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Ojigi (bowing) is an essential part of Japanese daily life. People bow when saying hello, thanking someone, apologizing, saying good-bye and introducing themselves. Although shaking hands (akushu) has become accepted as a form of greeting, many Japanese still are not used to it.
The deeper you bow, the more respect you are showing. There is an old haiku poem; "Minoru hodo atama no tareru inaho kana." It means "Young rice stalks stand upright, the mature grains bow low," implying that one grows to understand the meaning of humility. When somebody's position is higher than the other, the person in the lower position bows his or her head a little lower than the person in the higher position. Generally speaking, older women bow very politely. There are many who bow deeply while shaking hands at the same time, and there are others who bow many, many times. However, greetings between friends are fairly informal. They would casually raise their hands or lightly lower their head (eshaku).
Men bow with their hands held at their sides, palms facing inward. Women bow with their hands crossed in front of them. If they are sitting in a chair, they stand up to bow. If they are sitting on zabuton (a cushion for tatami mat), they move from it to bow and put both hands lightly on the tatami in front of their body when bowing.
If you live in Japan for a long time, you will begin bowing automatically as you say certain expressions. You might find yourself bowing as you talk on the phone like many Japanese do!
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