How to greet strangers (unknown person) in Japan


Do Japanese dislike shaking hands?


The custom of shaking hands came to Japan from the west. At that time, it was not so easy for Japanese to shake hands with foreigners, as they had been accustomed to traditional hierarchical forms of greetings according to class.

Additionally, under the Japanese feudal system, men and women had been prohibited from attending the same function or exchanging greetings in a friendly manner, so shaking hands was inconceivable. It was natural, therefore, that shaking hands with women was not easily accepted as a greeting in those days.



At present, Japanese businessmen who have many occasions to meet westerners shake hands comfortably. However, Japanese do not shake hands frequently in daily life.



Do we (Japanese) kiss when greeting?


Japanese are reluctant to kiss as a greeting, and prefer to shake hands. For example, a TV scene where Russian men are seen kissing on the lips as a greeting is shocking to them.

Japanese have become more accustomed to various ways of kissing through seeing foreign movies, so we might not be surprised to be kissed lightly on the cheeks as a greeting, but it’s unlikely that we would come up to you for a “greeting” kiss ☺️





The strange thing foreigners in Japan think ☆


If you’ve spent any amount of time living in Japan, you already know exactly what I’m talking about. But in case you’re not familiar, or you call it something else, I am talking about The Gaijin Nod.

You’re walking down the street, admiring the sakura while the sounds of your city provide a pleasant Japan soundscape. As you approach a traffic signal, you notice something. Maybe it’s  just the person’s height.Or something else…



You continue walking, and will lock eyes. At that point, you’re automatically engaged in an uncomfortable game of chicken, never sure which side will make the first move.



Eventually though, one of you will perform The Nod: the slightest bowing of the head, which is usually reciprocated in precisely the same manner, and then both of you will continue on your merry ways, happy to be past that awkward encounter.


What is that? Why do we do that? More specifically, why do we do that instead of actually saying hello? Does another foreigner in Japan make us feel slightly less special about being a foreigner in Japan?


The first rule of being a gaijin in Japan is never say hello to a fellow gaijin in Japan? Or is it like when you’re leaving the adult section of TSUTAYA and someone else walks in, and your eyes meet and you have to scramble for a way out of the situation?





Are any of those the actual reason we do The Nod?

I guess in some ways The Nod makes sense; once you lock eyes with someone, doing nothing is usually the most weird/creepy option. But why do we escape to the cranial bow, the lowest form of greeting gestures?



Over the past few years, I’ve been trying to say “Hello” in cases where I would have previously given The Nod, with mixed results. I have no official data for my study, but the results were roughly as follows:


🔵  50% still responded with The Nod.
🔵  25% responded with “Hi!” or something similar.
🔵  25% didn’t respond at all.





Is the Nod necessarily a bad thing?


Well, no, not necessarily. People do similar stuff all over the world to acknowledge someone without having to actually engage with them. In a lot of circumstances, it’s a “knowing glance” that can help you and your fellow Nodder to feel more at home. But it’s certainly not the best option to accomplish this goal.

In the end, it’s totally up to you to decide how you respond when you see a fellow foreigner. You could continue nodding, but I’d recommend you try upgrading your nod from time to time. Throw in a “Hello!” and/or a smile every once in a while, and see what happens.





You could brighten another person’s day, feel proud that you were slightly more human, and you might feel better yourself as well. I know Japan has crazy/creepy/scary people; so does every other country in the world☺️

If you were a Yankees fan and you were watching a baseball game in Houston, and you saw another person wearing a Yankees cap, that’s the kind of potential camaraderie you can imagine.


The foreigners look different and just acknowledge there is another foreigner living the same or similar experience in a very different culture. I have lived in all continents at it happens especially where foreigners stand out. I really know about …something☺️