In Japan, people greet each other by bowing.

A bow can ranges from a small nod of the head to a deep bend at the waist. A deeper, longer bow indicates respect and conversely a small nod with the head is casual and informal. Bowing with your palms together at chest level is not customary in Japan. If the greeting takes place on tatami floor, people get on their knees to bow. Bowing is also used to thank, apologize, make a request or ask someone a favor.

Most Japanese do not expect foreigners to know proper bowing rules, and a nod of the head is usually sufficient. Shaking hands is uncommon, but exceptions are made.

At formal meetings, business cards are exchanged during the introductions.

At shops and restaurants, customers are typically welcomed by the staff with the greeting “Irasshaimase“. No response from the customer is required, although a small nod with the head would suffice for those who want to reciprocate the greeting.


In the Japanese bow, the bower expresses appreciation and respect to the person being bowed to by bending at the waist. This is a gesture widely used in tandem with greetings like “ohayo gozaimasu” (good morning) and “konnichi wa” (hello, good afternoon) as well as words of gratitude or apology. Bows can generally be classified into three types depending on the deepness of the waist bend. The most casual bow is the “eshaku” bow. In this bow, the waist is generally bent at about a 15 degree angle. It is common to lightly dip the head and give an “eshaku” bow when exchanging a casual greeting or passing by someone of a higher social status. Of course using words by themselves is sufficient, but if you add an eshaku bow while saying “arigato” (thank you) to someone who has shown you kindness, your feeling of gratitude will come across as incredibly more heartfelt. The bow generally used in business interactions is the “keirei” bow. In this bow, the torso is lowered to about 30 degrees. It is used when entering and leaving reception rooms and meeting rooms and when greeting customers. The “saikeirei” bow, the most polite bow, consists of lowering the torso about 45 degrees. It is used to express feelings of deep gratitude or apology.