Rei image

Japanese kanji can have many meanings. "Rei," the word usually used to signify a bow in Karate dojo's, when combined with other kanji, can signify prayer, courtesy, thanking, or bowing, among others. Although a bow can be considered an integral part of prayer, the bow of Karate is seldom confused with a religious rite.

In Japan, the bow is used much more often in business or social situations than bearing any religious significance. It is most often used much the same way as a handshake in the western world; as a greeting or as a display of gratitude.

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.

Ojigi image

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.

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Information provided by a 3rd party, original author unknown.

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