Bowing, in the Japanese custom, is used to apologize and is also a gesture of gratitude. People perform some form of ojigi to apologize, to bid guests farewell, to express gratitude, to greet others, or even to introduce themselves.
I have learned through experience that the longer and deeper the bow, the more the emotion or the greater the difference in social standing between the two parties. I did not realize this initially and ended up bowing usually shorter than needed, more often with just a slight tilt of my head.
Now I understand how rude I must have seemed back then.
After almost 10 years in Japan, I "think" that i fairly understand what kind of a situation/person asks for what "degree" and "length" of bow.
But believe me, it took quite some struggle to reach here. It isn't easy, especially when it is associated with respect/gratitude towards the other person/party. You cannot take a risk, can you? Not in Japan, at least, although I have heard through friends that Japanese usually do not expect foreigners to bow and don't mind a handshake either.
Well, after all those years of working at it, I better do it - bow appropriately and appear polite and well aware of the Japanese culture :)...and not just another "gaijin"(foreigner)
Note the difference between how men and women bow.
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