So here we are again with a new chapter of Pepi in Wonderland. Today we are going to talk about Japanese etiquette: Japanese bowing. Japanese bow as a salute, to say thank you or to apologize. Rules are quite complicated, but if you follow the basics, you can never go wrong. After three months living there, I already got used to bowing instead of shaking hands. However, once you get used to it, it’s really hard to explain how it works to friends who would like to pay you a visit. One of such friends had a funny episode with bowing that made me laugh for a long time.
I used to give instructions to all my friends that came to visit me. Mike, let’s just call him Mike for the sake or anonymity, was no different. He had never travelled to Asia and decided to come to Japan, for no other reason than to spend some time enjoying my company and take a look at the country. Before he came, I sent him several emails about many aspects of the Japanese culture, so that he wouldn’t blow anything, nor have any problems. However, I forgot about one aspect of bowing: you don’t need to bow always!
Although maintaining Japanese etiquette is a must, or at least try to bow, to do it when you’re not supposed to can bring you to despair. You can learn all about how many degrees you need to bow down on each occasion in this post, however take in mind that if you enter into a shop or are greeted by a staff member of a hotel with a bow, you don’t need to bow back. You’ll be entering an endless loop of bowing…
First day of Mike in Japan. I went to fetch him at Narita airport; we took a coffee, and then let him in front of his hotel. We were going to meet the next day. So far, so good. But, the next day he came quite nervous.
“You know the guy at the entrance? He wouldn’t leave me alone! I think I was rude to him at the end.” I couldn’t understand him at first, but when he told me the whole story I couldn’t help myself but to laugh out loud. When he entered, the guy at the entrance bowed to him, the Japanese way. Then Mike bowed back. Then the door guy bowed back. So, Mike did it again. And so the door guy bowed back again. Repeat this loop during 20 minutes till your back is in pain and you’re more than annoyed and perplexed. More so, if your friend is laughing at you when you’re explaining your problem with the guy at the door. “He won’t let me go!! He just bows back! What am I supposed to do!?” The endless bowing went back and forth till Mike got fed up and decided to enter without returning the bow.
You simply don’t bow back to people working at hotels, or stuff in shops. If you bow back, they will bow back again, because you’re not supposed to do anything. Then, if you bow again, the loop will continue. It’s up to you to keep in the loop and get annoyed along with the poor guy working there. The Japanese at the door at that hotel had a job greeting new customers. This means to make a bow when they come in… not a thousand bows as an exercise of wits.
I had forgotten this detail, and Mike had been trapped in an endless Japanese bowing loop for more than 20 minutes his first day in Japan. He finally didn’t take it that bad, except for a backache that had for some days.
So, if you are going to Japan remember that there is no need to return the bows of those who are working in shops and hotels. Don’t enter into an endless loop or you’re going to have a terrible back pain!
[Interrumpting the post to show up one of those silly pictures in which you’re taking a beer with a good friend. Just here, for no reason whatsoever. And yes it was cold, all those layers one me means that I was freezing! I’m not sure this was taken with my camera… Hmmm…?]
So, if you go to Japan, remember not to enter into a loop of bows. Be nice, but don’t become a hamster running in a wheel!!!