Okinawa Hai fallback


People here in Japan bow. You already knew that though.

I am a fan of the bowing. You never have to wonder how to greet or bid farewell to someone. That’s not the case for me in the States. Do I shake a hand? Give a hug? Nod? Smile? Appropriate greetings and farewells confuse me at home. I don’t want to appear overly casual or formal ever. In non-professional situations the handshake feels silly especially with another woman. I’d rather pinch her cheek or give her a high-five. At least it would seem friendlier than shaking her hand. The rules just aren’t clear to me. Or they don’t exist.

Here in Japan the rules are more clear or at least I’m blissfully ignorant to the nuances. I throw bows around happily all day long. Seems like everyone else is engaged in the same song and dance. So onward I bow.

Good morning. Bow.
Thanks for the groceries. Bow.
Yes. My dog IS cute. Bow.
Nice to meet you. Bow.
I have no idea what you just said. Bow.

Naturally, I impose this behavior on Eli like a mother does. This way, not that way, MY way.  I put one of my hands behind his head and the other on his belly and push forward creating a passable bow. He obliges in so much as he doesn’t scream. And then yesterday as we walked down the street, a couple passed us on the sidewalk. Eli made eye contact, placed his hand behind his head and pushed himself forward into a bow.

Then I crumbled into a pile of love and glee.


  1. I’ll comment! It’s so nice to see your posts from the archives! I want to say what I think when I read your posts – “I love Meredith!” I love the way you begin, middle and end things, and I love the way you put things. I hate that I arrived a wee bit too late to have met you when I visited in ’08! I hope you and yours are well!! Love, Robin in Atlanta who visits Okinawa every single day on Okinawa Hai! (Hello to all my Okinawa friends!! Happy New Year!)

  2. That’s so true Meredith, the bow is all-encompassing, perfect for every situation as it takes away all the guess-work and awkwardness when you’re unsure how to greet someone. Enjoyed reading this post…..

  3. I agree, bowing is so easy and feels more natural as a greeting (hello or goodbye). I, too, feel awkward being introduced to Americans (especially female) because if you do handshake…is it too touchy feely..,but if I don’t, I feel almost impolite. hmmm. wouldn’t it be nice take some Japanese customs to the states?

  4. I love it! That is so adorable. There have been times lately when I wonder if William [16mo.] is bowing. Probably wishful thinking. But I’m with Lan – you’ve inspired me to be intentional in passing this on. AND you are so right – such an easy way to be polite.
    Thanks! bow

  5. Good Laugh! Cheers!
    But next time, teach Eli never to show his neck when bowing. That was the first thing my Judo teacher taught me 31 years ago!
    I myself actually am more comfortable bowing than shaking hands with Japanese, friends or not, in spite of all the sport I practice with them. You can precisely how much respect you ( or, don’t) feel towards your interlocutor!
    Will come back!

  6. Thanks for giving me a little chuckle with your insightful, but entertaining passage before I head to bed tonight, Meredith. It strengthens my motivation to instill this simple, but wonderful way of greeting in Alan & Maddy when we see our Okinawan neighbors in the morning. Thanks again!