Keigo: Japanese Polite Speech

Keigo: Japanese Polite Speech

Martijn: Let’s talk about keigo 敬語 – polite speech in the Japanese language. The first image that comes to mind is likely that of the typical salaryman, bowing and incessantly exchanging formalities. What some people may now know, is how intrinsically polite expressions are woven into the fabric of the Japanese language. First of all, the word keigo is comprised of the characters kei 敬, meaning ‘respect’, and the character go 語, meaning ‘word’ or ‘language’. Simply put, speaking keigo means to use polite language. However, keigo goes far beyond using simply more flowery language. Basically polite Milan: The first thing that stands out about keigo is the fact that it is explicitly coded in both the Japanese vocabulary as well as its grammar. Looking at it in broad strokes, we can identify two dimensions of keigo. The first dimension is something that may be called ‘basic politeness’. Here, it is mainly the setting that determines whether keigo is used or not. Martijn: It is important to note that using polite language is the norm in Japan. Between friends, colloquial language is of course common, but when meeting someone for the first time, polite speech should be used. Milan: This basic form of politeness can easily be witnessed when assessing the verbs used in a sentence. When I want to tell a friend that I am going somewhere, I will use the verb iku (‘to go’). On the other hand, in a more formal setting, for example a meeting, I should use ikimasu. This is a form of the verb iku, with –masu added at the end. This strategy can be applied...
The Japanese Are Human Too

The Japanese Are Human Too

“Japan… the people over there are completely different, right?” When I talk about my work, this is often the first thing people ask me. I do not mind the question, as it often comes from a place of genuine interest. However, because the phrase often carries with it several assumptions, it makes for an interesting topic to kick start our first Ikiji. Oftentimes, when classifying Japan as a nation, people who do not interact with the Japanese on a daily basis end up on one of two sides of the spectrum. Japan is either an infertile radioactive wasteland where people jump in front of trains every other minute, or the country is praised as a mystical and spiritual place where people have a higher understanding and appreciation of life, as witnessed in abstract concepts such as bushido (the way of the warrior). These characterizations are about as accurate as saying that I, as a Dutchman, can be expected to go out every weekend smoking copious amounts of marijuana while waiting my turn in the red light district. Afterwards, I will make a brief stop at the hospital to euthanize grandma so I can attend my uncle’s gay wedding in the evening. While the above stereotypes are rooted in reality to an extent, they tend to be grossly exaggerated. In order to understand Japan – and what it means to do business with the Japanese – it is important to realize that people are people. We all strive mostly for the same things, but have different ways of going about it. Japanese people laugh, cry, and behind a veil of...