breaking up. During these eras, a separation was generally to leave the place where the person lived. There weren’t many roads like today, it really was a hardship to travel to other places. In addition, the Japanese government started the political system called, “Ritsuryo Seido(律令制度)”. Under this system, there were many officers from the capital that were dispatched to the local places. On the other hand, to protect the capital, there were many people who were sent to the capital from the local area too. There were many people who died and were not able to make it back home, so a separation meant goodbye forever mostly. That’s why they waved their Kimono’s sleeves as they wished “God bless you”.
“Tamafuri(魂振り)” is a part of “Chinkon/Tamashizume(鎮魂)”
What is “Chinkon or Tamashizume”? Do you know them? First, let’s talk about “Chinkon/Tamashizume(鎮魂)”. Chinkon is to calm the human’s spirit. Nowadays, Japanese recognize Chinkon as “Irei(慰霊)”. Irei is to comfort the spirit of the dead. Chinkon is originally from Shinto and it used to mean to calm the spirit of the living into the body. In Shinto, it’s said that the spirit of the living are unstable and if let it be, it will separate from the body of the living. Therefore, Chinkon or Tamashizume is to keep the spirit hanging on the body.
Chinkon used to be called Tamashizume and it sounds like the opposite side of the Tamafuri but Tamafuri is a part of Chinkon. In Japan, there is a festival called Chinkon festival(Chinkon Sai/鎮魂祭) at the shrines and they do “Tamafuri” and “Chinkon” both together.
The difference between “Tamafuri(魂振り)” and “Chinkon(鎮魂)”
They are recognized as the same meaning but let’s see the difference.
This is to regenerate the energy of the spirit.
This is to calm the spirit of the living.
This is to comfort the spirit of the dead. Nowadays, Irei is the same meaning of Chinkon.
Have you seen the Japanese festival? There are many Japanese festivals but have you seen many people carry something on their shoulders? You can see what it is like in the picture above, during the festival you can see the people carrying this on their shoulders. This thing is called “Mikoshi(神輿)”. While they are carrying the mikoshi, sometimes, they shake the mikoshi so hard. This is called “Mikoshifuri(神輿振り)” and this is actually tamafuri. It’s said to shake the mikoshi in order to call a God and while doing this, if they make a wish, it would come true. Also, while they carry the mikoshi, they step on the ground. The action of treading the ground down is also tamafuri.
Another thing, do you know “Sumo(相撲)”? Sumo is traditional Japanese sports and very popular for the senior people. When the sumo wrestlers come up in the circle(the place where they will fight in) called, “Dohyo(土俵)”, they perform a warming‐up. They drop their weight on their knees and lift their left leg and right leg alternately. When they drop their leg, they have to stomp strongly. This action is called “Shiko(四股)” and shiko is one of the tamafuri.
Isn’t it interesting? Tamafuri is done by many things!
Now, you understand the reason why Japanese people wave their hands when they say bye or see you later. This means to pray for the health and coming back safe. To wave their hands to somebody contains the full love and consideration from that person to their loved ones. What a deep meaning, huh? It’s a unique habit but has been used for many generations. The Japanese do this unconsciously and I wonder how many people know this. If you have Japanese friends, ask them! I wonder how they will answer this question!
I really think Japanese culture is deep and fun to know!
Let’s call it a day, today!