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Greeting Norms

“Konnichiwa” (Hello), “Ohayo gozaimasu” (Good morning) and “Konbanwa” (Good evening) can be used in both formal and informal situations, along with a bow. Japanese people greet one another by bowing. There are some particularities and meanings behind bowing. A deeper and longer bow demonstrates respect and its length and depth varies according to seniority and status.

In casual and informal settings, a nod of the head is sufficient, especially if you are a foreigner. The bow is used to greet, thank, apologize, and ask someone for a favor. Even though shaking hands is not a social norm in Japan, it might occur during international business meetings, this should be a light handshake. In this case, you should wait and see how your counterpart expects you to greet. In business settings it is also common to exchange business cards. This is done so by handing your card with both hands, with the Japanese writing facing upwards, if this is the case.

Communication styles

The Japanese prefer an indirect style of communication over a direct one. In Western cultures, being direct and straightforward is considered a quality, but in most Asian cultures not so much. There is a special care for the other’s feelings and, therefore, disagreeing with someone in public can make them ‘lose face’. This concept of ‘Face’ relates to the individual’s and community’s dignity and status, and in Japanese culture, a highly hierarchized one, it is very important, so criticism in public is a big ‘no, no’. Instead of turning down a request, for example, the Japanese will rely on indirect forms of response, such has “It is under consideration.” Non-verbal expressions, like tone of voice, facial expressions and posture are also valuable as they convey a person’s feelings.

Personal space and touching

Despite what you may see in public transportation in Tokyo, the Japanese value personal space and privacy dearly, preferring to keep their distance, at least at arm’s-length.

Eye contact and gestures

Making direct eye contact is considered rude and disrespectful, particularly if the person is older than you. Therefore, you should try to lower your gaze and look at someone’s mouth or chin while talking to them. Even in crowded places, the Japanese will lower their eyes to have a sense of privacy.

Japanese Culture Reference Guide

Japanese Population in the United States

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Also known as standard Japanese, this dialect is spoken in and around the capital city, Tokyo, and it is the mainstream language used in TV, radio, news agencies, etc.

It is the dialect taught throughout the schools of Japan, so children may speak differently from their parents or grandparents. When compared to other dialects, it has less intonation.


This is the second most recognized dialect in Japan, original to the region of Kansai. Spoken in Osaka, Kyoto, and the surrounding areas, even though there are other dialects in the region of Kansai.

This dialect is usually seen in Japanese comedy and animes. What distinguishes it from other dialects is its tonal features, along with it being faster and having more intonation than, for instance, the Kanto dialect.


Spoken between Tokyo and Kansai, in the region of Aichi-ken. East of this region, however, a different dialect, Mikawa-ben, is spoken.

What sets this dialect apart is its distinctive way of conjugating verbs as well as the addition of the auxiliary verb mai or myaa to emphasize.

For instance, “Issho ni iko!” (Let’s go about together) becomes “Issho ni ikomyaa!”.


Region to the east of Tokyo and south of Hokkaido. This dialect is not usually heard outside of this region. Also, there are many other dialects spoken throughout this territory. It is one of the hardest dialects to understand.

Some say, speakers of this dialect, move their mouth as little as possible, because it is so cold in this region, aspiring the words, and for that reason they can come across as lazy.


The dialect of Hokkaido can be heard in the island of Hokkaido, separated from the main island, just north of the Tohoku region.

Due to its proximity to the region, it bears some similarities to the Tohoku dialect, but because of the influence of modern age settlers the accent is closer to standard Japanese. In this region, there are also speakers of a unique, endangered language, Ainu.


Dialect of the Chogaku region, northwest of the Kansai region. East of Hiroshima, people speak another dialect. Associated with the Yakuza (Japanese mafia) because of the way it is portrayed in the media.

One of the differences between this dialect and standard Japanese is the pronoun “I”. In standard Japanese it is “Watashi” and it becomes “Washi” in the Hiroshima dialect.


Spoken in the southwest of the island. And, you guessed it, throughout this region there are also a vast number of dialects. Like the Tohoku dialect, it is difficult for other Japanese speakers to understand this dialect, mostly due to its different vowel pronunciation. It is characterized as a rough dialect.


Spoken in Okinawa, a group of islands in between Japan and Taiwan, closer to the latter than to Tokyo. Being so far away from Japan, and each other, resulted in the development of different languages, the Ryukyuan languages.

A set of six languages that are of japonic origin, but very different from Japanese. These languages are now endangered and in the verge of extinction.

UNESCO recognizes them as languages, but officially, the Japanese government refers to them as a dialect.

Japanese Dialects

There is a total of 128 million Japanese speakers worldwide, over 90% of them in Japan. Although it does not have the official language status, it is the country’s national language. 

Aside from Japan, Japanese is also spoken in other countries, mainly in the United States and Brazil where there are large numbers of Japanese speakers.

Countries Where Japanese is the Official Language

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  • Japan

The Japanese started to migrate to the United States in small numbers following the social and cultural changes caused by the Meiji Restoration period in 1868.  Since then, the Japanese American population has grown and as of 2015 there were 1.4 million Japanese descendants residing in the U.S.

Leading states with the highest Japanese American population:

Of course, each of the 50 states is home to many Japanese but the ones listed stand out based on annual data from the American Community Survey published by the U.S. Census Bureau

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