Japanese Legs: Appearance and Expressions
Never having been a legman, Japanese legs male or female were never an issue prior to arrival in Japan or even for the first several months of living in Tokyo. In the US interest tended to wax and wan with the rise and fall of the hemline.
In Japan though legs appear to be more central to identity and self worth. Women are very aware of their legs and feet length, shape, perceived attractiveness and sandals, eye-catching tights, and short skirts can be seen year-round in Japan.
Even on the coldest mid-winter morning, you will be treated to the sight of goose-pimpled thigh on the Tokyo subway - and not only on high school girls in their uniforms.
An expression to describe just such a situation bare legs is nama ashi, or "raw legs." This is often said in jest, but the word nama has positive sexual connotations in Japan.
Other "leg" expressions also show the importance of the foot/leg in Japan (in Japanese, ashi refers to both foot and leg).
Two quite negative leg expressions are the dreaded daikon ashi and tansoku (soku is another reading for leg in Japanese).
The first, daikon ashi daikon radish legs is very insulting. It comes from the massive, thick vegetable used in much of Japanese cooking.
Unlike smaller, reddish radishes common in the West, the daikon has a large girth. Consequently, to be accused of having such legs is no compliment, and brings to mind sturdy middle-aged farm women with rural accents and a mouthful of gold teeth.
The second, tansoku, literally means "short legs." In Japan, this is a terrible insult as well. Longer (Western?) legs are perceived of as being beautiful whereas, in relation to the upper body, shorter Japanese legs are considered not as desirable.
Though lacking the word "leg," the expression sutairu ga ii (stylish) is roughly the opposite of tansoku. To say of a woman sutairu ga ii implies that among other attributes she has long willowy legs.
Another popular leg type in Japan is uchi mata, or pigeon toes. In the West, this is not considered attractive; in Japan, however, many men find the simpering, obsessively cute, and often nearly deformedly pigeon toed female irresistible. See the woman at right, at a train station in Osaka, as an example.
Kyoto's maiko and geisha, hobbled by their raised geta traditional wooden sandals must walk one foot over the other, with the their feet angled inwards. This is perhaps the origin of the pigeon toed "trend" and its allure. (One of the first ways to spot a fake geisha tourists made up for the day and strolling around Kyoto's Nene no Michi, for example - is watch her feet. The faux geisha are clumsy oafs in comparison to the nimble footwork of the real thing.)
The focus on legs can also be seen in Japan's traditional sports: sumo and judo. Tremendous lower body strength is key to success in Japan's martial arts, and the wrestlers and judoka all have heavily muscled legs. And in sumo you are afforded a full view of the wrestlers legs and backside.
One expression from the world of sumo and judo is: Age ashi o toru (to find fault). As your opponent raises his leg the literal meaning of age ashi in attack, you take the leg and throw him down. This has since come to mean to tease, to point out a misstatement, to find fault.
Another "male" expression using leg is ashi arau (to wash the foot/leg). This phrase has its roots in Japan's Buddhist temples. After a day of begging for alms and walking around the temple parish barefoot, the monks would wash each other's feet upon returning at night. It has come to mean to forget, to wash away the bad things that happened during the day. In English, it is close to washing one's hands of something.
The final "leg" expression is manzoku: "full" "feet." The two Chinese characters combined mean "satisfied," and we have no idea why. And thus we will not become too jiko manzoku (self satisfied).