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irasshaimase

01 December, 2019 - 2 min read

Note: this blog has Japanese characters in it. I've included English where it might not be displayed.

If there's one thing for certain in Japan — it's that "You're welcome." And by that I mean, Japanese store employees go out of there way to make you feel welcome.

いらっしゃいませ ( i-ra-shai-ma-se )

As I walk into one of the grocer's there's even a motion sensored greeter there to let me know I'm welcome to spend my hard-earned yen.

After a while it becomes a part of the symphony of "sorries", "thank you's", and mini-bows that is life in Tokyo. When I'm not greeted when approaching the checkout or entering an establishment, it's almost jarring.

"Well, these people just aren't very welcoming at all!" I might think.

It's interesting how we adjust and acclimate to new environments. How we redefine "normal" or interpret actions given the context.

I visited Australia after having lived in Japan for nine months in 2018. I walked by Uniqlo (ユニクロ) and heard an employee saying, "Welcome to Uniqlo ... Welcome!"

I shuddered a little. The word いらっしゃいま translates just fine, but the spirit of it doesn't. One of the things that I love about the Japanese language is the individuality that I hear in people's words, and I can't count the variations irasshaimase I've heard. I don't hear that in "Welcome to xyz".

My favorite way of saying irasshaimase has to be せー ( seeeee ) usually said with an upward ending intonation. Around my second week in Tokyo, I walked into my local grocery store, Life, and proceeded escalator that led to the bottom floor. While going down this escalator, I heard the most guttural, emphatic せー that I've heard to date. This man from some unidentifiable location began "ssssseeeeee" as If he were brewing some welcome stew and topped it off with an upward, shrieking intonation.

"My god," I thought.

"You can scream at work in Japan if it's to make the customer feel welcomed."

Nick Olinger © 2020