Keigo and Foreigners – Nihonjinn No Shiranai Nihongo

23 Aug

Nihonjinn No Shiranai Nihongo (“The Japanese that Japanese people don’t know”) is a Japanese drama based on a Japanese graphic novel of the same name where a teacher is narrating how she teaches foreign students with different cultural backgrounds. This drama provides abundant information. It explains numerous rules of Japanese language which is likely unfamiliar with foreigners, or even the Japanese people.

The emphasis of social stratification is one of the well-known cultures in Japan, and ‘Keigo’ plays a key role in communication between people from various social classes. ‘Keigo’ is a Japanese term of honorific expression used to show respect to the person address. Generally, the Japanese people use ‘Keigo’ when they talk with one whom they first met or one who comes from upper class.

According to this scene in “Nihonjinn No Shiranai Nihongo”,  the Japanese have to accommodate their use of honorific expression to those in different position in a company when communicating with them.

  • Question: Are you having lunch?
  1. To a vice-president:                 “gohan wo meshiagarimasu ka.”
  2. To a department manager:    “gohan wo otabeninarimasu ka.”
  3. To a deputy-manager:             “gohan wo taberaremasu ka”

‘Keigo’ is always the difficult part of Japanese language for learners to master, especially for English-native speakers. Japanesestudent notes that people from Western Countries tend to be slow at mastering Keigo. Even though there are some polite expressions in English, the complicated Keigo system is still hard for them to comprehend. Just like the end of this scene, a foreigner misused honorific expressions and eventually irritates his client.

So, is it necessary for foreigners to learn Keigo?

To advance Japan’s globalization, it is  unnecessary to expect or to force foreigners to master Keigo well in working place. Not being accustomed to Keigo, foreigners find it difficult to communicate well with Japanese people. It adversely affects the efficiency on doing global business and enhancing internationalization.

How about you? what do you think about the necessity of speaking fluent Keigo in globalized Japanese society?


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