Bowing – お辞儀, Ojigi

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Bowing is the Japanese way of greeting. It is an essential part of Japanese culture. Besides greeting, it is also a way to show respect and to express deep gratitude. For Japanese people, bowing comes naturally as they start learning the important etiquette from a young age.

In ‘the new world’, where people are advised to stop shaking hands and to avoid close contact, bowing becomes an even more interesting way of greeting and connecting. While there is no physical contact, bowing is expressive body language that shows respect and warmth.

Traditional gestures like bowing go a long way in terms of communication in Japan and sometimes are even more powerful than words. Silence as a way of communication is more integrated in Japanese customs compared to Western culture.

How to bow?

Knowing when to bow is as important as knowing how to bow. You can give a small nod with your head, or you can bend to the waist.

Keep in mind

The angle of a bow is very important. The lighter the bow the more we are connected with the person whom we are greeting or saying goodbye to, and the deeper the bow, the more we want to express deep gratitude; mostly used in formal situations.


Styles of bowing

The differences in styles of bowing can roughly be divided into three types. The degree to which you bend communicates your message. Let us explain the three types in more detail. 

  • The one on the left side is called “Eshaku”, the most common one. This type of bowing is mostly used in the hallway or on the street when you see someone you know. You could compare it to making eye contact in Western culture. You bow down at about 15 degrees.
  • The second one is called “Keirei”, which literally means bow with respect. This is the most common one at any situation. You will use this bow to for example greet your colleagues and manager at work. Try to keep one-line from your head to hip to make a nice bow and bend down for about 30 degrees. Here’s a tip: look 120cm away from your toes, this will automatically be 30 degrees.
  • Lastly, on the right side we have “Sai-keirei”. This is the most formal version. In Japan this is only used at a funeral, a situation to show gratitude or in a situation in which you have to apologise sincerely. You will bend down at about 45 degrees. This is the lowest type of bow.

When you are bowing there is another thing you should not forget : Always greet first, then bow. In addition, you have to consider the position of your hands. Please have look at the picture on the left where to place your hands when bowing.

Females maintain both arms to the front, with hands on top of the legs. Males keep arms to their sides.

Greeting in the time of social distancing

What will greetings look like in a post-pandemic world? Will Covid-19 end the handshake in Western cultures? Rituals can change as society changes. Japanese bowing might be an alternative for a handshake in Western countries in the future.

We are looking forward to welcoming you the Japanese way: with a respectful bow.

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