Is the fate of Japan’s beloved red little stamp sealed? Japanese society could soon ditch the hanko (seal for signatures) requirement. The government has been discouraging the practice in replace of the unstoppable progress of digitalization.
But not every company is ready to ditch the hanko. It’s still used for standard business etiquette in Japan. Particularly in the financial sector, where big firms have their own unique bowing seal (おじぎ印).
When a document goes down “the ladder,” it requires approval from multiple departments. Signatories tilt their stamps to the left of their bosses’ stamps as if they were bowing. Banking institutions like Mizuho deeply care for hierarchy, and the practice is taught to new employees.
Here’s a funny illustration from @iwanttobejinrui parodying the bowing seal practice.
The bowing seal
— んちゅたぐい (@iwanttobeJinrui) June 5, 2021
From right to left, the stamps of the CEO (社長), the managing director (常務), the department manager (部長), the section manager (課長) and the team manager (係長), whose (exaggerated) stamp does a 180° as if practicing judo on his superior!
For most folks in Japan, the bowing seal custom is a ridiculous excess of courtesy. Traditional Japanese etiquette actually dictates the opposite. A seal should be stamped straight and as harmonious as possible. A titled stamp is almost an insult to seal manufacturers, but every industry has its quirks!
How to bow in Japan?
We have briefly covered Japan’s bowing etiquette in our Japanese job interview guide. While you may never have to tilt your hanko or use one at all, bowing is taken seriously. So here are the different degrees of (standing) bowing based on the formality.
- 会釈: The 15° or “greeting bow” is for friends and colleagues such as people of similar rank with you.
- 敬礼: The 30° or “polite bow” is for VIPs such as your boss, an interviewer, your in-laws, etc.
- 最敬礼: The 45° or “respectful bow” goes up a notch and is kept for religious practice, the emperor and extreme situations such as public apologies.
|CEO, company president
|Deeply respectful bow