Custom of Bowing in Japan

The custom of bowing in Japan is actually quite a bit more complex that it may seem on the surface. Occasions for bowing include, but are certainly not limited to, introductions, greetings, expressing appreciation, and apologizing.

The actual intricacies of bowing are complex, with the depth and duration of bows determined according to the situation. While in most instances you can get by with a simple handshake when meeting a Japanese person for the first time, you’ll come off as even more polite and well-mannered by adding a bit of bowing to your repertoire while in Japan.

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The Basics of Bowing in Japan

A common standard bow for formal introductions is one of about 15 degrees for a duration of a second or two. If you’re a man, let your hands hang to your sides while you bow; if you’re a woman, rest them on your thighs or to the side. Bow from the waist, and never look up while bowing down, as this defeats the purpose of the bow.

Japanese Bowing Tips

For less-formal introductions, or when bowing to express thanks for a small gift or service received, a bow of the head for a second or two along with some words of thanks will usually do the trick. It’s all actually pretty easy to emulate once you’ve been in Japan for a bit and can observe how the Japanese do it. Just one word of caution: although bowing can be a bit awkward at first, if you end up staying in Japan for any length of time, you may actually find yourself unable to stop bowing after you get back home!

Shaking hands is not as common in Japan as it is in the West, although most Japanese are familiar with the practice. A cursory nod of the head when shaking hands in greeting will add a bit of Japanese flavor to your gesture.

The following humorous YouTube video demonstrates the fascinating complexities of Japanese bowing better than words possibly can!

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