The Japanese Dogeza, an Etiquette to Remember

What is the dogeza?

In the Japanese culture, the dogeza is a means of showing deep respect to another person. It is an element of traditional Japanese etiquette. The word dogeza means sitting on the ground, but for the Japanese, it does not simply involve sitting.

The dogeza, in the Japanese culture, is such a trivial matter because it involves a full bow – something that the modern Japanese rarely do nowadays. Some experts even say that the art of dogeza has been lost in the younger generation of Japanese since there is no appropriate period or instance (or situation of intense need) to use such a powerful and passionate gesture.

A full bow does not only involve the bending of the back. It involves kneeling on the ground and completely bowing. Both palms are placed flat on the ground and the back is bent so that the head touches the ground. Based on the beliefs of the Japanese, this is a means of expressing a deep and sincere apology. It is often given to a person of a higher status.

For the Japanese, the dogeza is trivial because it involves lowering one’s self in favor of another person. A dogeza is a way to put one’s self in a shameful position, to show deference in favor of a person of a higher rank.  It is an action that shows the receiver that the giver of the dogeza neglects his image and accepts the shame that is involved with performing the gesture.

Artists usually depict images of the dogeza in media and make it look like a common gesture in Japan. It could be read or seen in literature, manga, and even anime. However, it is not that common in the daily lives of the Japanese.

Say, a person has done a crime and must seek for forgiveness. Performing a dogeza does not mean simply asking for forgiveness, it is a way to plead for it. In another case in the earlier times, a peasant is asking for a loan from a land lord, he or she may perform a dogeza as a means of showing great need. On a positive note, a person receiving the dogeza is almost always inclined to forgive once they receive such a formal and sincere apology.

Dogeza in Japanese history

In truth, the dogeza was such a common sight during the earlier Japanese times contrary to its current use and function today. Based on historical data recorded by ancient traders coming to Japan, they find the custom a bit unusual. They have seen that commoners would often fall to the ground in the dogeza form for every time an entourage of a nobleman passes them by on the street.

It is also recorded that these people clasp their hands in prayer. This was the acceptable tradition at the time, and it was a means of showing great respect to the noblemen. However, times have changed through the centuries and the dogeza has soon lost its role in the daily lives of the Japanese. It is now only reserved for very intense and critical moments.

What is interesting is that there are cases as well when the dogeza is performed as a form of gratitude than an apology. Sometimes, when a person wants to deeply express thanks to another person and is overjoyed they can perform very respectful bows like the dogeza.

Different levels of Japanese apology

Formal Apology

Gomenasai – This is what they call as a formal familiar expression. It is a means of showing sincere apologies but it is only given to people of close or familiar relationship. It is not common to say this to a stranger or to a senior. It may be used for friends, family members and colleagues.

Moushiwake gozaimasen deshita – This is a formal apology which is used for very grave mistakes. It is often used in employment or in businesses. It is also common to hear this kind of apologies between businesses and its clients. It is often used in situations that caused serious repercussions on someone else. For instance, causing a delay in production, creating losses in the company, and the like.

Informal Apology

Sumimasen – The word sumimasen is something that can be heard on a daily, weekly, hourly basis. It is so common that it sometimes become habitual for some people. This is an expression the Japanese use when offering mild apologies for small inconveniences. For instance, asking for a small favor, bumping into someone in public or when speaking to a stranger. It is an expression to say sorry for taking up their time.

Gomen ne – This is a casual apology that is given to friends, colleagues, and family members. It literally translates to “sorry, okay?”. It is a kawaii way of apologizing and usually involves the use of cuteness or charm to get forgiveness for a very slight or mild inconvenience. A lot of people actually say that this kind of apology is girly.

The Importance of Etiquette in Japan

In almost all aspects of the daily lives of the Japanese, etiquette is highly prized. There is proper etiquette even with people who are in a familiar level with a person. Proper manners are observed during meals when meeting strangers in public when being introduced to another person and much more.

For a lot of people who are looking at the Japanese at an outsider’s perspective, it might be difficult to understand how these people keep up with all the rules. In fact, a lot of foreign travelers think that some common customs in Japan can feel a little restrictive.

However, the Japanese are a people of honor and respect. These are the most important pillars that make their society work as harmoniously as it has for thousands of years. Although there is news that the modernization of the younger generations has affected their attitudes significantly, honor and respect are still highly prized in Japan.

Since proper manners are expected as a social behavior in Japan, those who deviate from these tend to be frowned upon. It is recommendable for anyone planning to travel to Japan to read and learn about the basic rules of social behavior. This may include how to behave when visiting someone’s home, using public toilets, using chopsticks and visiting sacred places of worship and more. For those who would like to visit Japan on a business trip, learning about business card customs, formal greetings, and after work, gatherings might be recommendable.

This is due to the fact that certain gestures in some countries may be unusual or disrespectful for the Japanese.  Bowing may be funny for some people, but for the Japanese bowing is a very serious matter. On a positive note, they are more forgiving for foreign travelers who are not that familiar with the common social traditions of the country.

The Art Bowing in Japanese Culture

How much these people value honor can be seen in the importance of bowing to the daily lives of the Japanese. Bowing is one of the most common forms of showing proper etiquette for the Japanese. It is also the gesture which is quite well-known for non-locals. What is interesting about bowing for the Japanese is that it is taught to children at a very young age. They are taught in school about the formal ways of greeting another person while experience teaches them how to deal with more familiar or casual situations.

What is even more interesting is the fact that there are companies in Japan that provide a period and budget for training their staff regarding proper executions of formal bows. This is very intriguing because bowing is such a common behavior for the Japanese that receiving formal training for it truly means that it is regarded of high importance.

Different forms of bows other than the dogeza

There are different forms and levels of bows in Japan. There are basic formal bows and basic casual bows. There are bows which are considered as very formal as well. The most common forms are the basic bows.

Usually, a basic bow is performed with a minor bending of the back. The individual performing the bow must hold his or her back straight. What is interesting about bows is that they are gender specific as well. Men and boys are expected to place their hands at the sides while girls and women are expected to place their hands on their laps. This type of bow may be performed while seated or while standing. However, it will be more formal when performed with both parties standing. This kind of bow is a formal bow.

The next common form of the bow is the casual bow which usually involves the tilting of the head. This is often given to strangers in public or when being received in stores and restaurants. Usually, this bow is only about 10 degrees to 15 degrees.

Very formal bows are less common as they are used in very limited situations only. Often times these are used for formal introductions when applying for jobs when meeting parents or elders, and the like. If a basic bow involves a 10 to 15-degree bend of the back, very formal bows are deeper at 30 degrees. Very formal bows are highly prized in Japan.

Among the most important notes to remember is that eye contact must be avoided while bowing. The eyes are usually cast to the ground as a form of showing respect to the other person. It is also a means of sending a message that the person giving the bow is putting his guard down by being unarmed and unprepared for the attack, giving the receiver the upper hand.

Also, a person of a lower status or rank usually bows longer and allows the other party to release from the bow earlier. A superior greeting an inferior would only slightly nod, while the other will perform a more formal bow. If the bows are longer and deeper, these are often considered to involve more respect and emotion.

Bows of apology are of a different kind. Usually, they are much deeper and they last longer than ordinary greeting bows. If a person is apologizing for a severe offense, this is the time when a dogeza might be needed. However, 45-degree bows are more common, especially in formal or business situations. The same is true for bows of gratitude.

The equivalent of the dogeza in other cultures


This is an informal terminology to prostrating one’s self before another person. This is a westernized term for bowing which is similar to dogeza. It involves kneeling and bowing before another person but is done only by the preference of the receiver. In this context, it is often times ordered rather than given.

However, in history, this is actually known to be a Chinese custom. It is borrowed from the Cantonese word kau tau – a gesture highly similar to a dogeza. It is described as kneeling and bowing where the head will touch the ground.


This is a means of showing respect to a higher authority in many western cultures. This is done by commoners, knights, followers and the like to royalty. Genuflection is the act of bending one knee to the ground and bowing the head slightly while casting the eye to the ground. This is also a common religious gesture which is common for Catholics upon entering the church. Just like the dogeza, it is a way of showing that the person giving the bow is letting his or her guard down to the receiver. This is especially true since the receiver is a higher rank, superiority, or royalty.


Just like the genuflection and kowtow, this is a form of showing respect or submission to the receiver. There are different degrees to this. The basic degree is slight bowing of the head and the most extreme involve a full drop to the floor. Extreme prostration involves the person being flat on their bellies with their arms laid flat forming a cross with the body. The face is also directly pressed to the ground. Some say that this is more extreme than the dogeza and is a religious gesture for some cultures in the world.