Bowing Incorrectly: Aesthetic Labor and Expert Knowledge in Japanese Business Etiquette Training

  • Cynthia Dickel Dunn
Part of the Communicating in Professions and Organizations book series (PSPOD)


Drawing on participant-observation of five different training courses, this chapter analyzes the ideology and pedagogy of business etiquette training for new employees in Japanese companies. Business etiquette training functions as a multimodal phenomenon in which language, voice, appearance, and movement are standardized through an emphasis on the details of correct form. Such training emphasizes primarily deference politeness (negative politeness) over involvement (positive politeness) with little attention to style shifting. The multi-modal politeness register inculcated through this training communicates both deference to customers and the employee’s own demeanor as a refined person. Politeness behaviors thus become a form of aesthetic labor in which employees’ bodies are appropriated to communicate a desired corporate image.



This research was conducted with the support of a Professional Development Assignment from the University of Northern Iowa which allowed me to spend the spring of 2008 as a visiting foreign research scholar at the University of Tsukuba. The research was approved by the IRB of the University of Northern Iowa. I would like to thank Risako Ide for serving as my sponsor at the University of Tsukuba and Chihiro Ogura for assistance with transcription. I am grateful to instructors and other employees of the following companies for their gracious cooperation with my research: Do Creation, Green Sun, JAL Academy, Link and Motivation, Pan Nations, and Temp Staff.


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© The Author(s) 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Cynthia Dickel Dunn
    • 1
  1. 1.University of Northern IowaCedar FallsUSA

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