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Greetings & Language

In contrast to the simple handshake employed in most Western countries, Japanese greet each other by bowing. There are different types of bowing, from a slight nod to a low 90-degree bow. Bowing or nodding your head is also done when apologizing or thanking someone. Since you are not Japanese, a nod of your head is usually enough when you greet someone.

Japanese commonly address each other by using their family name together with a title, the most common being -san. For example, the actor Ken Watanabe would be addressed as Watanabe-san. Only close friends and children refer to each other with their given name. Also, you never refer to yourself using the title ‘san’ as this title is only used when referring to other people.

Staff at a “Ryokan” (Japanese Inn) in KyotoWhen you introduce yourself you bow or nod your head and say ‘hajimemashite’ (ha-ji-may-ma-she-tay), which means ‘nice to meet you’, or literally ‘this is our first meeting’. Next, you introduce yourself by saying your last name followed by the word ‘desu’ (dess) or ‘I am’. Putting it all together: ‘Hajimemashite, (your family name) desu’.

Like anything new, it takes some practice but it is also a lot of fun, and as you meet and interact with the Japanese they will be thrilled you took the time and effort to learn their most basic social custom.

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