Occasions to Bow Down in Japan

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Bowing down is the most traditional form of greeting in Japan since the 8th century. It may seem simple, but the act of bowing, called ojigi [お辞儀] which literally means bow. Such a custom is full of meanings.

This show of respect is so important that the Japanese bow even when they are talking on the phone without anyone seeing. In today's article we will see several occasions where people should bow.

Depending on how it is done, it can indicate the degree of importance of both who is greeted and who greets. There are situations where some prostrate themselves on the ground at another length called dogeza.

Here's a list of situations where the Japanese usually bow down, then we'll talk a little about each of them.

When apologizing During greetings Acknowledgments Introductions As a form of respect To customers In sports In performances In religious situations

Bow down when apologizing

As the picture at the beginning of the article shows, if you make a mistake, you should apologize and bow. A light apology requires you to slightly lower your head by 10 degrees.

Let's say you are a waiter and you pour hot coffee on a customer. You can make a 45 degree turn and say:  Moushiwake Gozaimasen which literally means "I'm sorry".

Now let's say you've committed a crime, and you want to apologize to the victim. You should bow into a kneeling position and say: Makoto ni Moushiwake Gozaimasen deshita which means “I sincerely apologize for what I did”.

Bowing During Greetings

The most common greeting is to slightly lower the head and shoulders by up to 10 degrees. For the Japanese, such a movement is kind of automatic and sometimes it goes unnoticed because of how fast and short the tilt of the head is.

This gesture of respect is used both to greet and to say goodbye. In extremely formal circumstances a full bow can be performed. There are occasions when the classic handshake can be performed.

Occasions to Bow in Japan

Bow while doing Acknowledgments

If someone gives you a place in line, it is common to bow your head superficially in thanks. It is also very common for drivers to bow their heads in thanks for small courtesies.

Any occasion you feel the need to thank a person can be a time to bow. It is quite likely that the person who also did the favor will bow their head slightly as a sign of nothing.

Bow down in Introductions

In casual and formal presentations, the upper body must be curved at an angle of up to 30 degrees. If the person is extremely important, you can bow up to 45 degrees. It's important to keep your head and shoulders straight and your arms straight. There is no reason to maintain eye contact during a turn (it is considered rude).

In business, after exchanging the “meishi” (business card) those involved must bend over and hold that position for a moment before returning to the upright position. Keep a distance to avoid bumping heads (it happens).

Occasions to Bow in Japan

Bow as a form of respect

The act of bowing is an expression of humility and always indicates respect. Some often bow to animals or even objects. Even the animals got used to it, and in Nara you can see some deer bending over. In the photo we have a caretaker bowing to a whale.

Occasions to Bow in Japan

Bowing to customers

In Japan customers are considered very important. It is very common for employees to bow down to customers. Some stores and businesses instruct their employees in the proper way to bow to a customer.

Bowing in Sports

Other occasions when Japanese people bow are before or after sports matches, martial arts, sumo, and even card games like karuta. On these occasions it is customary to bend up to 20 degrees.

At the beginning of a sport, the bow person says “yoroshiku onegai shimasu” and at the end when bowing he says “arigatou gozaimashita”. In some sports like martial arts and karuta, you must bow not just to your opponent but to the trainer or whoever is running the game.

Occasions to Bow in Japan

Bowing in the Performances

As in the West, it is common for artists to bow in response to applause. In the presentation of a theater, geisha, events where actors, voice actors are present performing some presentation, even music shows.

in the case of geisha or traditional performances, performers often bend down completely on their knees.

Bow in religious situations

It is also common to bow a little to the gods at a Shinto shrine. Shinto ceremonies almost always require a full arch from a kneeling position.

Occasions to Bow in Japan

Of course, there are several other occasions when you should bow. If you know of one that hasn't been mentioned, please comment here.

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