The Simple Skill of Japanese Aisatsu So Anyone Can Be More Sociable and Likable
What kinds of greetings do you use every day? Do you say good morning? Good evening? How about “I’m home!” or “Looking forward to working with you today!”
Japanese greetings, or aisatsu, are used all the time in society. Beyond just hello or goodbye, people say them when someone enters a restaurant, when they leave a store, when leaving the house, and as soon as they get home.
In fact, they’re not just prevalent, but they’re an important part of Japanese life. They’re taught from a young age in schools, reinforced in the home, and carried out in the workplace. But why?
I won’t forget the first person who really showed me the importance of Japanese aisatsu
Living in New York, my parents were still adamant I receive a partial Japanese education, and so they enrolled me in a Japanese Saturday school so I could keep up my language skills. But the thing was, my Japanese was already behind at this point, and so on Saturdays I was this weirdo American-Japanese girl who was not necessarily dumb but was made to feel like it (most of the other students had come from Japan, and were native speakers). I quickly became known as the quiet, untalkative girl.
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It was one day a week and so I had accepted my fate as spending my Saturdays being friendless, silent, and uncomfortable. Until one day a girl in my class decided to approach me with a simple aisatsu: ohayo!
I did a double take, thinking that there was no way she was saying good morning to me, but she smiled and so I returned one back. It was the first time I really felt my presence being recognized by someone else.
Greetings validate another person’s existence
I didn’t consider myself particularly social, but from that day on every time I saw her I would say a short greeting — ohayo! It was an easy, automatic gesture that made me feel better about being in the classroom. Eventually others started saying good morning to me, and I would return one to them. We would begin to have conversations, and share a bit about what we did last week or what we were looking forward to, all of which started from a simple greeting.
Greetings inspire conversation and friendship
If you study the origin of the word for greeting in Japanese, aisatsu (挨拶), it is made of the two characters ‘push’ and ‘close together’. The word stems from a Zen Buddhist practice where monks would often exchange questions and answers when they met someone new to understand them better, or where they ‘push open’ answers to grow closer together.
Today, individuals do not look at aisatsu with such formality, but the principle of the practice still remains today. It’s about growing closer with one another.
Greetings open hearts and minds
So greetings may seem like such a trivial thing to reinforce in so many aspects of daily life, but I have come to understand that they serve a very important purpose. The practice is so ubiquitous and expected that it’s easy to engage, but it has also helped me connect with others in environments that I may not have otherwise been capable of reaching out in.
So if you’re looking for a good reason to say hello, look no further. You might just transform someone’s day.
- Greetings validate another person’s existence
- Greetings inspire conversation and friendship
- Greetings open hearts and minds