What is the difference between '礼', '礼儀', '礼に', '敬礼', and 'お辞儀'? More generally, what does '礼' mean when used stand-alone as a noun? Can '礼' be used stand-alone or would that be considered unusual?

Context: I am asking both about in regular (informal) speech, and writing. Could '礼' be used stand-alone as say, a chapter to a book?

As I understand it:

  • '礼儀' refers to manners as a whole
  • '礼に' refers to politeness or polite acts
  • 'お辞儀' refers to bowing as a whole, including specific sub-categories like '座礼', or '敬礼'

Google translates '礼' as "thanks", but that seems somewhat inconsistent (or at least imprecise) when compared to other research. Would it be reasonable to disregard this translation?

Would it be correct to think of '礼' as literally meaning 'bow', or more generally referring to greetings overall?


  • This question on the difference between "マナー” and "礼儀" gave me an idiomatic sense of what could be called 'courtesy' (or more specifically, the expression 'common courtesy', as separate from politeness) in English.

  • I'm looking to understand how '礼に' is used (twice) in this karate-do precept - would it be correct to say the author is referring only to politeness or courtesy, and not to the physical act of bowing? I'm not sure.

Karate-do begins and ends with bowing.
Hitotsu, karate-do wa rei ni hajimari rei ni owaru koto o wasuruna
  • I asked a friend about their experience at a Japanese immersion school, and they mentioned classes ending with the instructor saying '礼': the class was expected to bow after hearing this. Does this seem like a typical experience (which would indicate common usage), or does it strike you as unusual?

  • I have also seen the English word 'bow' translated as: '船首', '会釈', and '一礼' - what do these words mean? How are these words used in general speech? Or do they have limited use outside of conversations specifically about etiquette and forms of bowing?

  • 5
    礼に is not a noun. It's just 礼 followed by the particle に.
    – naruto
    Jul 10, 2020 at 5:47

1 Answer 1


Short Answer:

  • お辞儀: a bowing gesture
  • 敬礼: a saluting gesture (this)
  • 礼儀: courtesy; manner
  • : 1) =お辞儀; 2) =礼儀; 3) word of thanks; 4) token of gratitude, favor given in return
  • 会釈: a casual, shallow and silent bow
  • 一礼: a suru-verb, "to bow (once, casually)"; rarely used as a regular noun
  • (船首: the bow of a ship (this))

お辞儀 is a plain term that refers to the bowing gesture itself, and the intent is not very important. 敬礼 almost always refers to a saluting action today (technically, 敬礼 also refers to a type of Japanese-style bowing as shown in this picture, but it's rarely used in this way in practice; the 最敬礼 in the picture is usually just called 深いお辞儀).

礼儀 includes manners like table manners, but basically everything that makes you polite, gentle and respectful is part of 礼儀. It includes knowing when to say "yes" instead of "yeah" or how to dress properly.

礼 has the broadest sense among the words you listed. 礼を返す means "to bow back (to someone)" or "to give a gift in turn", 礼を言う means "to say thank you", 礼をする means "to return a favor", and 礼を知る means almost the same thing as 礼儀を知る. In a phrase like 空手道は礼に始まり礼に終わる, 礼 refers to both the physical action and the politeness/respect expressed by that action (に is a particle that corresponds to "with" in your translation). "礼!" at the end of each class is very common at 小学校 but rare after graduating 高校.

会釈 refers to a casual and shallow bowing, like something you may do when you saw a colleague in a restroom.

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