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How to Shake Hands with the Japanese


Shaking hands is common in Japanese culture.

However, it is not a habit that’s native to them - meaning there are some cultural differences.

Many foreigners, mainly Westerners, commonly note that “they don’t shake hands like we do.”

Yes, because they’re Japanese!

Although the handshake is used on a daily basis, it’s done differently.

Let's learn more.

Remember, this is just a general overview of Japanese culture - not hard and fast rules that define every Japanese person you'll meet when doing business.

The Bow vs. Handshake

Although the Western-style shaking of hands has been widely accepted in Japan it has not replaced the traditional bow or reduced its overall importance in Japanese society.

Many Japanese use a combination of bowing and shaking hands.

However, there are situations when the bow is a must – for example at a formal event such as a signing ceremony or when hosting important people.

Pretty much all Japanese people, including women, now automatically shake hands when meeting with foreigners.

Japanese Flag


Did you know that Japan is ranked as one of the more difficult business cultures?

The Business Culture Complexity Index™ ranks it 24th out of the top 50 world economies.



Shaking Hands the Japanese Way

Probably the most common cultural faux pas committed by foreigners in Japan is to grab someone’s hand and give it a good old firm shake.

This isn’t nice for the Japanese.

Where you come from it may be a sign of friendliness and a positive attitude but in Japan, it’s aggressive.

When the Japanese shake hands they do it with a certain softness. This can be interpreted by foreigners as ‘weak’ and demonstrative of something being held back, or that things aren’t quite right.

Naturally, this isn’t the case. The foreigner is looking through their cultural lens and misunderstanding the signals.

When shaking hands with the Japanese, the best approach is to test initial reactions. So, if you feel a firm grip, give it back, otherwise ease off on the pressure.

Another thing to be conscious of is to not rush to shake hands; give it a few more seconds than you normally would to allow people to establish context and comfort.

For example, some Japanese may first want to hand you their business card and then shake hands.

Of course, if someone offers his or her hand immediately, it is perfectly all right to take it.

Learn more about Japanese culture

If you want to learn more about Japanese culture, then check out our free online course.

It covers everything from Japanese history and religion to the communication style and etiquette.

It’s completely free although if you want the business section, you need to upgrade to buy a licence.

Watch it below or on the course page where you can also download free resources.

Blog image by GovernmentZA.


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