By Sawako

pic6            When you meet somebody on the street, how do you greet them? Do you make a bow, shake hands, hug, kiss or something else? I would like to explore the cultural differences in greetings, comparing bowing versus shaking hands.

In Japan, we bow to each other as a form of greeting. Back to the samurai days, people in lower ranks were always supposed to bow to the people in higher ranks, for example, farmers had to bow to the samurai. On the other hand, in countries where people shake hands as greetings, traditionally the higher rank people reached out and shook the hands of the lower class as a symbol of mutual respect. In modern days, most of us do not seem to pay attention to those ancient greeting rules since social ranks are less obvious than before.

Why did we start bowing or shaking-hands? There are many theories about this but I will discuss only one of them for each. As for bowing, bending forward to somebody is risky because you cannot see if the guy you are talking to might draw a sword. Therefore bending forward and exposing vulnerability means “I am not your enemy”. Regarding shaking-hands, reaching and opening your hands to someone means “I do not have any weapons”. It is a very interesting fact that both cultures’ greetings originated from a similar convention. We are no longer samurai or soldier (obviously) but these ways of greetings remain and help us to create good relationships among each other.

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