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Why do Japanese bow so much?


Japanese culture is known for its unique customs and traditions, one of which is bowing. Bowing is an important aspect of Japanese etiquette that is deeply ingrained in their social and cultural norms. From greeting someone to expressing gratitude or apology, the Japanese bow is used in a variety of situations. In this article, we will explore the reasons why Japanese bow so much and what it signifies.

History of Bowing in Japan

The origins of bowing in Japan can be traced back to ancient times when it was a form of showing respect and submission to the gods. Over time, it became a way to show respect to one’s superiors, such as rulers or aristocrats. With the introduction of Confucianism in Japan, bowing became an essential part of social hierarchy and respect for elders.

Japanese Snack Box

Types of Bows

There are three types of bows in Japan: Eshaku (15-degree bow), Keirei (30-degree bow), and Saikeirei (45-degree bow). The Eshaku is used for casual greetings, while the Keirei is used for showing respect to superiors or elders. The Saikeirei is reserved for formal occasions like weddings, funerals, or meetings with high-ranking officials.

The Significance of Bowing

Bowing in Japan signifies various things such as respect, gratitude, apology, or acknowledgement. A deeper bow signifies a higher level of respect or apology. It also shows that one is willing to humble themselves before others.

Bowing in Business Culture

In Japanese business culture, bowing is a crucial part of building relationships and maintaining harmony with clients or partners. It shows respect for their position and helps to establish trust and loyalty. A lack of bowing can be seen as disrespectful and may damage business relationships.

Bowing and Martial Arts

Bowing is an essential part of martial arts culture in Japan. It shows respect for one’s opponents and instructors while acknowledging their skills and knowledge. Bowing before and after a match signifies that the fighters are ready to compete with honor and integrity.

Bowing in Everyday Life

In Japan, bowing is a common practice in everyday life. From thanking someone for their service to apologizing for being late, a bow is used as a gesture of appreciation or regret.

The Physical Benefits of Bowing

Apart from its cultural significance, bowing has physical benefits too. It stretches the back muscles, improves posture, and increases blood circulation. Regular practice can also help reduce stress and anxiety.

Bowing Around the World

While bowing is most commonly associated with Japan, it is also practiced in other parts of Asia like Korea and China. However, the depth and length of the bows may vary depending on the culture.

Misconceptions About Bowing

Some people may view bowing as a sign of weakness or inferiority, but this is not the case in Japanese culture. Bowing is a way of showing respect and humility without compromising one’s dignity.


Bowing is an integral part of Japanese culture that reflects their values of respect, humility, and harmony. From business to martial arts to everyday life, it plays a significant role in their social interactions. Understanding its significance can help bridge cultural gaps and build stronger relationships with people from different backgrounds.

Is it rude not to bow in Japan?

Having the ability to bow correctly while visiting Japan can be valuable knowledge. In Japanese culture, bowing is called ojigi and is a customary greeting. It’s considered impolite to not reciprocate a bow when someone greets you in this manner.

Why do Japanese people bow three times?

In certain cases, when someone wants to show a deep sense of apology or gratitude, they may bow down past a 45-degree angle and hold it for three seconds. This is called a saikeiri bow and is only used to show extreme respect, sympathy, apology, or during religious worship.

Why do Japanese bow instead of shake hands?

When meeting and greeting in Japan, it is common to bow and shake hands. The act of bowing is seen as a sign of respect and is highly valued in Japanese culture. A small bow to demonstrate politeness is also considered appropriate.

Do Japanese people bow all the time?

In Japan, it is customary to bow (ojigi) as a sign of respect on a daily basis. The etiquette of bowing has numerous detailed regulations that are determined by various factors such as context, social standing, and age. In general, bowing is a way to show respect and highlight social hierarchy between individuals.

What is seen as disrespectful in Japan?

In Japan, it is considered impolite to point at people or objects. Instead, they use a gentle hand wave to indicate something. To refer to oneself, people touch their nose with their index finger instead of pointing at themselves.

Is it rude to cross your legs in Japan?

In formal or business settings in Japan, it is considered impolite to cross your legs as it gives off an impression of arrogance or self-importance. From a young age, Japanese children are taught to sit with a straight back and their legs together, placing one hand on each knee.

It is worth noting that bowing in Japan is not just a physical gesture but also involves the use of language. When bowing, it is customary to say certain phrases such as “yoroshiku onegaishimasu” (please take care of me) or “arigatou gozaimasu” (thank you very much). These phrases add depth and meaning to the bow and show the speaker’s sincerity.

Another interesting aspect of bowing in Japan is that it varies depending on the context and situation. For example, when bowing to someone younger or of a lower status, a shallower bow may be used to avoid appearing too formal or distant. Similarly, when greeting close friends or family members, a casual nod or wave may be sufficient instead of a full bow.

While bowing may seem like a simple gesture, it carries a lot of cultural significance in Japan. Foreigners visiting Japan are often advised to learn how to bow properly to avoid offending anyone unintentionally. This shows that respecting local customs and traditions is important when traveling to any country, and can help foster positive interactions with locals.

In conclusion, bowing is an essential part of Japanese culture that reflects their values of respect, humility, and harmony. It has its roots in ancient traditions but has evolved into a multifaceted practice that is used in various contexts, from social interactions to business settings. Understanding the significance of bowing can help bridge cultural gaps and build stronger relationships with people from different backgrounds.

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