Why Do Guys In Anime Raise A Pinky Finger When Talking About Girls?

by Justin Sevakis,

Terry asked:

When asking a man whether he's in a relationship with a woman, male anime characters will make an odd finger-raised gesture, almost always accompanied by a chuckle and/or a leer. What's with that? And is it as rude a gesture as it seems to me?

I don't know that I'd call it "rude," but that's definitely something that guys do amongst themselves -- usually young guys without a ton of experience with women, I.e. teenagers, which a majority of anime are about. In other words, it's just immature. And honestly, when you get into the meaning behind the gesture, it's actually kind of sweet and old fashioned.

The raised pinky comes from the Japanese folk belief in "en" (縁), which usually gets translated as "fate" or "karma." But en is a little more complicated than that. It's something like pre-destination, but only applying to the people that you meet in life. You are destined to meet a certain person due to this invisible force of fate, but how they fit into your life and how you treat them is something you have control over. In other words, people tend to enter your life for a reason. That goes for friends, business partners, and lovers.

The more romantic angle of the concept of en is given its own more realized legend. The red string of fate (運命の赤い糸) has its origins in Chinese folklore, which held that the gods would tie an invisible red rope around two people who were fated to be together. In Japanese tradition, this takes the form of an invisible red string connected straight to your heart. This string then comes out of your pinky finger, and extends into the world, twisting and turning, but eventually connecting to your fated soulmate. In that way, your hearts have been connected this whole time.

This idea has been the basis behind many romantic anime over the years. Usually it's used as visual symbolism of an eternal bond with someone, taking the form of a ribbon (Madoka's hair ribbons in Madoka Magica), visuals in an opening or ending sequence (like in Sound! Euphonium), or an obscure accessory or piece of clothing worn by the characters (your name., Kimagure Orange Road). On occasion, it's an outright reference by characters (Kuwabara in Yū Yū Hakusho), or a joke. Sometimes this can be fairly obscure, possibly even just artistic use of the color red.

The idea has also wormed its way into other common Japanese expressions. The Japanese word for "pinky-promise" (yubikiri/指切り) literally means "finger cut-off" -- the exact connection is a little unclear, but it's thought to originate from the idea of your pinky being your important connection to the most important people in your life. The belief becomes further entwined in traditions about lucky days to marry, and other centuries-old beliefs and customs that most Westerners are oblivious to.

Like most love and fortune-based folklore, the red string concept is something that many traditionally minded girls tend to be interested in. But over the years, it's become a short-hand for love and sex in general, especially for guys. And so, it's sort of a crass, guy thing to do to hold up a pinky finger to imply that he's talking about the opposite sex. While technically it's a reference to the fated love of his life, it's usually meant more as a superficial appreciation of women in general. And all that implies.

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    Justin Sevakis has worked in the anime business for over 20 years. He's the original founder of Anime News Network, and owner of the video production company MediaOCD. You can follow him on Twitter at @worldofcrap.

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