Knowing the proper protocol in the moment is a tricky thing especially when traveling abroad where the customs are different.
If you are not use to bowing, it can get a little awkward. Some of the common drawbacks stem from not knowing when bowing is appropriate.
1. How low should I bow?
2. You're unsure if it' an insult to the Japanese business person who may see him or herself as modern enough to shake hands.
3. When should you bow, and how often?
4. You feel ridiculous, and wonder if you are doing it right
Don't worry you are not alone, many Westerners visiting and doing business in Japan for the first time have these same uncertainties. It is only normal. Hopefully by the end of this article you will feel at ease with your new Japanese friends, and business partners.
Some Japanese business people are very modern, and will try to make Western business people feel at ease by adopting the handshake instead of expecting a bow. However, even if you are left bowing, don't sweat it, the gesture was appreciated. Think of it this way, your fellow Japanese businessman was trying to make you feel comfortable and show respect for you, just as you were for him. So you are both beginning with mutual respect for one another.
My clients from eastern parts of the world come to me to help them learn Western manners just as my fellow westerners come to me to learn eastern manners. Everyone is trying to understand International Etiquette to make a great first and lasting impression which is progress on all fronts.
So you may be thinking to yourself, do I bow or not?
The answer is yes, always bow to show respect
When do I bow?
Contrary to many a westerners belief, a bow is not simply for a greeting in Japan, it is a way to show respect, shoe appreciation, apologize, congratulate, and even to express sympathy.
So what do I do if the host extends his hand, while I am bowing?
Complete your bow, then acknowledge his hand and shake his hand. If he does not explicitly tell you bowing isn't necessary continue to bow.
Do I bow to everyone in Japan?
Bow to elders, monks, and people you are meeting for the first time.
If you are not use to bowing, it can get a little awkward. Some of the common drawbacks stem from not knowing when bowing is appropriate. Hopefully you feel a bit more at ease and remember rather your bow is reciprocated it was noted as a sign of respect even in the modern times we live in.