This is the bizarre reason why Japanese cartoon characters always have five fingers

This is the bizarre reason why Japanese cartoon characters always have five fingers

When you go to another country, be careful with your hand gestures. They have different meanings in different cultures. In Brazil, the "OK" gesture is equivalent to the middle finger. In Greece, holding up your hand to say "stop" actually means "go to hell." And do you know the "rock and roll" hand gesture? In Italy, that means "you're a cuckold." (Because cuckolds had horns.)

But perhaps the most fascinating hand gesture taboo comes from Japan. Did you know that in Japan it's offensive for cartoon characters to have four fingers? In the box art for Japanese versions of The Simpsons video games, Bart Simpson has five fingers, not four. It's the same case for the Japanese versions of Crash Bandicoot, Bob the Builder and many more.

Animators often give characters four fingers, because they're easier to draw and it saves a lot of time. Also, four fingers is the magic number. Giving characters five fingers has an "uncanny valley" effect, meaning the the character looks so real, it's creepy. Meanwhile, giving characters three fingers has an alien effect, meaning it looks so unreal, it's creepy. The four-finger model works for every country in the world  except Japan.

And sometimes, there's a crossover effect, where developers change their four-fingered characters in every market just so they don't have to create a special version for Japan. For example, in the video game Abe's Odyssey, the Mudokans have four fingers. For the sequel, Abe's Exodus, Oddworld Games changed the Mudokans' number of fingers to three. So in Japan, basically any number of fingers is cool, besides four. Pretty unusual, right?

Censored Gaming recently published a video explaining why Japan has such a strict discrimination policy against cartoon characters with four fingers. It all has to do with an ancient caste system that's a long-lasting impact on their culture.

Historically, Japan's lower classes worked in occupations that were considered brutal, unclean or associated with death (like butchers, slaughterhouse workers, meat packing workers, etc). These jobs frequently involved the type of accident where you might lose a finger. "Four fingers" thus became a symbol for the sub class. The descendants of this class, called the burakumin, considered any representation of four fingers to be an insult against their heritage.

In fact, the baruakumin thought cultural images of four fingers were so offensive, that pressure groups worked on their behalf. They argued that 'four fingered' images were as degrading to them as the 'yellow star' or  'yellow badge' was to Jews. (In World War 2, the Nazis made the Jews wear yellow badges in concentration camps, to identify them as enemies).  The pressure groups then demanded money from studios, or else they would not allow the game would not be sold in Japan. (Is there a Japanese word for "extortion"?)

As a result, big companies like the Walt Disney Corporation pay these groups five million dollars a year so the Japanese Mickey Mouse can retain four fingers. Meanwhile, smaller companies like Oddword Games decided to just chop another finger off Abe's hand. According to, the Oddworld executives found the situation extremely ironic, because Abe's character is literally a meat-packing worker who is discriminated against. Lacking Disney money, they opted to just chop another finger off all those poor Mudokans.

So, if you go to Japan, feel free to wave to people - just make sure all five fingers are visible.