support this research
Two Japanese Women Greeting

1890s
The Fine Art of the Japanese Bow

Artist Unknown
Publisher Unknown
Medium Albumen Print
Period Meiji
Location Studio
Image No. 80129-0038
Purchase Digital File
Author

This dramatized studio photograph shows two Japanese women greeting each other while seated on zabuton (座布団) cushions. Can you take a bow the Japanese way? Read on to learn how.

The two women perform a senrei (浅礼) bow by placing their hands on the floor in front of them. This bow usually involves a 30° bow. Usually, the gaze is directed at the floor, but the photographer may have wanted to show the models’ faces.

Notice the present in between the two women.

Bowing probably entered Japan with the ‘official’ introduction of Buddhism sometime during the Asuka (538 to 710) and Nara periods (710–794). At that time, bowing was a reflection of status. But over the centuries it became an integral part of daily life, expressing respect, appreciation or apologies.

There are sitting and standing bows, and different bows for different occasions. Basically, the standing bows shown below can also be performed while sitting on the floor in a traditional Japanese manner. However, never while sitting on a chair.

71205-0010 - Customer Arriving at a Japanese Ryokan, 1890s
Personnel welcomes an arriving customer at a Ryokan (Japanese inn) by sitting on the floor and bowing deeply, ca. 1890s.

Types of bows

There are four main bows, ranging from 15 degrees to the nose almost touching the floor:

Eshaku (会釈) – 15°

A bow performed with people of equal business or social rank.

Eshaku bow – 15°
Two women bowing to each other, 1890s.
Two women wearing kimono, geta and traditional hairstyles bow to each other at a set in a studio, ca. 1890s.

Keirei (敬礼) – 30~45°

Used with higher-ranking people, or people you must give extra respect, like in-laws or teachers. Also known as futsuurei (普通礼).

Keirei or Futsuurei bow – 30~45°
Children and a teacher bow to each other, 1960
Children and a teacher bow to each other as class begins at an elementary school near Tokyo, 1960 (Showa 35). Photo by IJsbrand Rogge.

Saikeirei (最敬礼) – 45~70°

This bow shows especially deep respect or regret. During the Edo Period (1603~1868), servants would perform this bow for their feudal daimyou lords.

Saikeirei bow – 45~70°
120824-0003 - Greeting on the street, 1904. Art by Georges Bigot.
People greeting on the street during New Year, 1904 (Meiji 37). Art by French artist Georges Ferdinand Bigot (1860-1927).

Dogeza (土下座)

Dogeza

This is the deepest bow. It is a seated bow with the forehead virtually (or actually) on the floor. This is especially performed when the person has done something deeply disgraceful. These days you see this bow mainly in movies and TV series.

It is occasionally also performed by company directors or government officials when faulty products or negligence have resulted in deaths or disease, or by people asking for extremely special favors.

Old photos suggest this bow was also often used as a regular greeting.

70613-0002 - Two women in kimono bow deeply
Two women greeting each other with an extremely deep bow. Unattributed, hand-colored albumen print, ca. 1890s.

Notes

1 Illustrations courtesy of Irasutoya

Published
Updated

Leave a Comment

Reference for Citations

Duits, Kjeld (). 1890s: The Fine Art of the Japanese Bow, OLD PHOTOS of JAPAN. Retrieved on May 27, 2022 (GMT) from https://www.oldphotosjapan.com/photos/714/two-japanese-women-greeting

I have a small favor to ask

Old Photos of Japan aims to be your personal museum for Japan's visual heritage to increase our understanding of Japanese culture and society.

Finding, acquiring, scanning, restoring, researching and conserving these vintage images, and making the imagery and research freely available online, takes serious time, money and effort.

I do this without charging for access, selling user data, or running ads.

Your support helps to make this possible, and ensures that this important visual heritage of Japan will not be lost and forgotten.

If you can, please consider supporting Old Photos of Japan with a regular amount each month. Or become a volunteer.

Thank you,
Kjeld Duits

support this research

Explore More

…

1890s
Two Half-Nude Women

A woman is sleeping on a futon, while another woman is smoking a kiseru pipe (煙管). Both of the women are bare-breasted.

…

1920s
School Children doing Exercises

A large number of Japanese elementary school children perform exercises in the school yard.

…

1910s
Woman with Fan

A young Japanese woman in kimono and traditional hairstyle is holding a sensu (folding fan).

Add Comment

There are currently no comments on this article.