Dear foreign* person,
(*When I say “foreigners,” I mean mostly people who grew up in North America, because I cannot speak for the world (sorry, world). I would like to know what other people’s opinions are on the subject though!)
First of all, welcome to Japan! I came here about 5 years ago with nothing but an email saying I had a job, a suitcase, maybe 500 dollars and a dream.
I am writing this because there are things that I wish I could have told myself 5 years ago. Maybe they will be useful for the people out there just starting out in Japan …
The theme is “getting along with people.”
Listen to people (or at least pretend to):
You might notice that when people are listening to a story they will be randomly very vocal…But not actually be making any words.
Listen to a Japanese TV show and it might really start to annoy you. People are just trying their hardest to be polite and show that they are actively listening to what you have to say. It is called “aizuchi.”
Sample conversation with aizuchi:
So you know Mari?
Ee. (sounds like “eh-.” This is like “yeah” )
Yeah, so she actually is from Hokkaido.
Ho. (Like a “hoe.” It’s a bit like “Oh, I see”)
Did you know her parents are rich?
Heeeeee- (this is a tricky one. It mostly is used for mild surprise. Say a really long “hey” with a rising inflection. The longer your “hey” is the more impressed/surprised you sound)
They are the 5th wealthiest family there.
EEEEEEEEEEEEE–?! (Sounds like a super long “eh.” This is for something really unbelievable. It’s like “heee-”)
***Most aizuchi are just vowel sounds. But you can also use words if you’d like. If you want to sound like a Japanese school girl you can say “Maji?!” after everything ( “no way!!”).
Be silent when in motion:
On elevators, in trains, on buses, you might realize that there is a prevailing silence. No phone calls, no loud conversations, no merrymaking on the transit.
Disturb the peace and risk having a random man or woman glare at you. That is the extent that they will do. Glare and maybe talk about you in Japanese.
Gifts, gifts, gifts:
When you hand a gift over it is often customary to say “tsumaranai mono desu ga…”
Which literally translates to, “This is something boring, but…” (It is to be humble, but to this day it sounds funny to me).
When should I give a gift?
-When you return from vacation and you went somewhere (give to coworkers/classmates)
-When someone you know has a baby, a wedding, a birthday, a death in the family…etc. (be careful because for weddings and deaths they usually want money in fancy envelope)
– When it is mid-summer, or when it is the end of the year (you can give something to anyone who you feel indebted to)
– When someone got you something for V-day (get something better for them for 3/14)
For more information on gift-giving in Japan and what to give/not give look here.
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