Work in Japan Advice Board
Perhaps most of those reading this blog have arrived in Japan for study or work, or plan to do so at some point in the future.
Japanese people can be rather troublesome due to their conflicting way of thinking, one side being “I want to get on well with foreigners!”, while the other side says “I’m too shy”, or having too much pride by thinking “Isn’t Japanese culture fantastic?” and as a result constantly promoting it.
However, it often appears to us that foreigners have a strange way of speaking Japanese.
When meeting a colleague in the same Japanese company for the first time, the conversation may go something like this:
When hearing “宜しく！” a Japanese person might smile and think “That should definitely be 宜しくお願いします”.
In addition, a Japanese person may say “ごめん、ごめん！” when apologizing for a mistake to a friend, however hearing a foreigner say “ごめん、ごめん！” at work may be quite funny to the same Japanese person, as they expect to hear “ごめんなさい” or “申し訳ございません”.
Maybe the Japanese notions of 内（うち）and 外（そと）have a lot to do with this.
内 is literally “inside” in English, but the meaning also extends to include people considered to be within your inner circle in Japanese, such as family and friends. 外 literally means “outside” in English, meaning people outside your inner circle, including strangers.
The Japanese have a strong feeling to accommodate others (おもてなし) and are very open to foreigners. So in trying to communicate with foreigners, Japanese can often break away from the polite expressions they should perhaps use, instead opting for more casual Japanese.
However, since “おもてなし” stems from making a customer feel comfortable, it should be noted that it still takes time for anyone to be considered part of the inner circle. This means that responding in too friendly a way to Japanese people, despite their friendly way of speaking, can violate the principle of being polite in Japanese.
Don’t you think this is pretty selfish?
This is only temporary until someone enters the inner circle. Once entering the inner circle, a person is considered extremely important. The first stage should not be misinterpreted to mean that Japanese are unable to form strong relationships with foreigners; it just means we aren’t so great at it.
So, we teach Japanese learners at our language institution that the best way to capture the heart of a “selfish” Japanese person is to use polite Japanese.
You don’t have to give a faultless self-introduction, we are far more likely to let you in if you stuttered but attempted to give a polite self-introduction. Introducing yourself in casual Japanese to those who respect proper politeness will only have a limited effect.
It may be tough, but try to use only polite Japanese to see if Japanese people react in a more positive way to you. You might be surprised by the results.
※The text above is representative of the opinions of the author and staff members Human Academy Japanese language school. There may be cases where the above may not hold true.
Human Academy Japanese Language School - Chief Manager
After graduating, Mr.Tanaka taught Japanese in a number of countries in the ASEAN region including Malaysia and Brunei.
He then taught at a Japanese school for foreign students in Japan for 10 years before making a transition to school management.
As the role of Japanese language teaching changes, Mr.Tanaka focuses on Japanese teaching methods that fit the needs of students today.