If you are traveling to Japan, knowing how to bow and greet in Japan can be helpful. Bowing (ojigi) is an important custom in Japan. People commonly greet each other by bowing instead of handshaking, and people generally have a small conversation after or before they bow.
Step 1:Learn to bow
This custom is used constantly in Japan. You may even see people bowing while on the phone. Keep in mind that men and women bow differently—men usually keep their hands at their sides, while women put their hands together on their thighs with their fingers touching.
- 15 degree bow. This is the most informal bow. It is used for casual greetings, such as if you are rushing to work and see someone you know, or if you run into a friend on the streets. (Remember, no matter how informal it may be, it is incredibly impolite not to return a bow if someone bows to you).
- 30 degree bow. The most common type of bow is done to a 30-degree angle to greet customers or to thank someone. It’s often seen in Japanese business situations, and is not used for formal events. It equates to welcoming a customer to your shop or inviting a friend to come into your home.
- 45 degree bow. This is the most formal type of bow. It signifies deep gratitude, a respectful greeting, a formal apology, asking for favors, and so on.
Step 2: Learn the verbal greetings
A conversation/greeting will generally start will “konnichiwa” or “hello.” In the evening, you would say, “konbanwa” meaning “Good evening,” and in the morning you would usually say, “ohayō gozaimasu,” meaning “good morning,” although you can simply say “ohayō,” if talking to someone you are closer to like a friend or family member.
- If you are having an informal conversation it is polite to follow your greeting with a question such as “Ogenki desu ka?” (“Are you well?”). If you are asked this question and your health is good reply with, “Hai, genki desu.” (“Yes I am well.”). If you are in poor health, you can say “Guai ga warui desu.” (“I am feeling ill.”).
Step 3: Be aware of the proper titles for each person
Unlike in English, the title follows the name of the person (the person’s last name except with very close friends).
- The most common title to add to a name is “San,” which can be roughly translated to “Mr.”, “Miss”, “Mrs.”, or “Ms.” Example: Suzuki-san. To address your senior colleagues in a school, company, sports club, or other group, use, “senpai”. Example: Ogawa-senpai. End a teacher’s name or the name of anyone you would address as “Dr.” in English with “sensei.” Example: Iwai-sensei
- When you are the authority: A younger girl or close girl friend’s name can be ended with, “-chan” and younger boys’ names can be ended with, “kun.” “Kōhai,” is the junior reverse to senpai, but it is not used to address people. Depending on the person a senpai may use “san” or “kun” with a kōhai’s name, or they may just use their last name with no suffix (which would be rude in other contexts, but is alright here). Another suffix, “-sama”, is only used in very formal situations, like addressing a letter or talking to a customer where you work.