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Unswerving cyclist
14 Mar 2002
Here's an excerpt from Peter Payne's latest J-List newsletter.

Have you ever spoken to a Japanese person and wondered why they make noises of agreement while you're talking? This is aspect of Japanese speech called "aizuchi," basically "agreeing sounds" that speakers make when having a conversation. In Japanese, I could be explaining something that happened to me, and the person I'm speaking to would say things like "ee" (yes), "so" (that's true), and "ne" (a general word of agreement) constantly as I spoke. It may sound funny in English, but in Japanese it's necessary to show that you're listening attentively to the other person -- not making these noises shows you're not paying attention, and the person you're talking with is likely to stop talking and ask what's wrong. The trouble is when you carry aizuchi into English, and butt into what the other person is saying with "that's right" and "yes." It's sounds very strange when done in English.

I have this habit as well, no matter which language I speak. It's one way to show your attention, but - being a impatient person myself - it can also show impatience, with aizuchi grunts becoming louder and more frequent.
I have always had this habit of emitting affirmative noises, which can become impatient groans as you describe it, Thomas. I'd feel unconfortable not to show I am listenning, especially with someone I don't know well.

If the author of this text was Japanese, I would understand that it's only one more way of trying to prove Japanese uniqueness and peculiarity. As I often tell people in Japan, everybody has their own personality and it's no need asking me how do people from this ot that country think or do in a given situation. Possibly, Japanese act more stereotypically because of their relative homogeneity and the incredible amount of energy put into harmonising minds and attitudes.

Nevertheless, in most "Japan Vs Western" (read American !) cliche, I've found myself to be more Japanese than "Westerner". For example, I've read in a kind of "culture shock" book that Japanese parents taught their children to keep their bicycle saddle "unconfortably low", so that their feet can reach the ground immediately to act as breaks in case of emergency. The book give the feeling it's incomprehensible for "Westerners", as they would never do that. However, I've done it since I was a child, even against my parents recommendations to raise my saddle more, actually. So perhaps am I the exception ?

Likewise, I didn't like to untie my shoelace and just go off my shoes like Japanese do, till I was about 15. Now that I am in Japan, I insist on having higher shoes impossible to remove without untying them carefully. :oops: There are lots of other examples. I've been told not to raise my plate or bowl when eating, but Japanese always do, going as far a having the edge against their mouth and pushing food into it to clean off the plate (something I now find not so mannered :sorry: ). What's more I've had the habit of bowing slightly in formal situation (especially when I feel unconfortable 😅 ) for a long time, though I had absolutely no knowledge of Japanese culture and customs at that time (2 years ago, I almost didn't know anything about Japan, except the technology, a few anime and video games, but that's just products).

Japanese also repeatedly ask me how I feel about the 4 seasons, invariably seeing it as one of Japan's most distinctive characteristic. But I have always lived with them, like all Europeans and most North Americans. It's maybe time they revise their geography of climates. Even Korea and China have cherry and plum blossoms in spring and red-yellow leaves in autumn. Okinawa doesn't though.
At my parents's place, there are koi (Japanese carps) in the pond and a momiji (Japanese mapple), bamboo and a cherry tree around it. I've grown up with them. I am probably more accustomed to them than most Japanese. And when I tell them, they gape at me with stunned "eeeeh". Cute naivete... As they say
知らぬが仏 (shiranu ga hotoke ; lit. "don't know is Buddha", thus "the one who doesn't know is blissful like a Buddha" or "not knowing is bliss").

言わぬが花 (iwanu ga hana ; lit. "not saying is flower"), so I had better shut up now.
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I've always used "uh" "huh" "ahah" in English. I find that I don't use them so often in Japanese just because of the way the language is spoken. I find it terrible exhausting to hear the whole story just to get a "hmmm, might be difficult" NO answer. So, I just skip all the "maa" "saa" "ahhh" "naruhodo" affirmations.

@ "harmonising minds and attitudes"
hehe, I think it's more like spending their lives pretending that they are harmonious and similar when in actuality they're all stressed out by living this way.
culture shock!...bicycle

Westerners would never do that??
Before one will ride a new bicycle, I think everybody would do that...
As for me...
(I agree with my friends)
un, un
tashika ni
naruhodo ne
(I agree with my superiors)
sou desu ka(down)
(surprise! with my friends)
ee?! shinjirarenai
(surprise! with my superiors)
honto desu ka?
shirimasen deshita
sooo nan desu ne?
(I am not interested in such story ((friends)))
(I am not agree with my friends)
sou ka naa...
chigau'n jya nai?
chigau to omou
(I am not agree with my superiors)
sou desu ka?(up)
Miyuki-san, that seems to be a pretty complete list of aizuchi sounds, amazing.
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This problem gets very complicated when you
1) live in japan and 2) have a japanese tutor

When you have a question, you ask them, they make affirmative sounds the whole time, you think the answer is yes, because even after you are done asking the question they still say it while they think, and often dont bother giving an answer, this has led to me learning a few things improperly and is also very annoying, when i have a problem and they just make affirmative noises i get very pissed off because they seem to be agreeing that the problem is with me and not with whatever I am having the problem with.
This is an excellent old thread and pay special attention to miyukisan. great job on integrating nihongo to eigo
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