|Honorific expression syndrome. The two characters read Keigo. |
As you may know if you have been reading my blog carefully, I have joined the Hiking Club here at Doshisha. The active members of the club, as of many other Doshisha clubs, only comprise of first and second year students. As they reach their third year at school, most of Doshisha students start the process of so called "job hunting", which apparently keeps them so busy that they no longer have time to take part in their club's activities. They only meet with the active members a few times per year for so called nomikai, or drinking parties (which are different from what a westerner would call a party and comprise quite an interesting part of Japanese social and work life and deserve a separate entry). As a result of this absence of older students, I am the only third year student who is also an active member of the club, and as such I get to be addressed by most of the club's members in Keigo. I get asked questions such as "how long are you honorably going to be in Japan?", "would you honorably help me with my lowly concern?", and others. Similarly, at a nomikai which I was recently invited to, the first and second years treated their retired seniors with the same respect. Moreover, they only addressed them by their last names, as they would address me if I had told them what it is. Some of the first and second years even address each other by their last names. Also, at the nomikai, the seniors were the first to choose their drinks, and when a group picture was to be taken, all of the seniors went to the front, their rightful place in any picture.
Although, being a foreigner, I am surely not the one who should be judging this aspect of Japanese culture, I certainly do have an opinion about it. And, being one who receives the honor of being talked to in Keigo, I believe that I am in the position to share it with you. In my opinion, using Keigo among fellow friends and students creates a weird sense of estrangement from others as well as an odd sort of shyness, both of which I have found to be typical Japanese personality traits. It is interesting to see how the relationships between people as well as their personalities are shaped by the language they speak. Is perhaps the French stereotype of Americans as being loud and rude a result of the English language lacking any sort of respectful language found in French? I am sure many have written about this before me; maybe I should read up a bit about the issue when my finals are over.
To conclude this entry, I will list a few more examples of situations in which I observed the Japanese showing their respect by bowing or using Keigo.
- Train and station attendants bow upon entering and leaving the train car.
- Airport attendants bow upon entering and leaving the check-in counter.
- Japanese call every doctor, scientist, and some elderly sensei, or professor. Also, calling your professors by their first name like in America is a first-class insult.
- Guides always bow. Always. And always use Keigo. Always.
- When picking up the phone, and especially when making a call themselves, many Japanese raise the tone of their voice so as to sound polite. Interestingly, they don’t do it when they talk to their family.
- When giving gifts, some Japanese say, using Kenjougo: “this gift sucks, but here you go”, even if they were giving you a million dollars.
- Announcements at train stations, especially those which require you to do something, always use the most polite Keigo, and always end with gokyouryoku kudasai, or “please honorably comply”.
- While walking on the streets, you can often hear shop owners shouting in a high-pitched voice “would you honorably like buy x”? To me, this actually has the opposite effect; when I hear it, I leave, because the high-pitched voice is extremely annoying.
- Keigo can also be misused to actually insult people. When you overuse it, it means that you are mocking the person who you are speaking to. So even to Japanese politeness, there is an acceptable maximum.
- There are Japanese who are aware of the occasional overuse of Keigo. Some call it the "Honorific Expression Syndrome", or Keigo Syndrome (see picture above).