By Fara Gold McLaughlin
Today during this global pandemic, I am fondly reminiscing about my travel adventure to explore Japan and Japanese culture in May of 2019. While many memories of my journey remain vivid, no other Japanese custom is more prescient than their customary greeting. Upon approaching anyone, the Japanese people lower their heads and, from the top of their torso, bow. There is no ring crunching, fist grabbing, westernized cowboy handshake in Japan.
What appeared to me as a submissive and elegant gesture, bowing in Japan (お辞儀, Ojigi) is affiliated with the Samurai. The rise of the Samurai Warrior class in the Kamakura period (1185–1333) led to the creation of warrior etiquette and instructions on the proper ways to bow.
In modern-day Japan, bowing is a fundamental part of social etiquette emphasizing respect and social rank. Everyday greetings in Japan from business meetings to funerals require the ability to bow correctly. Japanese people start bowing at a very young age. Many companies in Japan train their employees on how to bow in business meetings. Failure to bow is an indication of laziness and disrespect.
Figuring It Out
As we struggle globally with social and physical distancing to avoid transmitting COVID-19, the world as we know it from all subtle and overt cultural norms has changed and will likely be changed for years to come. One cultural greeting all other countries and cultures may consider adopting is the established Japanese bow.
While I feel vulnerable by the way the pandemic is changing all our established social and economic institutions, I am hopeful we all may adopt a new way of greeting each other to maintain our hygiene and with deep respect for each person we greet.
In A Person’s Lifetime
This moment in history is both humbling and scary with the thought that simply touching, like a handshake, can spread the most-deadly virus our globe has experienced in more than a hundred years. I look forward to a day when I can once again safely leave my cozy home and see my friends and family. I am dreaming about that day when I can greet all those I love with a deep bow, know I’m respecting my health and and wellness and theirs.
My bow will be filled with the gratitude this pandemic brought our global community to our knees in our shared human fragility as well as our determination to survive and thrive. Like the Samurai Warriors, we will defeat this pandemic and remember the loss of human life with the respect to greet each other with a deep bow.