In Japan, as you know, it’s normal to bow one’s head slightly when you are greeting someone. When bowing to someone of higher social status, you bow a bit lower than usual to show respect. That’s the way I usually greet someone in Japan or someone Japanese in Germany. With one exception – I usually give a big hug to my good Japanese friends.
However, even shaking hands isn’t seen very often between the Japanese. We just don’t have the custom of shaking hands to say hello in Japan, but closing a deal with a handshake might be seen in a business situation, especially when a non-Japanese person is involved.
I still remember the exact moment when I was hugged and got kisses on my cheeks for the first time (I experienced some brief kisses with only our cheeks touching, but I was also given real kisses with the person’s lips on my cheeks). To be honest, especially for the latter, I had never had such close physical contact with someone who was not my boyfriend! I guess my face must have turned red in the moment. You would think it’s just a kiss on the cheek, but it was rather embarrassing for me to some extent. At the same time, it was nice as it gave me the feeling the person who greeted me in such a way truly appreciated me.
Just try to imagine how you would feel if you had never greeted someone by hugging and kissing instead of bowing or doing nothing! To be honest it took me a while to get used to greeting good male friends in the ordinary way.
And now I actually like greetings in Germany. It depends how well you know the person. Every time I meet up with my friends or say goodbye to them, I give a big hug and move my cheeks closer to their cheeks. When I greet someone who is not my close friend or just an acquaintance, I just shake hands with them. Basically, I think it’s the best way to express your feelings directly and showing that you are very happy to see someone again.
My mother likes the way Europeans say hello to each other (I’m not sure if this is only true for Europe) as she’s always flinging her arms around me when I fly back to Japan for vacation, but my father doesn’t for some reason. Quite honestly, it is a bit embarrassing to do it with him, although I don’t hesitate to hug my mother. Instead of hugging my father, we usually shake hands (it’s a bit awkward, but I think it’s fair in front of my mother). With my brothers, I just say hi and give them a tap on the back. That’s it. It’s our way of greeting.
As a conclusion, the Japanese generally don’t hate physical contact with other people; European greeting is simply not familiar to the Japanese.