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This week’s topic is based on an article I read on Japan Today about the importance of aisatsu in Japan.

When I first came to Japan, I worked for the Sapporo City Board of Education. I remember being very surprised when I saw everyone stand up for the “morning greeting” for the first time. It seemed very strange to me.

The article mentions that older Japanese people often complain that the younger generation are not very good at aisatsu. The worst example I have ever seen of this was at my old university. One day, a student knocked on my office door. He was obviously in the wrong place, and when he opened the door, he just looked at me, said, “あれっ!” and left without saying anything else! I thought that was very rude, so I chased him down the corridor to explain what he should have said.

To give an example of the opposite extreme, I visited a high school in Nagoya a couple of years ago that had a very strong baseball team. As I walked past the baseball ground, every student I passed stopped, took off their cap, bowed, and greeted me. It was very nice, although it did seem a bit militaristic.

So what do you think? Are aisatsu really important? Do you think there is a difference between older and younger Japanese people in their thinking on this topic? What kind of aisatsu do you like?

Look forward to hearing your thoughts.

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24 Comments

  1. ashmoleanmuse on Monday October 21st, 2013 at 02:49 PM

    Hi David,

    Thanks for the explanation.

    I can’t remember your original comment, but you don’t need “the” unless you particularly want to say which wrapping paper you are talking about.

    My original comment was “I gave gifts wrapped with beautiful paper that I had selected to my American friends.” I thought I needed “the” because I was talking about the paper that I selected.

    Articles really annoy me.

    Oh, and when you get a TV in your new house, just try NHK WAVE on BS1. That’s one of my favourite documentaries.

    http://www.nhk.or.jp/documentary/

    Ash



  2. ashmoleanmuse on Monday October 21st, 2013 at 02:51 PM

    The above is off topic, sorry.



  3. YU on Monday October 21st, 2013 at 08:52 PM

    Hi everyone,

    > Are aisatsu really important?

    If I was asked why aisatu is important, I would not know how to answer. As the article says, my answer would be the most popular one, “Because greetings make others feel happy, since it shows that you acknowledge them.”

    > Do you think there is a difference between older and younger Japanese people in their thinking on this topic?

    I’m not really sure if there’s any difference between them in their thinking on greetings. Younger people tend to defy regular customs more often than older people do, but as you grow older, you see the world and begin to think like, “If greetings settle everything, then why don’t I try it? It’s much less stressful.”(挨拶すれば事が済むならやった方が楽)

    > What kind of aisatsu do you like?

    I don’t really think all kinds of aisatsu are important, but the article says that it’s hardly unusual for workers to greet each other with a “Good morning” anywhere in the world. I couldn’t believe my eyes. When do you say “Good morning”, then? Only to your family at home? “Good morning” is a dead expression? In Germany everyone says “Guten Morgen” or “Morgen” at the office.
    Anyway, personally I found a bit strange that the article says countries where people greet each other at the office like Japan is weird, and the rest of the world is normal. I wonder why “no greeting culture” is superior. I admit that there’re certainly a lot of strange greetings in Japan like “Osakini shiturei shimasu” or “Otsukaresama desu”, but still, I prefer countries with a greeting culture, it’s heart-warming.

    I agree with this comment.

    – I don’t know if this is unique to Japan, there was a time not to long ago in the West when greetings were equally important. People would say hello in your neigborhood, at work and people also just stopped by at your house to say hi. I just think we need to find a little of that back, and great that Japan hasn’t lost it all.



  4. Biwa on Tuesday October 22nd, 2013 at 09:41 AM

    Hi YU,

    I just thought you might have mistaken the phrase “hardly unusual.” 「普通でないことはほとんどない=よくあることだ」So I guess the writer wanted to say 「世界中どこの仕事場でもお互いに『おはよう』と言うのはよくあることだ(ごく当たり前のことだ)しかし、日本では少々事情が複雑なようだから調査してみました
    I didn’t know the expression, either. Really confusing, isn’t it!

    Hi everyone,

    I happened to have read the same article a while ago, and I thought David would bring this up some day for discussion. (bingo!)

    Anyway, aren’t things a bit exaggerated again? I mean, as the one we discussed last week?
    I don’t think people would stand up just to greet each other at work places. I guess it was just part of the “morning meeting(朝礼)” where people exchange information before starting work!

    Saying “Good morning!” or “Hello!” or just “Hi!” is just something I do every day without even thinking. I don’t think I do it to make people happy. It’s just something so natural as putting your clothes on when you go out! I don’t think you need a reason there.

    There was a paragraph that mentioned a father getting angry because his sons couldn’t greet their grandparents. I don’t really understand this situation. Didn’t the grandparents say ‘Hi’ first? If they did, does it mean the sons ignored them? That’s impossible! Greetings are not things you can do or not, it’s just a natural action and reaction.

    Of course, there are some weird phrases as “Excuse me for leaving before you.” or “You’ve been working hard(Personally, I think it’s more close to ‘Welcome back!’ though)”. However, I guess people in other countries have certain phrases they exchange, too, in similar situations. It might be just “Hi.” or “See you tomorrow.” but you still say something instead of just leaving or returning to your office, I guess. Of course, workplaces are not the military, so you don’t need to shout it to the whole office. That would be weird!



  5. YU on Tuesday October 22nd, 2013 at 09:49 AM

    Hi Biwa,

    Thank you for your help!

    I’ve got go now, I’ll read the ariticle carefully once again.



  6. Biwa on Tuesday October 22nd, 2013 at 09:53 AM

    Hi YU,

    行ってらっしゃーい!



  7. YU on Tuesday October 22nd, 2013 at 03:32 PM

    Hi Biwa and everyone,

    Thank you, now I know what “hardly unusual” means!

    I agree with you that the things are a bit exaggerated in the article, but as it says, I think it is true that Japanese people often judge other people’s humanity by if they can exchange greetings “properly”. For example, whenever I see neigbors or acquaintances of some criminal being intervewed what the criminal is like on TV, most of them refer to the point if s/he usually greets them or not before anything else. I think it is an interesting phenomenon and shows how much we regard greetings as important.

    > I don’t really understand this situation. Didn’t the grandparents say ‘Hi’ first? If they did, does it mean the sons ignored them? That’s impossible!

    I don’t really know what you mean here, but I guess the father got angry simply because his children didn’t say “Hi!” to their grandparents or they didn’t return greetings to them. Is it impossible?

    In my son’s case, just until recently he couldn’t return greetings to neighbors when leaving for kindergarten. I was a bit sad about the fact, but I didn’t force him to greet them or explain the importance of greetings because I had heard from some of my friends that children will learn to greet others soon or later only if parents always greet others. To be honest, I only half believed their stories, but it was really true. Once he leaned to greet, he began to behave socially in public.
    Of course, greetings shouldn’t be a compulsory for you, but I think it could be a start of your relations with the world. So, I understand greetings sometimes bother some people, but I don’t think exchanging greetings itself is a bad custom, and always getting annoyed with someone’s greetings is harmful to your health!



  8. Fumie on Wednesday October 23rd, 2013 at 05:29 AM

    Hi David and everyone,

    I think greeting plays an important role in Japanese society and it’s a beautiful culture. We are taught to greet people who we know when we see them from early childhood at home and at school.
    I make it a rule to greet people from me with a smile and tell my sons to greet people. I feel good when people greet me or greet me back with a smile!
    I don’t think younger people depreciate greeting. It all depends on people.
    Like David’s example, students who belong to school clubs especially do polite greeting.



  9. Biwa on Wednesday October 23rd, 2013 at 09:28 AM

    correction:
    “more close” should be “closer”!

    Hi YU,

    >For example, whenever I see neigbors or acquaintances of some criminal being intervewed what the criminal is like on TV, most of them refer to the point if s/he usually greets them or not before anything else.

    You’re right. Saying “Hi” to your neighbors is probably more than just a greeting! But it’s funny because the criminals are usually seen as an ordinary person who always greets his neighbors. I always wonder if he didn’t ever show any signs of being a strange or dangerous man.

    >I don’t really know what you mean here

    Sorry, I should have explained more clearly.
    To me, the story sounded weird because it seemed impossible to have a video chat without starting it with a “Hi,(the sons names)”. I think the sons would have naturally responded “Hi grandpa/grandma!” And it’s a bit weird if the sons were able to continue the conversation without responding to the first “Hi.” They were talking with their grandparents, not with strangers, right? I would have understood the story if the sons were too shy and couldn’t do the whole chat. So I didn’t really understand what the father expected the sons to say. Just as your son’s case, I think children learn to say “Hi” by seeing(hearing?) other people say it. So the article made me think that the adults themselves didn’t try to greet each other at all.



  10. Biwa on Wednesday October 23rd, 2013 at 10:06 AM

    Hi Fumie and everyone,

    >I think greeting plays an important role in Japanese society and it’s a beautiful culture.

    Yes, it is often said so, but sadly, I sometimes see very opposite cases. For example, when you’re walking through very narrow places like pavements, escalators or stairs, many people try to force their way through, or simply bump into other people without saying anything. I think it’s very rude.

    When I went to the supermarket the other day, I was standing in line for the cashier. The lines were all very long, so if you wanted to line up for the farthest line, you had to either detour to avoid bumping into other lines or simply go across all the lines. As you might guess, there were about ten people who crossed in front of me, and not surprisingly, no one said “Excuse me.” One of them even kicked my shopping basket! I felt really disgusted and ashamed of being a Japanese myself.



  11. YU on Wednesday October 23rd, 2013 at 11:50 AM

    Hi Biwa,

    Thank you for your explanation.
    I didn’t read the paragraph as carefully as you!
    I simply interpreted it that while the father was chatting with the grandparents and his sons happend to be passing by the place, but they didn’t greet their grandparents. The father got angry with them because the grandparents must have seen the sons were there.

    As for your supermarket story, I know exactly what you mean. Some Japanese people are very polite to only people who are acuainted with them and often behave horribly badly to strangers!
    日本人ってこわ~い!!

    Hi everyone,

    Did anyone watch the TV program featuring a Japanese woman married an English man last night? She was complaing about the way her husband did the dishes, and it was like perfectly what we discussed with Kattie a little while ago! He never rinses the dishes after washing them with washing-up liquid. The program visited another family to confirm if it was only the case in the above-mentioned family, but the wife of the latter-mentioned family told the Japanese TV interviewer that she did dishes in the same way, too, and she even said that it was a traditional way of washing the dishes in the UK! Of course, celeblities in the TV studio all said, “え~っ、きったな~い!”, but as you all know, Kattie told us that she always rinses them like we do.
    Japanese TV is sometimes unreliable!



  12. YU on Wednesday October 23rd, 2013 at 11:55 AM

    correction ;

    > while the father was chatting with the grandparents and his sons happend to be passing by the place

    …chatting with the grandparents, his sons happend to….



  13. ashmoleanmuse on Wednesday October 23rd, 2013 at 03:36 PM

    Test



  14. ashmoleanmuse on Wednesday October 23rd, 2013 at 03:43 PM

    I was trying to change the colour of the text but it didn’t work out.

    Ash



  15. ashmoleanmuse on Wednesday October 23rd, 2013 at 03:46 PM

    Hi Biwa,

    The lines were all very long, so if you wanted to line up for the farthest line, you had to either detour to avoid bumping into other lines or simply go across all the lines. As you might guess, there were about ten people who crossed in front of me, and not surprisingly, no one said “Excuse me.”

    It may be because most Japanese kids are not raised to say “Excuse me” in those situations. Having said that, someone who learned to say “excuse me” in his/her childhood would not necessarily say “excuse me” to strangers. As YU mentioned, the Japanese are not good at considering the needs and feelings of an out-group. They just care about those of their families, friends, colleagues.

    Ash



  16. Fumie on Wednesday October 23rd, 2013 at 10:39 PM

    Hi Biwa and YU,

    >As for your supermarket story, I know exactly what you mean. Some Japanese people are very polite to only people who are acuainted with them and often behave horribly badly to strangers!
    -Exactly! That’s disgusting.



  17. ashmoleanmuse on Wednesday October 23rd, 2013 at 10:43 PM

    Hi David,

    I like “otsukaresama”. It’s compact and you don’t have to say, “That was a long and tough day and you must have been very tired. Thank you for working hard.” It also can be used in various situations.

    Osakinishitsureishimasu is useful too. We say not only before you leave the office but after you enjoy activities with your friends.

    The other day I said otsukaresama to one of my horse-riding club members who left,
    telling “Osakinishitsureishimasu”. In this case otsukaresama means, “The horse didn’t respond to your leg aids very well today. You had to work hard and you must have been exhausted.

    Japanese people are lucky to have these handy phrases!

    Ash



  18. Akira on Thursday October 24th, 2013 at 06:49 AM

    Hi,

    As David said, the baseball students seem a militalistic. I don’t like this sort of custom really. I think they do that automatically whether you respect other people or not. I don’t mean to deny though, it’s too much, I think..

    However, I do think it’s really important to Aisatsu. I found it really good to say hello anywhere you go in England, for example, pubs or shops. When you buy sth there, you say hello firstly. But I rarely say hello in a shops in Japan, feeling a bit strange to do that. of course, it depends on shops and I’m not sure if they did or not in the past though.

    Certainly, I think younger people, including me, are not very good at Aisatsu. One of the reasons is lack of comunications because of mobiles or Internet, sth like that.
    But I think older people think that younger people are not good at Aisatsu, including 敬語(honorific words?) and manners. Even if they do Aisatsu, if lack of manners in Aisatsu, older people might think they’re rude. The student of David’s example was rude, of course. He should have said just ‘sorry’. But when you have to Aisatsu for older people than you, it’s a bit nuisance, troublesome or annoying to care about using proper words every time.
    I feel really comfortable to say hello to older people or strangers in English because I don’t have to be so polite and don’t need to bow.
    Anyway, if you ask me, Aisatsu is really important but I think we don’t have to be so serious. Be more frank and casual!



  19. Biwa on Thursday October 24th, 2013 at 08:11 AM

    Hi Akira,

    >Anyway, if you ask me, Aisatsu is really important but I think we don’t have to be so serious. Be more frank and casual!

    I really think so.
    As I have written before, I think Aisatsu is just a natural action and reaction. I have two sons(18 and 16) so I might be included in the older generation to you, and I don’t expect any polite words or bows from younger people. It’s a lot better to have a simple “Hi!” back than nothing. Even when you have to apologize to older people, just a sincere “Sorry.” would be fine. I don’t think people would get angry because of not using fancy words.

    As for the greetings in shops, I like it when they say, for example, “Enjoy your shirt!” in the US. Do they say that in the UK, too? It makes the greeting more personal, and it makes me respond “Yes, thanks!” from the bottom of my heart.



  20. Biwa on Thursday October 24th, 2013 at 08:43 AM

    Hi Ash,

    >Japanese people are lucky to have these handy phrases!

    You’re right! Both of those words really have a lot of variation in the meaning. That might be a bit confusing for people from other countries.

    >It may be because most Japanese kids are not raised to say “Excuse me” in those situations.

    Really? I tell my sons to say that.
    Anyway, I have a feeling that there is a difference in the “sense of distance” between Japanese people and people from other countries(especially Western people, I think). It depends, but I think Japanese people are a bit insensitive to being very close to other people, or touching(accidentally, of course!) other people, aren’t they? For example, the seats on trains or buses in Japan are designed comparatively small, and when the seats are fully occupied, it’s difficult not to touch the shoulder of someone sitting next to you. I don’t think very many people would say “Excuse me”, and it’s very different from the people in the US. I find it very interesting because Japan does not have a tradition of touching people-shaking hands and hugging-but we don’t seem to mind about touching people accidentally.



  21. YU on Thursday October 24th, 2013 at 11:41 AM

    Hi Ash, Biwa and everyone,

    I knew some coworkers(they are all Japanese) who hated being said “otukaresama”. One of them even came to me to tell, “Can you stop saying otsukaresama to me after now?”. He told me that “otukaresama” was a meaningless word and he didn’t like to hear it. He also asked everyone around him not to write “お疲れ様です” in their e-mails to him. He might realize that “otukaresama” is nonsense after he had stayed in the US for almost 10 years on business. However, to tell the truth, I couldn’t help laughing at him in my mind and felt like saying him, “Don’t make a fuss!(ガタガタ言うな!)”

    If someone says s/he doesn’t like hear/say something, of course, I won’t force them to do it, but it doesn’t mean that they can make others feel bad.
    In the same way, I feel disgusted hearing people from other countries just complain about unique Japanese culture without considering our feelings. Of course, not all foreigners in Japan are like this, but some do nothing but find faults with our culture.
    This is just my opinion, but “When in Rome do as the Romans do”. If you live in a foreign country, I don’t think it is bad to learn the country by following the examples of people there anyway. Of course, you don’t need to follow everything, but you could melt into the society sooner and you would benefit after all, I think.

    Hi Akira, Biwa and everyone,

    I’ve read in somewhere that not in many countries in the world other than Japan say nothing when you go into shops, and the reason is that it is hardly unsual that people touch or try clothes or shoes on without asking permission of shop assistants in Japan.
    In contrast, in other coutries, especially in Western countries, people usually greet shop assistants when they go into shops to tell them “I’m here to look or buy something, and I might need your help later, so please allow me to look and touch your clothes.”

    It is often said that “The customer is always right(king)” in Japan, so is it probably one of the reasons why customers can behave arrogantly(no greetings!) in Japan?



  22. ashmoleanmuse on Thursday October 24th, 2013 at 04:10 PM

    Hi Biwa,

    Really? I tell my sons to say that.

    It’s a pity that not many parents teach their kids to say “Excuse me.”

    It depends, but I think Japanese people are a bit insensitive to being very close to other people, or touching(accidentally, of course!) other people, aren’t they?

    This may be of interest to you. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Personal_space

    Wiki says it is sometimes difficult to maintain personal space in crowded societies. Being too close to other people or touching them
    accidentally. That’s しょうがない。

    I find it very interesting because Japan does not have a tradition of touching people-shaking hands and hugging-but we don’t seem to mind about touching people accidentally.

    I love hugging!

    Hi YU,

    However, to tell the truth, I couldn’t’t help laughing at him in my mind and felt like saying him, “Don’t make a fuss!(ガタガタ言うな!)”

    LOL!

    In the same way, I feel disgusted hearing people from other countries just complain about unique Japanese culture without considering our feelings. Of course, not all foreigners in Japan are like this, but some do nothing but find faults with our culture.

    I may sound opinionated but if this makes you feel better…

    Japan lost the WWII and had recovered from the devastation. Now it is one of the economic giants, so they just envy Japan’s success!

    Hi David

    Last April I was in a lift at Hilton Vienna alone, the door opened and a young Arabian couple with their baby got into the lift. The husband said to me “Nihao”. I answered, “Konnichiwa” and told him, “I’m Japanese”. He tried to
    pronounce “Konnichiwa” and I helped him do it correctly. He was from Dubai. It was a short communication but I felt happy. Aisastu is a wonderful thing, is it not?

    Incidentally, the wife wearing jilbāb was silent. Perhaps English was not her second language.

    Ash



  23. YU on Thursday October 24th, 2013 at 05:59 PM

    Hi Ash,

    >Japan lost the WWII and had recovered from the devastation. Now it is one of the economic giants, so they just envy Japan’s success!

    Hahaha, that’s an interesting idea. I’m afraid, but I don’t really think that is the reason.
    I believe that those type of people are everyone in the world. Even Japanese people could be one of them. So,”Correct your manners by seeing other’s faults.”



  24. taco on Thursday October 24th, 2013 at 06:25 PM

    Hi David,

    Hi, I have a question today. I should have written on the last topic about TV. I watch a TV program called “Jamie’s 30 minutes meal” which is a cooking show where Jamie Oliver, a U.K chef, makes dinner under thirty minutes. In the show, I have two words that I cannot understand what Jamie says. One is a word like “actually”, but it doesn’t sound “actually” actually. I hear the first “a” is pronounced like “l” or “r“. I cannot find such a word. It may be a pronunciation difference, so he says, “actually” actually. He says the word a couple of times in one show and used it as a kind of filler like “you know.” I also thought he says “literally” actually. The word sounds like mixed with actually and literally, but I don’t think “literally” is used so often in one show. The other day, I heard the same word in a TV show called “Elementary”, an American TV show based on Sherlock Holmes. Do you have any word to think of? I went back and looked for the sound file you added in which you say “actually” and I am still not sure that the word is “actually” actually.
    The other word I don’t know is about temperature or heat. When he preheats the oven to the highest degree, he says “forwack?” or something like that. I know this isn’t a real word, but I hear like that. Maybe “for” is “full”. When he is talking about degree or heat, Japanese subtitles say “温”. So “forwack?” is “高温.”
    Thanks for reading and I am looking forward to the answer!!

    Hello everyone,

    I didn’t think Japanese aisatsu was a bit strange to people from other countries. As David said, some people do militaristic aisatsu. I used to work at a company where we had to do aisatsu in a militaristic way. I didn’t want to do that, of course, but I had no choice. On the other hand, I like “otsukaresamadeshita” and “gokurousamadesu.” These kinds of words are useful to go daily interaction smoothly. As for the father who was angry at his sons, I remember I was really shy to say “konnichiwa” to others when I was little. “Konnichiwa” and “sayounara” are not used in family, so I hesitated to say these words because they sounded adult-like to me.

    See you,
    taco



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