Firstly, today I am going to talk about some things that I worry about heavily in Japan. Now I know I worry about a lot of unnecessary things, but this time I think I am concerned for a good reason. One thing that takes getting used to in Japanese culture is their greeting system. Personally, I believe it is more closely related to a complex social system than a simple “Hello,” but I may be wrong. There are specific greetings used in each situation, based upon hierarchy and keigo. Now you may be thinking, “Well we have that in North American work culture.” That’s partially true, until you have to deal with a specific type of greeting for leaving work, but then you return and the greeting has completely changed. Or, if you’re leaving early there is a specific phrase that should be said or you may be considered rude. I think what puts the cherry on top of the cake for me, in terms of difficulty, is that your greeting invokes a reactional greeting out of your fellow co-workers. In my opinion, this is what gives me the most difficulty of all.
If you make a mistake while greeting, generally your Japanese peers will react with a “Huh/What”. This is perfectly normal, but like everything in Japan – each situation is different. Sometimes, even when you know the correct greeting not everyone will respond because they are busy or maybe you didn’t say it loud enough. That’s okay, the world doesn’t revolve around me, however, it does make it slightly harder to perfect your greeting systems when each time everyone gives you a different response. Furthermore, you have to know the work culture you are in to recognize that their temporary disregard for you is not personal – it’s just that they are very busy. A situation which I came upon is when I was returning from working at a Kindergarten – I walked in with the greeting 「戻りましたーI’m back」, to which some of my staff responded with 「お疲れ様です – Thank you for your hard work」. While I was a bit nervous because this is the first time I have used this greeting, I peered around and saw one of my fellow teachers looking up to meet my eyes – followed by an immediate head drop once our eyes met because Japanese people do not like unnecessary eye contact.
Well, this creates a weird predicament for me because I start to think – oh did I say it wrong, the wrong intonation, should I have just walked to my desk barely looking around, maybe I should just say nothing next time. Do you get my point? It really becomes difficult to perfect simple gestures when you can’t even read the air effectively. Overall, I’m learning new things everyday and if/when I return to Canada – I’m sure I will have a mountain of experience with awkward situations to be able to face any ordeal.
8 Month Update: I have gotten used to the Japanese greetings now and have gotten used to the tradition that you use them as a sign of respect. We may not necessarily enjoy saying them or understand them completely. Nonetheless, they are a sign of respect for your co-workers – I have joined a team and this is how the team acts, so I will also act in the same manner to show my solidarity. I am grateful that they accepted me as a member of their team and doing this may be one of the only ways I can show my gratitude. So I’m not afraid to use Japanese customs anymore, I just take a breathe, count to 5 and go!