Things You Shouldn’t Do in Japan: Say ‘You’

A post-it note on a table saying 'How dare you!'

I don’t know if people are aware of this but sometimes things are different in different cultures.

WHAT? I don’t –

Yep. For example in Japan, using the word ‘you’ in conversation can be rude.

Seriously?! What do you MEAN?

In the event that you need to direct a question at someone UNDER NO CIRCUMSTANCES are you to use the word ‘you’ (‘anata’ in Japanese).*

That’s mental, how the f- can you not use the word ‘you’ in everyday speech though? Wait, is this a riddle?

No it’s not a riddle, it’s Japanese. (Although sometimes one and the same, for non-Japanese speakers). Japanese is obviously a completely different language to English and the romance languages, YOU IDIOT so don’t assume the structure is the same and everything can be translated directly. In the Japanese language pronouns are generally omitted from everyday speech. Let’s take a look at a couple of examples:

‘Paatii ni ikimashita’ …(in English, literally: ‘went to a party’).

Right well WHO fucking went to a party? Don’t whet my appetite with gossip about a party and then don’t even tell me who you’re talking about?

‘Gohan tabe ni ikanai?’…(in English, literally: ‘dinner don’t go to eat?’)

Are you asking me about my eating habits or are you asking me out? Oh. Neither. Oh you’re asking that bitch out over there? Awkward. Oh, what? You’re asking us all out as a group? Jesus what a headfuck.

Actually, pronouns do exist, but they’re rarely used because in Japan everyone is clairvoyant.** So everyone here already knows what’s up, compared to the UK or US where we’re TOO THICK to know what’s going on so we have to spell everything out in a really obvious way.

So what about in the event that it’s not 100% clear who you’re talking to, or about?

Well, in that case you use the person’s name.

Wait, you mean the person you’re addressing? You refer to them in the third person?

Yeah.

But isn’t that gross and pretentious?

Yeah it is. But it’s ok in Japan.

*Using ‘anata’ isn’t always that rude (I’m exaggerating SLIGHTLY), it depends on who you’re talking to. If it’s your boss who’s 10 years your senior, then it’s insulting and awkward and you’re a dick. If it’s your friend’s 10 year old kid, it’s robotic and unnatural, so you’re not a dick at least, but you are weird.

**Clairvoyant… and/or a low context culture. As a homogeneous society, the Japanese are more accustomed (than Western cultures) to reading and interpreting each other’s nonverbal cues after centuries of communicating with only their fellow countrymen (low context communication). As a result, explicit communication has gradually become unnecessary. More diverse cultures like the US or the UK have historically had the opposite experience, making them more high context / direct communicators.

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