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Why do Koreans bow?


Koreans have a unique social custom of bowing, which is a way of greeting, showing respect, and expressing gratitude. The tradition of bowing is deeply rooted in Korean culture and has been practiced for centuries. In this article, we will explore the reasons behind the Korean bow and what it signifies.

History of Bowing in Korea

Bowing has been a part of Korean culture since ancient times. The practice originated from China and was introduced to Korea during the Three Kingdoms period. In the past, bowing was reserved for the upper class and was used as a way to show respect to those in higher positions.

The Different Types of Bowing

There are various types of bows in Korea, each with a different meaning. The most common type is the informal bow, which is used in everyday situations to greet friends and acquaintances. The formal bow, on the other hand, is used in more formal situations such as business meetings or when meeting someone for the first time.

The Significance of Bowing

Bowing is a way of showing respect and acknowledging someone’s position or status. It is also a way of expressing gratitude and apologizing for mistakes or wrongdoings. In Korean culture, age and seniority play an important role, and bowing is a way to show respect to those who are older or in higher positions.

The Etiquette of Bowing

There are certain rules and etiquette that one should follow when bowing in Korea. For example, one should always stand up straight and keep their hands by their side when bowing. The depth of the bow also depends on the situation and the level of respect that needs to be shown.

Bowing in Business Settings

Bowing is particularly important in business settings in Korea. A proper bow can make a good impression and show respect to potential business partners. In some cases, the length and depth of the bow can even determine the success of a business deal.

Bowing in Social Settings

Bowing is also important in social settings such as weddings, funerals, and other formal events. It is a way of showing respect to the host and acknowledging their hospitality. In some cases, guests may even bring gifts as a sign of gratitude.

Bowing in Martial Arts

Bowing is an integral part of martial arts in Korea. It is used as a way of showing respect to the instructor and fellow students. In some martial arts, such as Taekwondo, there are specific bows that are used in different situations.

Bowing in Religion

Bowing is also practiced in many religions in Korea, including Buddhism and Confucianism. In these religions, bowing is used as a way of showing respect to the Buddha or ancestors.

The Future of Bowing in Korea

Despite Korea’s modernization and Westernization, bowing remains an important part of Korean culture. While some younger Koreans may not practice it as often as their elders, it is still seen as a sign of respect and politeness.


In conclusion, bowing is an important part of Korean culture that has been practiced for centuries. It is a way of showing respect, expressing gratitude, and acknowledging someone’s position or status. While the rules and etiquette may vary depending on the situation, it remains an integral part of Korean society today.

What does it mean when Korean people bow?

In present day Korea, bowing is a common aspect of daily life and can be a simple gesture to accompany expressions of gratitude or apology. To show respect, one can lower their upper body about 15 degrees in a polite bow.

Why do Koreans have to bow?

Similar to Japanese culture, Korean people often show respect by bowing, especially towards unfamiliar individuals or coworkers. It is not uncommon for students to bow when meeting their older peers or for middle-aged women at restaurants to bow when welcoming guests.

Why do Koreans bow three times?

The customary greeting in Korean culture involves bowing once to the living, twice to show respect for the deceased, and three times to pay homage to a Buddhist shrine or a senior monk or nun. This practice has been part of traditional Korean culture for a long time.

Is bowing common in Korea?

In South Korea, the usual way to greet others is by bowing. A casual bow involves lowering the head with closed eyes and a possible slight bend at the waist. This form of greeting is appropriate for informal situations or when encountering someone of higher social standing.

Why do Koreans bow instead of shaking hands?

In Korean culture, it is common to bow slightly when shaking hands, especially when greeting someone who is older or of higher rank. If someone gives you a polite bow while shaking hands, it is customary to return the gesture.

Is it polite to bow to a Korean?

Similar to other Asian nations, bowing plays an important role in Korean greetings. It is a gesture of respect and can be used to say hello, express gratitude, or say goodbye.

In recent years, the trend of bowing has become more popular among non-Koreans who are interested in Korean culture. There are even classes and workshops available that teach the proper way to bow in different situations. This shows how Korean culture is being shared and appreciated around the world.

In addition to the traditional types of bowing, there are also unique variations that have developed over time. For example, the “90-degree bow” is a deeper and longer bow that is reserved for special occasions or when showing extreme respect. Meanwhile, the “head nod bow” is a quick and informal way of acknowledging someone without a full bow.

It’s worth noting that while bowing is an important part of Korean culture, it is not the only way to show respect or express gratitude. For example, using honorific language (such as adding “-nim” after someone’s name) or offering gifts are also common practices.

Overall, the tradition of bowing in Korea is a fascinating part of the country’s culture and history. It reflects the importance placed on respect, hierarchy, and social harmony in Korean society. Whether you’re a visitor to Korea or a student of its culture, understanding the meaning and etiquette of bowing can help you navigate social situations with grace and respect.

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