Miha Sinkovec said:
... If I walk down the street and meet someone I know and have respect for I bow slightly (more of a nod with the head, maybe a slight forward motion of the upper part of my torso).
Living in a fairly conservative part of rural Bavaria, I have seen gentlemen who are being very polite, or are in formal situations, or who are simply being courtly, bow, often accompanying a handshake, but not necessarily.
When first introduced to my current landlord, he all but clicked his heels, bowed, then stepped forward to shake my hand. This despite the fact that he was covered in paint and dirt, wearing coveralls and workshoes, as he prepared the house for us to move in.
Walter's my age, mid-40s, but was raised by very traditional parents. It was entirely instinctive. I think it reflected well upon me, during that initial meeting, that I automatically returned the bow ...
I've seen similar behavior more than once, often in military and govt circles, but on the street, too.
A fine older gentleman I've seen out and about will often bow to an attractive woman passing by and say "Habe d'ire" (Bayerish for "I have the honor!" or "Honored!"). Very suave. Very classy. The women seem universally tickled by the act, too.
I cannot think that there's any argument that, to these folks, the bow is anything more than a courtly, polite gesture.
And yes, I still occasionally find myself suppressing a deep desire to bow whilst entering any given room; and did bow upon entering the local chapel for a memorial ceremony not long ago. Nobody thought much of it, though I was a bit amused at myself.
As for me, having no religious beliefs whatsoever, bowing in the dojo holds the simple meaning of polite interaction within the cultural framework of the art I practice.
I've had a couple of folks over the years seek to study with me, but who professed some angst about reiho. My answer is simple: "This is what we do. If it bothers you in any way, you don't have to do it. However, if you train with us, you should comply with the cultural imperative of the dojo, which in this case, means we bow to open and close class and bow to each other."
I do emphasize that to ME, there is no religious connotation.
One of those applicants thought it over, came to class anyway and bowed happily. Another left and sought another dojo wherein he could train under his own terms.
And again, to ME, that's what the question of bowing or not comes down to: Shall I train in XYZ dojo that requires me to adhere to the internal culture, or go to ABC dojo where they'll let me tailor my training experience as I see fit.
I believe that if we seperate the cultural experience from the training, we are decreasing the value of the art. Others disagree, but that's their perogative.