In Japan, there are different types of bows. Some of them are fairly casual. Others are more formal. But one type of bowing still brings a feeling of shame. And it's sometimes used when people totally screw up.
This style of bowing is called "dogeza" (土下座) and it's often translated as "kneeling down on the ground". In the past, it was used for bowing in front of powerful and important people as well as apologizing for huge muck-ups. It's "I'm sorry" when "I'm sorry" won't cut it.
In Japan, putting yourself on the ground like this makes one as low as one can possibly go. It is a way to degrade oneself to express how truly apologetic one is or to show extreme deference—or even ask for a huge favor. What's more, it leaves the individual's neck exposed. Today, in a Japan where people don't carry swords, that doesn't mean as much. In the past, however, it did.
(Please be aware that nowadays when Japanese people see the Emperor in public, they don't start throwing themselves like this on the ground.)
Earlier this week on Twitter, photos of a young man doing dogeza in Shinjuku went viral on Twitter in Japan; it was retweeted thousands of times.
With the inevitable hipster filter.
In the past, people would usually forgive those who bowed down like this. No clue if this woman was as forgiving. Likewise, no clue what this guy is apologizing for. (As commenter Bellamy also points out, the woman is cutting the man's hair, too!)
Since doing dogeza is seen as humiliating, especially in public, Japanese people don't like to do it! Loads of people probably never have and never will. And since people don't like to do this, most folks never get the experience of someone bowing down before them.
But good news! At a recent University of Tokyo spring festival, a young man offered to bow down before anyone for a mere 100 yen (US$1) a pop.
This is a college festival gag! Often during school fairs like this, students will come up with funny booths. One year at a Waseda University festival, you could play drumming game Taiko no Tatsujin with dude's butts. This kind of stuff is supposed to be fun.
Dogeza isn't always embarrassing—nor is it always used to apologize. As The Spirit of Japan points out, when couples ask for their parents' permission to get married, they might bow down.
A similar style bow is also performed in tea ceremony. Likewise, here it's not done to apologize, but rather, as a sign of respect. What's more, in this situation, dogeza is done on tatami mats, so it's feels quite different from, say, a dude groveling in the street—whether you're paying him a hundred yen or not!
Previously, Kotaku discussed how sometimes saying "sorry" is not enough in Japan.