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Gestures Among Japanese

Gestures Among Japanese

For most visitors the Japanese are complex and difficult to understand. Remember two things: (1) style, or the way things are done, is just as important as substance, or what is being done; and (2) watch your Japanese hosts carefully and follow their example.

  • GREETING GESTURES
  1. The graceful act of bowing is the traditional greeting.
  2. However, they have also adopted the western custom of shaking hands, albeit with a light grip and perhaps with eyes averted. Meanwhile, to show respect for their customs, it would flatter them to offer a slight bow when being introduced.
  3. Avoid hugging and kissing when greeting.
  4. It is considered rude to stare. Prolonged direct eye contact is considered impolite or even intimidating.
  5. It is considered rude to stand with your hand or hands in your pockets, especially when greeting someone or when addressing a group of people.
  6. The seemingly simple act of exchanging business cards is more complex in Japan because the business card represents not only one’s identity but one’s station in life. Yours should be printed in your own language and in Japanese.
Japanese Greeting Each Other

Japanese Greeting Each Other

  • TOUCHING GESTURES
  1. The Japanese are not a touch-oriented society, so avoid open displays of affection, touching or any prolonged form of body contact.
  2. Queues are generally respected; it is only in crowded train and subway stations where the huge volume of people causes touching and pushing.
  • BECKONING GESTURES
  1. It is considered insulting to point to someone fingers extended and the thumb folded into the palm.
  2. To beckon someone, the palm faces downward and the fingers are moved in a scratching motion.
  • OTHER NONVERBAL GESTURES
  1. Because of the high regard for graciousness and restraint, one should not shout, raise the voice in anger, or exhibit any excessively demonstrative behavior.
  2. Among the Japanese, smiling often can cover a gamut of emotions: happiness, anger, confusion, apologies, or sadness.
  3. Displaying an open mouth (such as yawning or a wide-open laugh) is considered rude in Japan, especially with women who cover their mouths when giggling or laughing.
  4. Try to maintain a balanced posture stand or sit erectly or squarely. Do not slouch or put your feet on desks or chairs. When seated have both feet squarely on the ground with arms in the lap or on the armrests. Crossing the legs at the knee or ankles is the preferred form rather than with one ankle over the other knee.
  5. Silence is perfectly acceptable and customary. Silence (listening) is a sign of politeness and of contemplation. During conversations, be especially careful about interrupting.
  6. One way to show concentration and attentiveness is to close the eyes in contemplation and nod the head slight, up and down.
  7. Japanese men like to avoid saying “no”, but one gesture that is often used ti signal “no” or that “something is very difficult” is to tip the head backward and audibly suck air in through the teeth.

 

Japanese Bow

Japanese Bow

  • OTHER NONVERBAL GESTURES
  1. A gesture saying “I do not know,” or “I don’t understand” or “No, I am un-deserving” is waving the hand back and forth in front of one’s own face (palm outward).
  2. The “O.K.” gesture in Japan may be interpreted as the signal for “money” or “give me change in coins.”
  3. Blowing your nose in public is considered rude. The handkerchief is used primarily for wiping the mouth or drying the hands when leaving the washroom. Paper tissues are used for blowing the nose and then discarded.
  4. When entering a private home or traditional restaurants with tatami (bamboo mats) floors, it is usually customary to remove your shoes and place them with the toes pointing toward the outdoors.

 

  • BOWING
  1. Many westerners view the bow as an act of subservience, but in Japan that would completely wrong. For the Japanese a bow signals respect and humility, two qualities coveted throughout Asia.
  2. Although it is not absolutely necessary, but a slight bow demonstrate that you respect their customs. And in Japan, where style and grace and courteousness are revered, that simply act would surely be noted, appreciated, and probably remembered.
  3. WHO BOWS FIRST? AND HOW LOW DOES ONE BOW? In Japanese, it is extremely important to know the rank of people with whom you come in contact.
  4. “The person of lower rank bows first and lowest.”
  5. “The higher the rank of the person facing you, the lower you bow.”
  6. “The lower the bow and the longer one holds the position, the stronger is the indication of respect, gratitude, sincerity, obeisance, humility, contriteness, etc.”
  7. With equals match bows, adding an extra one when you want to show a slight edge of respect.
  8. When unsure of status, the safest move is to bow a shade less low than the other person.
  9. The proper form is to bow (about 15 degrees) with hands sliding down toward the knees or at the sides, back neck stiff, and eyes averted. The formal bow (about 30 degrees) with palms on knees and often bobbing up and down. Never bow with a hand (of both hands) in your pockets.
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