Japanese V-Sign


69 Responses to “Japanese V-Sign”

  1. Simon Cameron says:

    Speaking as the next guy, I agree.

  2. mdh says:

    Anyone else getting sick of all this Japanese stuff? Or is it just me…..?


    It’s just you. Anyone else who might have agreed with you has already moved on. peace.

  3. Anonymous says:

    “According to Wikipedia, the earliest confirmed usage of the V-sign was by Winston Churchill during World War II”


    “The Japanese Wikipedia for the entry Peace Sign however says that there is a theory that the two fingers mean that two nuclear bombs where dropped on Japan meaning that peace is near.”

    It says nothing of the sort.

  4. David says:

    It was the “V sign” half a century ago. It is not anymore. Now, it is the peace sign: assimilated by anti-war movements. To say that teenagers in the 21st Century are giving the “V sign” is hilariously out of touch.

  5. FrankensteinsMonster says:

    in old Transylvania, prostitutes hear knock on door, stick arm out window. Two fingers together, go away. Two fingers apart, come on in. That all i remember of first life.

  6. Teresa Nielsen Hayden / Community Manager says:

    Some years ago, I saw a Rococo-era painting of a Commedia dell´Arte troupe. One of the actors was doing the two-fingered peace/victory/horns sign behind another actor’s head.


    Mojave, Danyboom, seriously not impressed. If you’re getting tired of “all this Japanese stuff,” skip reading entries that have “Japanese” in the title. Mojave, feel free to move to Andorra or Paraguay and do something interesting.

    MDH @25, you win forever.

    Nelson @41, I’m thinking of giving up on trying to explain it, and instead just make fun of them.

  7. danyboom says:

    man, i too am tired of all this japanesse stuff.

    hey look ! im a foreigner in a strange land ! everything is so different here ! look ! a gay porn icon ! a MACHINE that pours beeeeeer ! oh wow ! an upskirt photo of a goddam figurine !

    seriously, did anybody go to this guys personal website ? he posts a photo of a close up of a anime characters bum, and writes “did anybody hear a fart ?”

    wow dude. just … wow. cmon boing boing. give me something i can use.

  8. teddanson says:

    SOUBRIQUET, #3: “Inverted, with the back of the hand shown, it is a very insulting gesture in Britain, said to date back, perhaps as far as the Roman occupation.”

    I thought it was from the Hundred Years War, arising from the French habit of cutting off those two fingers two prevent their owner from using a longbow. Before battle, the ranks of English longbowmen would give the two fingers two show they still could, and were going to, fire a lot of arrows at them.

  9. grimc says:

    The palm-first is considered rude.

    Where? In the UK, the backhanded version (along with a short upward motion) means, “Up yours.”

  10. swestcott says:

    its way better that the TED stuff maybe its just me on that one

  11. wafna says:

    My understanding is that American GIs giving the Victory sign for WWII snapshots created a “photo pose” association the Japanese have maintained.

    The “two atomic bombs” interpretation seems confected after the fact to me.

  12. Teresa Nielsen Hayden / Community Manager says:

    I propose that what the sign actually means is, “I’m having my picture taken! Hi there!”

  13. matthb says:

    @mojave: enthusiastic guest blogger sharing a culture. do. not. sweat.

  14. Marshall says:

    Earlier this year I was part of an art show in Thailand, and a lot of the students who were taking their pictures with the art were posing while making the V-sign.

  15. ehamiter says:

    So uh… why exactly do most Japanese folk do the V-sign when having their photos taken?

  16. bondjamesbond says:

    I find this blog entry interesting, to say the least.

    In 1992 there was a study undertaken by Dr. Harold MacCalley (sp?) to determine the meaning of this sign as seen frequently in photos taken of Japanese citizens. I’ve attempted to find the study online, but it seems to predate the Internet and I couldn’t locate it, nor any mention of MacCalley (but, I could be spelling his name wrong). I was aware of it through having to read it as part of an otherwise boring behavioral psych class taken as a lark and in a fit of boredom (I’m actually surprised that I remember the study, much less the author’s name, the mind is a strange repository of information, eh?).

    The gist of the study was that the sign originated as a way for young people to show their parents that they were NOT smoking (obviously, it would be hard to hold a cigar or cigarette with your fingers OPEN as opposed to closed). It became popular in a small town in Japan where, for some reason, smoking was nearly banned, very much prior to the now almost universal disdain held for the habit.

    The theory at the time was that the young people were mocking their parents, and smoking in secret. The photos taken were tongue in cheek, and often smoke could be seen in the photo coming from the ground where the cigar or cigarette had been dropped prior to the photo being snapped.

    Like many trends and fads, it spread from small town to small town. The point of the study was to determine at what distance from the original village did the meaning of the sign become so different as to be unrelated to the original intent.

    If I recall correctly, the distance was about 50 miles. Those villages within that radius recalled the sign as related to smoking, once past the 50 mile point the meaning became more and more unrelated. I seem to recall that the “atomic bomb” meaning developed at well over the 200 mile mark.

    The study was remarkable in that it showed the “game of telephone” effect on social behaviors..

    Thanks for this post, I never would have remembered that study otherwise!

  17. Tavie says:

    My sister just came back after teaching English in Japan for the past 3 years and I asked her why she makes the “sign of the devil”/ “horns” hand signal in every picture, and also why every Japanese person is making a “V” sign in every picture.

    She doesn’t know. I think she does the “devil” instead of the “V” to differentiate herself, but must have felt some sort of social pressure to make *some* sort of hand sign.

    I find it hilarious.

  18. jrothstein says:

    Hmm. Two people I knew who lived in Japan gave me a much simpler explanation (independent of one another). Like “cheese” in the U.S., and “whiskey” in parts of Latin America, the Japanese word for two “ni” forces the mouth into a smile when spoken in an elongated way.

    When taking a picture in Japan, the person with the camera often says “ichi to ichi… nan des ka?” (“one plus one… what is it?”).

    The answer: “Niiiiii,” often combined with the two fingers.

    (Please forgive my poor transliteration.)

  19. Bonnie says:

    Thanks for posting this Danny. And for the record, I LOVE ALL YOUR JAPANESE CULTURE LINKS!!!!

    It’s nice to have a guest blogger add some interesting pop culture links and content from other countries. Haters to the left.

    Thanks for adding something different to the guest blog. You rock!

  20. starman says:

    When I was out in Asia, I was told that it was quote marks; as if the photo was a quote in time.

  21. mpb says:

    Here;s this discussion but 6 years ago, http://www.jref.com/forum/archive/index.php/t-1919.html

    Evidently Churchill used it in both directions, at least initially.

  22. Nelson.C says:

    It’s peculiar that readers of Boingboing who have read enough to get bored of all the posts about Japan seem to have missed two pertinent facts: first, that Danny Choo is a guest blogger who is based in Japan, and will stop posting here in a few days; and second, the moderators really react negatively to people who say they’re bored with anything posted on BB. How do so many stay so balanced on the delicate edge between ennui and ignorance?

  23. Mojave says:

    How come we never get stories out of Andorra!?!?! Paraguay?!!!


  24. Comatose51 says:

    I’m a Chinese-born American and a lot of my relatives who are in my generation or later (80s on) do this. When I ask them why they do it or if they know what it means, none of them seems to know. They do it because they see other Chinese people doing it. I call them lemmings. This is true even of the ones of where born in the US but grew up in areas with lots of Chinese people.

  25. Nesbitt says:

    #18 “…why exactly do most Japanese folk do the V-sign when having their photos taken?”

    It seems from the explanations given, people in Japan make the V sign in photos because it’s popular to make the V sign in photos taken in Japan.

  26. billtheburger says:

    @65, sorry my mistake it should read occultists rather than magicians.
    but let me google that for you;

  27. nyam says:

    Where are the Japanese readers these days, I wonder?

  28. Anonymous says:

    Many years ago, I heard a story that I am sure is completely apocryphal, but I choose to believe it to be true.

    It is said that on the eve of WWII Winston Churchill was concerned about the psychological dimensions of Nazi propaganda, particularly the use of that powerful and ancient symbol, the swastika. So he asked Aleister Crowley if there was some symbol that could be used to counter it. Crowley tied the swastika to the hammer of Thor, and suggested the horns of Loki as a counter – which became the V for Victory.

  29. morpheuse says:

    malaysians does it too – i notice these in all the FB pics i see when it has a lot of girls. i also know sometimes they are called “the scissors mafia” gang sign. =P

  30. johninsapporo says:

    There’s no meaning to the V sign. It’s what Japanese people do when they have their photo taken. You can think of it as kind of similar to a smile if you want. Do as many studies as you like, but it’s got about the same depth of meaning as bird twitter.

  31. Banksynergy says:

    Before battle, the ranks of English longbowmen would give the two fingers two show they still could, and were going to, fire a lot of arrows at them.

    I thought this as well, but it turns out to be a myth… as described (with good references) here: http://bshistorian.wordpress.com/2007/07/02/two-fingers-up-to-english-history/

    Unfortunately, the page offers no conclusion on the real significance of the gesture. Although, it could have formed from people believing the myth itself…?

  32. stosh machek says:

    when i was kid growing up in the midwestern US in the 60s-70s, i would drive my mother nuts, not intentionally of course, by making a ‘vee’ sign every time a camera was pointed at me, (except for those square school photos)
    …i knew what i meant by it;
    ‘peace, man!’

  33. bcsizemo says:

    @23, hmm, that’s doesn’t sound familiar at all..

    Kind of like all those white kids who pretend to be black (to fit in or something), and all the black rappers who have BS/Master/PH’ds/ect.. that pretend that they are so hardcore.

    Give me a break. I can respect a culture for what it is and not have to be totally assimilated into it.

    Japan, one of those places I might want to visit one day, but not one I want to live.

  34. bondjamesbond says:


    I was so interested in this, I spent the last four hours in the basement going through boxes of old school notebooks, and I FOUND IT.. The study was done by a fellow by the name of McCaly (I had the spelling wrong, but I still can’t find this on the internet). If I had a scanner I would post this somewhere, but mine is broken at the moment.

    The city in Japan was Ozu. The atomic bomb use of the V wasn’t until it reached Imabari. Ironically, going south to Sukumo, the sign tended to mean something related to chicken wings.

    McCaly tracked a radius that was consistent in all directions in terms of the change of thoughts on this.

    good times, dredging up this old study!

  35. mdh says:

    How come we never get stories out of Andorra!?!?! Paraguay?!!!


  36. gd23 says:

    or rabbit ears if behind people?

  37. Anonymous says:

    People in EVERY SINGLE COUNTRY IN ASIA I have gone to does this, so I think the better question to ask is, “Where did this originate in Asia?”

  38. matthb says:

    Herm….semi-related and maybe nsfw: http://www.ooze.com/finger/html/foriegn.html

  39. johnnyaction says:

    Rock on Danny Choo!

    I’m loving him as a guest blogger.

    One reason Danny might seem to be pumping out a lot of posts is that he’s on a different day/night cycle than the rest of the main bloggers here.

    His “active” posting times might just be the sleepy/work times of some of the other bloggers.

    I may not want to live in japan permanently (I hate fish) but I do enjoy the whackyness of it all.

  40. milovoo says:

    Why would it not simply be a peace sign? Certainly there has been enough saturation of American movies and TV to have it be the standard hippie / surfer culture version. The two-bomb and I’m-not-smoking theories seem really, really spurious. Pretty much on par with “under-consent-of-king” or “pluck-yew” silliness.

  41. anothermack says:

    I heard a chilling version of this explanation in a bar in Georgia about ten years ago. A member of the American military who had been stationed in Japan said that sometimes the teenagers over there would see the men in uniform and flash the ‘V’.

    I thought at first that they hoped to impart the idea of peace, and he said, “No, they mean ‘two’, we owe you two.”

  42. buddy66 says:

    It was first used by Winston Churchill during WWII to signify ”Victory.” Coincidentally, it was found to combine with the Morse code for ”V” and the first four notes of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony. The letter and the music were used in many patriotic movies of the time. “V for Victory—da da da Dum.”

    The first time I became aware of its being used to signify “peace” was when it was employed by arrested anti-war demonstrators at the Oakland Military Induction Center in 1966-67, as they were being transported in buses to nearby jails. The kids meant “Victory” against the Vietnam war! But it was apparently too confusing a concept for the media and they somehow simplified it to mean “peace.”

    Of course those of us who were merely protesting, and were not arrested for blocking the facility’s entrances, flashed it back at them as they were driven away. Soon it became a sign of salutation and farewell throughout the activist community in the Bay Area, and then, almost overnight, nationally and internationally. But it began, I believe, with a bunch of beautiful anti-war activists and pacifists at Oakland, California forty years ago.

    Peace be with them and their memory.

  43. cashincomedy says:

    I have performed at huge outdoor festivals in different regions of China over the last few years.

    We’ve sat for THOUSANDS of photos. Virtually everyone who comes to the show wants a picture with the performers afterwards. I can say from experience that virtually EVERYONE under 60 flashes the “V” sign in photos.

    NO ONE could tell us why, other than, “That’s what you do when someone takes your photo.”

    The strange thing that I’ve noticed is that cute girls in their late teens and twenties all turn the “V” sideways, with the fingers pointing towards their head. When we asked what that means we were told that means “cute”.

  44. Axx says:

    “magicians know this gesture to be invented by Crowley as a hand sigil in order to invoke Baphomet upon mankind, so people should really cease from doing it for the good of humanity.”

    wtf!? XD

  45. rmwb says:

    It has been suggested that Aleister Crowley introduced the V sign to Winston Churchill as a direct countermeasure and the antithesis to the symbology of the NAZI’s swastika.
    But, traditionally (in Buddhism anyway) the swastika is a symbol representing love and mercy or strength and intelligence (depending upon which way it is facing).
    Would that mean that the V-sign symbolises hatred and intolerance and/or weakness and foolishness?

    Om Svasti…

  46. Xopher says:

    MPB 39: The other is the Peace symbol, the semaphore originally meaning ban the bomb…

    Specifically the semaphores for N and D (for Nuclear Disarmament), superimposed to form the peace symbol. That page says you can display it with ☮—this is me trying it here: ☮

    Bill 64: What have you got against Baphomet? I mean, sheesh.

  47. Noelegy says:

    My dad, a carpenter, had the opportunity to spend some months in Osaka several years ago. He’s not much of a writer, so he took his camcorder and sent “video letters” to the family. I wondered then about the preponderance of people making what I took to be a peace sign; my dad, being absolutely without fear in social settings, would go up to just about anyone and ask if he could videotape them. :)

  48. dculberson says:

    I for one am enjoying the Japan posts. It’s what Danny knows, and what he enjoys, clearly. If you don’t like them, move along. There’s more free ice cream you can complain about down the way.

  49. Beanolini says:

    #12, teddanson:

    I thought it was from the Hundred Years War

    So did lots of other people; but this is apparently an urban myth.

    (I can still remember it being called a Harvey Smith).

    Incidentally, Desmond Morris’ book on gestures (mentioned in the above link) is absolutely fascinating, and has masses of detail on variations of this gesture.

  50. misshallelujah says:

    I’m Southeast Asian, and it is true that lots of people here flash the V-sign when photos are taken. If you ask them why they do it, the answer will most likely be “Everybody does it, it’s normal!”

    I can’t speak for anyone else, but I do know that my own reason for doing it is rather banal: it grew out of habit, from putting bunny ears over my little sister’s head in family photos as a child. Now everytime I smile for a candid photo, my fingers automatically assume the V-shape.

  51. flytch says:

    having been born in the 60′s… 64 to be exact… and in California it always meant victory but in the peace movement…. and it looks kinda like the piece symbol meaning make love (have sex) not war… so it’s reminiscent of spread legs…
    so it’s not fuck you… but lets fuck… in a good way ;)

  52. Sparrow says:

    Love & Peace!

    The Japanese stuff is still interesting. Keep it coming.

  53. mdh says:

    bonjamesbond, sometimes we disagree, but for today you’re my hero. A+ for effort.

  54. mpb says:

    Schoolchildren in western Alaska today (primarily Eskimo) also use the two-fingered peace sign as a hold-oover from the hippie days (Peace, brother!)– after all, nearly all the news photos of that erra show someone with the peace symbol as soon as a camera came in rage.

    This is the second such sign converted to meaning peace from its original British. The other is the Peace symbol, the semaphore originally meaning ban the bomb (not “the track of the American chicken”)

    I believe Churchill used the *back of his hand* not the Nixonian palm-first version for the victory symbol. The palm-first is considered rude.

  55. Sangermaine says:


    “Why would it not simply be a peace sign? ”

    It very well could be, but that only answers half the question. It explains why it is a V, but not why they do it. As an American I am familiar with this sign, but we don’t do it during photos. So why has it become a part of taking photos in Japan? There doesn’t seem to be any connection between “V for victory” and photos.

  56. neward says:

    Girls from Shanghai told me that it means victory.

    To say that teenagers in the 21st Century are giving the “V sign” is hilariously out of touch.

    Only for North Americans.

  57. macisaguy says:

    The V-sign is also insanely popular and completely common in China.

  58. billtheburger says:

    magicians know this gesture to be invented by Crowley as a hand sigil in order to invoke Baphomet upon mankind, so people should really cease from doing it for the good of humanity.

  59. Anonymous says:

    …also, it developed as a “peace” sign through use by counter-culture hippies in the late 60′s.

  60. adamstjohn says:

    Taiwan too…

  61. soubriquet says:

    The V sign was definitely “V for Victory” in Britain, and in occupied europe, where it became a ‘secret’ sign, denoting support for the allies, against the axis powers.It had nothing to do with peace, during the second world war.
    However, during the late sixties in both europe and America, it was adopted by the youth culture as a symbol taken to mean peace and harmony.
    The “two atom bombs” meaning in Japan is totally new to me.
    Inverted, with the back of the hand shown, it is a very insulting gesture in Britain, said to date back, perhaps as far as the Roman occupation.

  62. Anonymous says:

    Same deal in South Korea. Most children and teenagers use this sign. As they get older it’s mostly the women who use it though. A (perhaps) Korean variation: the cheeks a puffed out to capacity and the two fingers pressed to the cheek. Most Koreans (that I have met) are not aware that this sign means “peace” in some parts of the world.

    It’s just a cute pose for a photo. After 2 years in Seoul I’ve started to helplessly do it myself.

  63. Simon Cameron says:

    “however says that there is a theory that the two fingers mean that two nuclear bombs where dropped on Japan meaning that peace is near…”

    This seems like an odd way to represent peace/

  64. milovoo says:


    OK, true. That also makes for somewhat more interesting and less specious theories. Many of which are easily google-able

  65. jksk says:

    It’s also common in southeast Asia.

    So, assuming it is in fact common in Asia (and not just fluke anecdotal evidence), is it due to japanese influence or something else, a common cultural factor? A common factor would likely invalidate the japanese theory mentioned above. It seems unlikely that its popularity would stem from different, independent sources.

  66. Anonymous says:

    The “peace” sign is incredibly common in the US too. Could it be that it’s just a common gesture worldwide? Or am I missing something? Is it a lot more common in Japan than everywhere else?

  67. Nores says:

    Huh. If only there were Asian people we could ask…

  68. Mojave says:

    Anyone else getting sick of all this Japanese stuff? Or is it just me…..?

    Don’t get me wrong, I like the land of the rising sun as much as the next guy, but stretch it out a little bit.

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