How-To

Japan Love #1: The Art of Bowing


Dear Reader,

Tokiko is a Japanese lady based in Guadalajara. She teaches Japanese and loves Mexican food. She says she likes the corn interference with most of the dishes, which is quite unusual in her home cuisine.

Thing is 🙂 … I see her everyday so I have many many chances to ask her questions, share experiences, tell her how much I love Japan and how I would move there in a second!

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One of my casual days in Tokyo.

She loves when people love her country so in return in our coffee moments she instructs me on important things I need to know in the event I move there. There are many things on the list but let’s start with the most important one: bowing.

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Ok it sounds easy. But after listening to her say on it… it isn’t as easy as you think.

I’m sure you have noticed that Japanese people bow at practically any occasion. Whether it’s about greeting a person, or apologising for something, a bow is always there. Believe it or not, there is an art and logic behind it: the more you bow, the more important and respectful it is.

Tokiko says that there three kinds of bow: Eshaku (会釈), Keirei (敬礼) and Saikeirei (最敬礼). Each one of this bow has a certain degree of “inclination”.

In the most informal settings and common greetings, you can use eshaku. With eshaku, the body takes a bow of about 15 degrees. It looks something like this:

bowing

The 3 kinds of bow you find in Japanese culture. Please note the angle of inclination in each situation.

Then there is Keirei. Keirei is a slightly more exaggerated inclination of the body. In the pictures you can see it with a 30 degrees inclination.
Keirei is what you do when you need to show a higher level of respect. Higher respect in Japan is shown towards senpai (先輩), someone who is of higher age, level or even class.
Is very common that school mates refer to the oldest of them as senpai. Also, students might refer to their teacher as senpai to show respect.

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Another example of the bowing etiquettes. Notice how the head and looking direction of the person doesn’t change, the eyes keep fixed and the head remains straight.

And then we have the last kind of bow: Saikeirei. Seikeirei is the ultimate reverence gesture reserved for major occasions. You bow until 45 degrees of inclination (the fourth picture here above). This kind of bow is reserved for when you meet the CEO of your company, Prime Ministers and even the Emperor himself. Tokiko says that in such cases you need to stay inclined for at least 15 seconds to show the appropriate respect.
This kind of bow is also used for apologies. Apologies meant to mitigate disastrous situations: offending someone, destroying someone’s belongings, disrespect elders, etc.

Next post on this fantastic culture next week!

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