Niti Shah

Published On: April 28, 2019 11:00 AM NPT By: Niti Shah

Non Verbal Communication: The Japanese Custom of Bowing

Non Verbal Communication: The Japanese Custom of Bowing



The act of bowing might be on the borderline of extinction in many parts of the world, it is still very much alive in Asian cultures, and is still prevalent in parts of China, Korea, Nepal, Taiwan, Japan etc. It is said that the concept of bowing is deep rooted in animalistic tendencies. People have given away advice that whenever in presence of a bear face to face, there should be no eye contact made, one should back away and one should lie into the fetal position and act as if they are dead so that they don’t seem as a threat to the bear .If the bear doesn’t fear the person they are less likely to attack. It is also scientifically proven that in the while lowering one makes one look smaller and less threatening. This very much relates to human behavior as well. In a historical sense, bowing down to someone basically meant indicating to the other person that they have a lower status than them. So this might very much make sense when a person bows before a monarch or a god.


It is believed that bowing in Japan started during the time of Asuka and Nara periods (538-794 AD) with the introduction of Chinese Buddhism as well as of the influence of Confucianism. The writings of the philosopher Confucius are one of the foundations of Japanese society. There is an explanation of about why the Japanese bow that lies in the writings of Confucius. It said that the entire body should “speak “when giving thanks or showing respect in other words According to those teachings, bowing was a direct reflection of status

Simple gestures like bowing go a long way in terms of communication in Japan, and sometimes are even more powerful than words. The Japanese bow to one another as a greeting, a parting gesture, a way of expressing humility, respect or apology, and an alternative to waving or saying "Hi." it's important to remember that bowing conveys different emotions, such as appreciation, respect, or remorsefulness. As one learns the physical aspects of a good bow, keep in mind what you're trying to communicate through ones posture, as this will inform how deeply you bow and for what length of time more naturally.An average Japanese person is said to feel uncomfortable with body contact. They like to keep a respectable distance from each other. This is also a reason Japanese accept presents, documents and money with both the hands, which is the sign of thanks and respect. In a nut shell When you bow, you prostrate yourself (show humility) to another person. To not show humility is the same as to show arrogance.


Bowing in Japan

The Japanese bow is very simple, it just has some slightness that should be given attention to while bowing .The first and foremost rule is that when in an attempt to bow the back should be straight and it should not slouch.

The bowing should be done by the upper torso while the lower torso should not move, it should stay upright. The gaze while bowing is supposed to be downward, the head should move in alignment with the torso downward.

Men bow with their hands on the sides while the ladies bow with their arms positioned at the front .There are a lot of little things that could make a bow represent the amount of respect. For example, the degree of bow a person does shows the greater degrees of respect that the person shows to the other person .

1. A 5 degree bow would be used informal settings among friends and family.

2.  Eshaku (会釈, えしゃく), a 15 degrees bow would be performed with acquaintances; it is a polite gesture of mentioning a greeting or a thank you.

3. Keirei, (敬礼, けいれい),a 30 degrees bow done when in a business atmosphere, it would be a greeting to potential business partners, customers as well as to show respect to a person who is of a higher status than the person themselves.

4. Saikeirei, (最敬礼, さいけいれい), the most formal by far of the three bows. A 45 degrees bow. It is used to show respect to someone of extreme high status. It is usually used in situations concerning serious notes. A situation where this bow would be utilized would be to show respect to the emperor.

6. Dogeza, (土下座, どげざ), this bow that is rarely used in crucial situation. The person performing this bow has to kowtow, hands, knees and face all facing downwards. A situation where such a bow would be utilized would be when begging for a person’s life.






Leave A Comment

Recommended Story