Friday, July 12, 2013

Common Mistake on Bowing - How to bow in the tea room -

When Japanese people shake hands with westerners, we sometimes bow while shaking hands.  It might look comical to you, but I have probably done it myself before, hahaha.  I know that it looks funny but bowing is so natural for us and we naturally bow when greeting.  However, the opposite thing can happen to westerners.  When westerners bow in Japanese style, some of them stick out their heads forward.  It looks comical for us, too.  Why do you think it happens?

In the western greeting, you shake hands as you look straight at the eyes of the other person, which expresses integrity.  I think that this manner makes some westerners try to look at the other person even when they are bowing.  It makes their chin up and causes the sticking of their heads.

In Japanese greeting, we show our respect by removing our gaze from the other person.  Staring at someone directly is considered rude.  (There seem to be some exceptions, for bowing in some martial arts, we look at the opponent.)  I’ve never thought of the reasons behind the manner of bowing, but I’ve just learned it from a book that I’ve read. hehehe.   This idea makes sense to me also when comparing with the practice of bowing in the tea ceremony.  When we greet formally in a ceremony, we place a folding fan on the floor in front of us to create a temporal borderline with it.  It is the sign of condescension by not directly facing to the other person.  It supports aforementioned idea.

Not understanding these cultural backgrounds makes our greeting comical. 

This is what I have learned from my tea school and some books.  Bowing varies school to school and person to person, but this is how I do it.  I’m not sure if you want to know but I’ll share some detailed tips:

Move your hand smoothly by traveling along your lap and place them on the floor in front of your knees.

Retain a small space between both hands and make a triangle with your thumbs and index fingers.  Line up the four fingers, which looks beautiful.  Touch the floor without your palm making in contact to the floor, to make your hand look gentle.

Bend your hip and tilt your upper body with a straight back.  Try not to curl your back.
Look at the floor a little far from you, with your chin down

When raising your body back, do not push up with your arms, use your back.
Take back your hand smoothly with the backward motion

Now, you are one of the people who can bow beautifully in the tea room.

If I have a chance to shake hands, I’ll try to look at the other person’s eyes and try not to bow at the same time.  If you have a chance to do Japanese bowing, try to look at the floor!


  1. its so funny, I just had that conversation with my Sensei las week.... thank you for explanation

    1. It is interesting to see the cultural differences in greeting, isn’t it? The manner of your original greeting is so natural to you and it often comes out even when you are tring to greet in a different style.

  2. What a lovely and gentle explanation and a good lesson in Tea etiquette. Thank you.

    1. I think that this is why Japanese people are not good at maintaining steady eye contact and we look shy.

  3. Looks good - that the proper way to behaving on Tea meetings.

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