support this research
Two Japanese Women Greeting

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

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)


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.


1 Illustrations courtesy of Irasutoya


Leave a Comment

Reference for Citations

Duits, Kjeld (). 1890s: The Fine Art of the Japanese Bow, OLD PHOTOS of JAPAN. Retrieved on October 1, 2022 (GMT) from

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


Okayama 1935
School Girls Reading

Japanese school girls reading books.


Yokohama, 1890s

Firefighters in happi coats perform acrobatic stunts on top of bamboo ladders. The ladder stunts were the main event of Japanese New Year celebrations. The demonstrations, called dezome-shiki, were intended to warn people of the dangers of fire, and to demonstrate the agility and courage of the firefighters.


Woman with Folding 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.