How to Bow Like a Japanese

What could be more typically Japanese than bowing?  Every other book about Japan has something to say on the subject, so it must be important, right?  Certainly a lot of foreigners come to Japan and start bowing like crazy, so maybe they all read the same book.

It’s common knowledge, if not entirely correct, that bowing is a sign of respect, gratitude, or apology in Japanese society.  And there’s no shortage of information on how to do it properly, how deeply one should bow, or what to do with your hands.  There’s just one missing piece . . .

So I was in a bar last week.  Big surprise, I know.  And by the end of the night, as always, I’d made friends with about fifty salarymen.  What can I say?  I’m like sugar to them.  Then, as I’d had a rather plentiful number of cocktails and had to wake up the next day before noon (something I try to avoid), I decided to politely make my exit.  And what happened next?  They all got up and started . . . shaking my hand.  Like suddenly I’m a member of Congress or something.

You know, when Japanese people leave a bar, everybody doesn’t rush around shaking hands with them.  And when Americans leave a bar in the U.S.–well, it’s basically the same thing.  We just say goodbye and peace out.  The last time I was back in the States, it seemed like men and women weren’t shaking hands  much at all, but everybody sure was hugging each other.  But maybe that’s just because I was in San Francisco.  Anyway, while America is still the land of the handshake, people don’t go around doing it all willy-nilly either.

However, in the mind of a Japanese salaryman who’s just polished off a bottle of shochu, shaking hands is what “foreigners” do all the time.  Just like how foreigners think bowing is something Japanese do all the time.

Okay, here’s three questions for you.  Let’s see how good your Japanese is.

1. It’s 10 a.m. and you’re out for a walk.  On the other side of the street, you see your neighbor walking towards you.  What do you say?

2.  Your walk into a store at noon and the store clerk bows and greets you with “irrashaimasei.”  What do you say?

3. It’s 10 p.m. and you buy two large cans of malt liquor and a bag of those fabulous Calbee black pepper potato chips.  (Note:  this is a purely hypothetical situation.)  After you pay at the register, the clerk bows and thanks you with an “arigatou gozaimasu.”  What do you say?

If you answered, “ohayou gozaimasu,” “konnichiwa,” and “dou itashi mashite” –Congratulations, you’re a foreigner all right.  If you answered, “Jack shit,” then you’ve either lived in Japan for a while, or you’re actually Japanese.  In other words, Japanese people rarely reply to such pleasantries.  Not really the friendliest country ever, Japan.

So here’s the missing piece:  Japan has a culture based upon hierarchy.  It’s a Power culture.  The store clerk thanks you.  You don’t thank him.  At the restaurant, you yell your order to the waitress and she comes running.  She’s all politeness, smiles, bowing, and deference, because that’s her job.  You, as a customer, have a different role, and it does not include thanking, bowing, or even acknowledging her presence.  Then, when that waitress is a customer somewhere else, she’ll bark her order at someone else who comes running, and hardly mumble a word of thanks.  In any situation, the people on the bottom of the power equation bow and thank those above them.  The people at the top don’t respond in kind, and they frequently don’t respond at all.

Bear in mind that bowing isn’t necessarily related to a person’s status in society, age, or gender.  It’s about a person’s role in a given situation.  Who’s the boss and who’s the employee in the current transaction.  Who’s holding the leash and who’s the dog.  The person who bows in one situation does not bow in another, and nobody bows all the time.  Except old people.  And they’re just grateful that somebody actually acknowledges their presence.

Japan has the reputation of being a polite nation.  That’s because, for tourists, everywhere they look, Japanese folks are welcoming, thanking, and bowing to them.  What wonderful, simple people!  They’re so cute.  In reality, it’s about business.  It’s not that Japanese people are more or  less polite than anyone else.  It’s that they’re serious employees.  It’s their job to treat you well, in the same way that when I call my credit card company, they say “Thank you for calling.”  Maybe the person on the other end of the line isn’t actually grateful that I called to complain about my interest rate.  But then you never know.  Those folks in Bangladesh are awfully friendly.

So take a step back.  Next time you go to a store, a restaurant, or a bar in Japan, don’t watch the clerks and waiters.  Watch the Japanese customers.  Quite often, they’re a whole lot less than polite.  They either boss the staff around, or ignore them entirely.  They certainly don’t bow to the staff.

Now, you can act however you like in Japan.  Bow to the mailman if that’s your thing.  Thanks for bringing my electric bill, dude!  Hey, it’s a free country.  But if you’ve gone to the trouble of learning some Japanese and trying to understand the culture, then you might want to pay attention to what everybody else does, and try to behave similarly.  Just a thought.

This isn’t to say that there aren’t plenty of opportunities to bow.  You should absolutely show respect and appreciation towards people with whom you have a personal connection.  But again, keep in mind who’s thanking whom.  If, for example, you give someone a gift, they should bow a bit and thank you.  Or maybe they won’t.   Either way, as the gift-giver, you probably shouldn’t be bowing to them, unless you’re thanking them for something they’ve done.  Okay, so it’s a little complicated.  Whatever.  Just keep your roles straight is all I’m saying.

As a final note, there is, of course, the reciprocal bowing phenomenon, where everyone is  bowing like mad to everyone else in what looks like a mini aerobics class.  But that’s typically limited to situations where all parties are on equal terms, like friends and associates, and used when greeting or saying goodbye.  Staff from companies that are in business together also do this a lot.  But you go around bowing like that and people will just think you’re spastic.

There’s nothing wrong with bowing at the right time.  You just gotta know when that time is.  How to know?  Watch Japanese people.  Then do what they do.  And so, if we ever meet, don’t feel like you need to bow.  You don’t even need to shake my hand.  A hug will do just fine.

 

26 Replies to “How to Bow Like a Japanese”

  1. Hi!
    I just wanted to say that your blog is fantastic! I read a lot of Expat blogs and really enjoy yours.

    I was in Japan a few years ago for a few days and have never felt so out of place and alone. I was starred at non stop. It was a releif to get back to the middle east!

    cheers from Ottawa

    1. Thanks, for real.

      Yeah, Japan’s a crazy place to assimilate into. In my mind, I’m just like everyone else, and then suddenly . . . Like last weekend I was riding my bike by the park and these two little kids yelled out “Gaijin! Gaijin!” I don’t know why, but I said back, in Japanese of course, “You’re wrong. I live in here.” And they were like “Whoa, you speak Japanese. Whoaaa.” It just blew their minds, like they just stood there frozen and your could see their little brains just melting right out their ears. And then I asked if we could play soccer together, and it was all good. Sometimes I love this country.

    1. Seriously. Have you tried the Calbee Spicy flavor? Outrageous. A little harder to find, and thank God, since they account for approximately fifty percent of my nightly caloric intake. With beer making up the remaining 70 percent.

  2. It always baffles me why do most Westerners seem to reaally think that you kind of become “Japanese” if you reside here long enough, speak the language or get married… You are Japanese only if both your parents are Japanese, period. This is NOT your country. I’m a gaijin, yet I fully acknowledge this simple fact.

    No wonder Western countries are in such a mess due to immigration: the majority there are really convinced that the ethnic locals have no more rights than some well-integrated immigrant. No wonder really… But Asia is not like that, and the Middle East either.

    By the way, it’s easy to make fun of quiet and reserved East Asians and their culture but you multiculturalsits would never dare to do the same in a Middle East country…

    1. Hey Jojo, how about you and your middle-age prejudices go and buy a brain?

      ”No wonder Western countries are in such a mess due to immigration”
      Oh yeah, Europe and the US is a huge mess because of their immigrants, right, I had forgotten that old well known fact.
      They’re in no mess because of their multiculturalism, it is their multiculturalism that is saving them and making them a place worth living in.
      You become a citizen of whichever country you love and feel is your home, wherever on earth that is, wherever you were born or where your parents are from.
      The sub-saharian Africans that risked their lives to come to Europe on a flipping wooden plank so they don’t get murdered by x or y, their baby isn’t french when it’s born there? No? Shall we send them back to get murdered, all of them? Yeah? The grand-mother that flew nazis persecutions, she doesn’t become an American after rebuilding her life there? My mother who left Romania’s dictature age 9 with not even a list of phone number written down and was granted asylum in Germany, got a German education, graduated from a German university, worked and payed her German taxes, got her German citizenship, think speak pee dreams in german, she’s not fucking German?
      Where do you place the limit, where’s the threshold? Is it where you were born? Is it where you grow up from the age of 5, after that it’s too late? People have to be born in the country, with both parents holding the citizenship? And why not their grand-parents too? What if they were born there then left for a year and come back, that cancels out their citizenship?
      Because of little pieces of paper stating where you are from and where you can stay on earth, because of imaginary boundaries, people die every day. Adults and children are locked in cells for years and people die and get murdered, for not having the right little piece of fucking paper stating you can stay on this said spot on this planet.

      People (multiculturalist included) make fun wherever they are of whatever they want.
      What’s up with your middle east comment? They wouldn’t dare commenting on society? Depends on the freedom of speech in the said society. Jeez, if you get yours hands cut for writing the wrong thing then I guess not, they wouldn’t dare (I’m not saying that’s what would happen in the middle east in particular). Israel is the middle east. You can take the piss of whatever you want there.
      Which is not what is happening on this blog in my views, anyways. But if you can’t see that I don’t think I should try and help.

      1. It’s kinda true… I love the fact that immigrants can at feel at home when they settle in western countries, despite maybe not being born there. I feel like japan is a good place to visit, but maybe not the best place to live in for a foreigner.

  3. I get a lot of time to prepare courses at my little eikawa, but I also teach the same material every week. So I’ve been putting all that prep time to good use, just as I always do — by fucking around on the interwebs. And lately, it’s been by going through your blog.

    I know this is a year old, but this phenomenon drives me nuts. I’m always one to be friendly with service people. I worked a few service jobs myself, and it’s pretty awful work. And that’s in the US where you can go through an entire convenience store transaction without a single word being said by either party. Not even close to Japan, with all the self-effacing bullshit that they put themselves through (we as Americans seem to acknowledge the service person’s right to a shitty day, I guess).

    Anyway, I watch my (Japanese) girlfriend do what you talk about here all the time: no thank you’s, no eye contact, nothing – just take the change/food/bag and walk away. And she lived in the US for two years. She’s a super nice girl, perhaps too nice, but this culture we live in – it leaves no room for that kindness in everyday situations. And that’s really unfortunate.

    I’m under no illusion that I can make any kind of change, and I am certainly ignoring the 15-odd service people yelling God-knows-what every time I round a corner in the store, but I do make sure to look people in the eye and smile when I thank them for whatever it is they’ve done for me — even if it’s handing me change. Mileage always varies, but I almost always get a genuine smile in return. Hell, some people’s faces literally light up. But maybe that’s just because the only white dude in town smiled at them, who knows.

    1. It’s one of the stranger things about Japan, huh, this dichotomy between how nice people can be in one situation, and how cold they can be in another. It seems more pronounced than in other countries. Is that just my imagination?

      I struggle with this myself, I gotta say. On the one hand, I agree—I’ve always been a friendly, outgoing person and I feel like it’s just courtesy to thank people and acknowledge their efforts. God knows service personnel in Japan bust ass. On the other hand, I’m reluctant to act too differently, because there’s already the impression that white = different, and I don’t like to contribute to that mindset. I’d rather people see that we’re more the same than we are different, despite our outward appearances. We may not look like everybody else, but we can talk and act like them, emulating not just the good behaviors, but the bad as well. Maybe that’s what assimilation is. But like I said, I struggle with it a bit.

  4. I can honestly say I’ve seen a fair bit of the world, and Japan certainly defies a lot of comparisons with anywhere else I’ve had experience with. One of the more interesting things I’ve found is the continuity between American and Japanese perceptions of the rest of the world. Of course many of the larger American cities can be quite multicultural, but in the medium and small towns as in much of Japan the attitude is thus: “Holy shit it’s a FOREIGNER–man they sound funny! Let’s all stare!”. And frankly both countries can afford to act that way, because both are physically isolated and wealthy enough to maintain an internal focus.

    Now in a lot of ways this works out to our benefit in Japan (not so much for the foreigners in America, though): we’re under no obligation to do anything right whatsoever. Don’t speak the lingo? That’s fine, you’re white. You just did something horribly offensive? Of course you did, you’re white. You can eat sushi?! すげい!!, let me buy you a beer or three! Oh and please sing Lady Gaga with us at karaoke!

    Now, I fully understand your wanting to break from this, but you have been here long enough to know how lost a cause that truly is. I’ll admit I’ve a long way to go on the language, but I have a home and a car and a Japanese girlfriend and I work every day just like everyone else — and none of that matters. I’ll always be the white dude, and the Japanese will always be happiest when I’m being white. Anybody can become American, but you and I will never, ever be Japanese.

    Of course my big stupid smile and your Japanese indifference at the konbini are on equal footing–neither is going to change much. But in your case you’re offering nothing much out of the ordinary. They probably didn’t expect a smile or a thanks (they’re on the bottom of the clerk-customer power dynamic after all), and so it’s not in the least bit odd when you offer none. You’re no less white than when you walked in the door. But for me, at least, I’m acknowledging their existence (something Japanese seem loathe to do) and offering them a chance to break from all that politeness-unto-indifference that’s been beaten into them since children. One of the main reasons I’m learning the language is not to fit in, but to wield that hammer with even more force.

    1. Yeah, I agree with you. Hell, Japanese people even sweat about who looks Japanese amongst themselves. It’s like a game of who’s-the-most-yellow? Not sure that’s a game with a real winner.

      It’s really a question of how you want to interact with people. Like, I try to treat everyone equally, within reason. That is, to the extent I can apply reason after a salaryman buys me three beers and convinces me to sing “Poker Face.” Anyway, if not equally, then at least with some dignity and respect. That’s a bit of what I’d like in return. No special treatment, just be freaking normal. And I’ve found that generally people will treat you however you allow them to. If you speak and act like everyone else, they forget how you look pretty quickly. If it’s initially a surprise, well hey, humans have an amazing capacity for adaption.

      But does any of this make a difference? See, now I think it does, but it’s a question of scope. The people you touch–they take away what you give them. The problem is we only touch a small number of people. You can broaden that scope and influence more people, but it takes work. But you could definitely effect change if you devoted enough time and energy to it. Hell, start a pyramid scheme and get other people to spread your message. Worked for God. Or if nothing else, you can get rich off of Tupperware and vitamin supplements. On the other hand, maybe it wouldn’t be that great to change Japan. Make it more like America, and then what’ve you done? Gotta be careful what you wish for. I say that all the time.

      1. Oh sure, there’s no determining to what degree we change the world, but change it we most certainly do. But in a lasting and important way? I can’t say, but most likely not. Of course if you take the one-small-step-at-a-time / every-little-bit-counts approach favored by so many fund raisers, what you do in your day-to-day may be critically important. I’ve never much subscribed to that philosophy much myself, but we can both agree that the way we carry ourselves and our daily business (even if it’s just buying chuhi and onigiri at the konbini) -does- influence the world around us (though again to what degree is anyone’s guess).

        You say you want to afford people some common courtesy, and to be treated normally in return, but how do you square that with adopting the standard Japanese role vis-a-vis service people? It doesn’t seem like you’re going to be able to have that cake and eat it too: if you want to fit in as best as you’re able, you’re going to need to act Japanese — but to do that, you’re going to have to treat anyone and everyone in the service industry as if they’re literally automated goods/service-dispensers (which sort of conflicts with courtesy in a big way).

        I’m not very interested in making any lasting changes, I’ll be dead one day and nothing will mean a damn to me after that. I’m just here (in the existential sense, not just in Japan-land) to enjoy myself and get what I can out of everything. And sometimes that means smiling at Japanese service people. Sometimes it also means shaking Japanese people out of their self-satisfied, self-imposed little comfort bubbles. Fix Japan? Hell no, I don’t even have all the answers for myself–how could I be so arrogant as to think I’ve got the answers for an entire country? Christ knows the land of my own cultural reference point has enough problems of its own. But that doesn’t mean I’m going to play the Japanese power role/social status/harmony-at-all-costs game when it can so clearly debase people.

        Just interested in hearing how you’re able to get all this to fit together. Not that you need to or have to — life is full of contradictions, after all: I may smile at the salesclerk but you can be damned sure I am tailgating the hell out of Grandma when she’s doing 40 in a 40 kmph zone.

        1. Wow, there’s a lot going on in your comment. I’m thinking we could easily talk for a week straight about everything you brought up. But let me just try to touch on a couple of points.

          As for changing the world, well first, I’m not suggesting you or I should try to. I’m only saying that if, for some God-knows-why reason, we wanted to, yeah we could, in a lasting and important way. It wouldn’t happen by smiling every time I buy a grape chu-hi, but rather by mobilizing, organizing, and doing all that other stuff that sounds like so much work that I just give up and go buy another chu-hi. But I really can’t complain too much about the world as it is, since I’m putting forth damn little effort to change it.

          On the point of courtesy and treatment of others, I have two ways of speaking, behaving, and thinking. If I think in English using with Western values, I often come to a vastly different conclusion than if I think in Japanese using Japanese values. Maybe in English, it would be normal to be like, Boss, wazzup, sorry I’m half an hour late for work; in Japan that would be so unthinkable that I’d have to commit ritual seppuku. So in terms of courtesy in Japan, I use the same values everybody else does. From a Western perspective, Japanese behaviors seem amazingly polite and alternately amazingly rude, but since I learned them in Japan and in Japanese, they somehow make sense in this context.

          So personally, I use Japanese-style courtesy, for better or worse. I’ve seen some Japanese men who can be (slightly) polite to service personnel, and I try to follow their example. I’ve also seen many Japanese men who expect to be treated with respect, and I also follow that example. So I don’t do the gaijin thing of walking down the street drinking beer and blowing my nose on the train. Instead, I do what every normal Japanese person does–blow my nose in private and pass out in my suit face down in a bush after the office party.

  5. “Maybe in English, it would be normal to be like, Boss, wazzup, sorry I’m half an hour late for work;”

    Oh man, that line almost got me cracking up here at work!

    I’m an American that works at a Japanese company in Shanghai (complicated) as their translator/interpreter, which means I only really work 20% of the time and the other 80% of time is spent looking at your blog (or wishing there were more updates).

    Working in a Japanese office has me thinking: holy god, I really miss being able to be like “sup boss, mind if come in a little late tomorrow?” The computer here recorded I was three minutes late, and I got an ice cold e-mail about “irregularities” in my time schedule and had to get two signatures before I was able to finally get the thing taken off my record (or face a 15 USD penalty). I miss being able to bend the rules a little in the USA, or talking to people and actually have it feel like a human interaction…

    I wanted to comment about how you split yourself into “two,” (Japanese and American) because that’s exactly how I feel. I think the way Japanese people interact with each other is completely opposite from that of the west (or even China for that matter). If you want to learn Japanese and really get good, you just can’t win—you have the join. I remember seeing so many foreigners in Japan complaining about how they had no Japanese friends or couldn’t speak Japanese, yet they would say ‘no’ to working overtime or ‘no’ to izakaya nomikais or even take multiple days of byoukyuu/sick leave off. In the US it’s ok to take extra days off for recovery, it’s ok not to go to an optional drinking office party and it’s ok to say fu and leave the office at 6pm like a normal human being—but if you live that way in Japan or with the Japanese, you’ll fall, and you’ll just push that ‘gaijin’ stereotype even further.

    And when you split yourself into two… have you ever had those times where you just speak an entire day(s) of Japanese and then, suddenly, you end up having to speak English and you listen to yourself and you’re shocked at the fact you have ‘2’ of you inside of you? I guess it’s complicated, but there would be times I’d speak English randomly and be unsure that was even me talking.

    I speak Chinese as well, and for some reason that just doesn’t happen with Chinese. I really do feel like because of the different intonations and mannerisms of Japanese you really do transform into somebody else, whereas Chinese is much like English and very upfront and to the point. The way you talk to your Japanese boss/convenient store worker/obaachan is WAY different than you would speak to your good Japanese drinkin bud. So complicated.

    Anyway, long ramble… I rarely find good blogs about Japan life on the internet, and yours is the only one to actually get me ‘lol’ing. Keep up the good work.

    1. Yeah, I also spend about 20% of my work day doing something productive, and 80% of my time wishing I’d get off my ass and update my blog. God I’m lazy. So, sorry. That’s probably not gonna change any time too soon though. Jeez.

      So for me, the thing about working in a Japanese office, or really with any Japanese people in any capacity, is the constant fear. If you make some small slip, there can be some ridiculously overblown consequences. By contrast, like in the U.S., I once showed up for work six hours late. I kind of had a big night the night before, what can I say, and when I woke up the next day and looked at the clock I was like, Gaaa, why is it so bright at 3:00 in the morning? Birds were singing, traffic’s going by . . . it took me a little while to figure it out. And when I called my boss, I really didn’t have anything to say. I was like, yeah, sorry, I kind of, uh, overslept. But you know, he was a smart manager. I mean, like what’s he gonna say that’s going to improve the situation? Yell at me like he’s my dad? That’s not gonna help. I was a good employee who’d made a huge, massive screw up, and I knew it. He was like, Well, just get here, okay. And that was it.

      Here in Japan, I once made the dumb mistake of chewing gum to freshen my breath between classes, and then talking to students while I still had the gum in. My manager and supervisor took me to a conference room, sat me down, and spent 30 minutes losing their minds about how unprofessional I was. I’d worked a whole year without missing a day, messing up a class, or coming in late, and they just screamed and power tripped all over me like abusive parents. I never said a word in my defense; I just apologized profusely, and then later went outside and cried in a Tokyo alleyway for half an hour.

      Moving on. Yeah, having two languages and corresponding personalities is sometimes an out-of-body experience. What really put me in a conundrum was the other day when I was working with these Japanese employees who only know the Japanese Seeroi-san, and this American guy showed up. Like at work, I’m pretty quiet, professional, and reserved, mostly because I don’t ever want to have my ass handed to me on a plate again for something stupid like chewing gum. Plus I want to fit in to the extent possible, so they’ve never heard me speak English. And you know how Japanese is kind of quiet anyway, and you really don’t say a whole lot at work. And so this big white dude walks in and looks at me and he’s like, Hey, Wazzzuuuup! and goes to shake my hand. I was like, Dude, don’t blow my cover. I mean, which me is supposed to respond? I’m supposed to just jump up and be like, Yo, nothing much! Sup wit you? Instead I tried to kind of split the middle and I was like, Oh, hey, uh, yoroshiku. It was just awkward all around. And then I felt bad because I was so weird. I think that’s probably how Japanese people feel a lot of the time. I’m just not sure what normal even is anymore. Jeez.

      1. I once got a job translating for this little company run by a single woman who basically only gave me a paragraph a month to do for a thousand yen a pop, the “words of the month” 挨拶 kind of thing with lots of seasonal related stuff. One time I slipped up and made a small mistake, and she became incredibly angry and called it “shameful”. I wrote a long angry email right back at her and never worked for her again.

        A better situation were the two kindergartens I worked at later part time. I never copped any trouble at all. But I could feel that was still because I was kind of not really on the inside with them (no contract). The pressure was still in the air. The male teacher at one place stressing like crazy about these little six year olds making tiny English mistakes like it fucking matters. The male older boss at another dressing down a female employee for ten minutes in front of everybody because she had the temerity of wishing to come back to work part time a few months after having her child that was due.

        1. “The male teacher at one place stressing like crazy about these little six year olds making tiny English mistakes like it fucking matters.”

          You mean like calling them “French fries” instead of “Freedom fries”? You better fix that before you turn seven, young man. Someday you’re gonna go to France and nobody’s gonna know what you’re talking about.

  6. Same concept in China.

    When I first arrived in China a year ago, I couldn’t get over how rude my friends were to the waitress in restaurants.

    Until one day, that waitress went across the street to get a drink. She barked some order to the under aged girl about making the drink extra strong…and be quick about it cuz she has to come back and attend to me and my rude friends.

    1. Yup. That’s pretty accurate. I don’t know if the behavior in Japan is “rude” per se, but it shows a clear distinction between who has the power and who’s doing the work, in a given circumstance.

      Japanese people are also amazed to hear that things are the opposite in the U.S. The boss is often nice to the employees, because he or she knows that without them, nothing gets done. Same thing in a restaurant, where if you don’t treat the waitstaff with respect, you risk them working slower, or peeing in your coke. That’s rarely good.

  7. Woow, very interesting post. And sorry but the comments were even more interesting. I live in South America, yeah i know we are wild. But as a “Japan fan” all those comments worried me a lot. Is like “where is the kawaii”? Everywhere you go on internet is all about how cool, nice and polite are the japanese but reading all the comments is like a nightmare. They are so close about the foreign people? They are actually rude in place of “kawaii”?

    I just mentioned that i’m from South America because we are considered in the rest of the world like “the wild people”, “irrational people”. But actually we are very kind too, in the other hand that thing about the power is very normal here and people can be really rude with if you are under them in terms of social status.

    Anyway, i’m worried about the comments, is like all the “kawaii pink world” about Japan that i had in mind for years now turned into a “dark fog”… Greets!

    1. Well, I certainly wouldn’t be the first person to note that Japanese people are well-known for having two faces, the outward tatemae and inner honne.

      The society functions by adhering to rules of conduct. There’s something almost militaristic about it. People will usually treat “foreigners” well at first. In a sense, it’s their job—that’s the role they play as Japanese people.

      It’s only once you stop being treated as a “foreigner” that you can really see how people are. Speaking Japanese helps a lot, although you might not like what you find. The other insightful thing is to watch how Japanese behave, not towards you, but towards each other. It’s a lot less kawaii then.

      1. Well, yes after all i think that is part of a normal society as in the rest of the world right?
        Everywhere you can go the foreing people will be well treated until they become one more of them. I have 3 japanese friends, only via Facebook of course, they are very different between each other in terms of personality but they are similar because they are very polite and since they found out my job they treat me with more respect than in the past. Maybe it’s me but at least 2 of them are a bit more polite with me since then. In the other hand, they are normal guys to me. I talk with people from USA to Australia, from Argentina to Indonesia and everybody has their special “content” but in the end are just regular people and these japanese guys are not the exception of that rule. Greetings!

  8. You know what freaks out the japanese more than western foreigners? Foreigners who aren’t even ‘western’ looking. I’m from Sri Lanka (lol bet most of you don’t even know where that is) And I got the weirdest stares XD. People don’t even know what to make of me… I’m not even remotely pale. I’m brown!

    1. Theoretically, the student would bow to you, the teacher. You would then respond with a slight bow. The feeling is, “thank you for teaching—you’re welcome.” In reality though, it’s likely that neither of you would bow, unless you’re in a school classroom. There, bowing is done routinely at the start and finish of every class, and doesn’t mean too much. It’s just something the kids are made to do.

      Bowing in many contexts seems strangely formal. This would be especially true for teaching English, which includes, by extension, Western mannerisms.

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