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Self Introductions: The Very Necessary Japanese 自己紹介

As I sit here in the IES Tokyo Summer Office–in a room meant to be a bedroom, stuffed with two desks, a printer, and boxes; my superior and I both typing away at our computers as noise from the boys in the common room watching the newest episode of Game of Thrones creeps past the door propped open with a dust pan–I find myself contemplating the Japanese 自己紹介, or self introduction.

Of course, anywhere you go when you meet a new person self introductions are necessary. But somehow the Japanese self introduction seems to take the cake for most important, most often used, most formal. In America I would probably stick to “Hi my name is Maddie!” Maybe I would add a little more formality or politeness by saying something like “It is so nice to meet you,” or maybe I would add something like “I am a senior at St. Catherine University majoring in Asian Studies” if I were meeting someone who either knew nothing about me and I was planning to get to know or was around college age. But thats it. Maybe if the other person went for it I would shake their hand.

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In Japan though, it is a process. Usually everyone involved gives a self introduction–even if some people already know each other. They usually all start and end the same way, first saying “初めまして(hajimemashite)” or “It is nice meeting you (for the first time)” and ending with “よろしくお願いします(yoroshikuonegaishimasu)” or “Please look out for me/I look forward to working with you/I am putting myself in your hands.”

In the middle though, there is any number of things that can happen. And even in regular meetings–though sometimes people do simply stick to their names–people will share their full name, hometown, university, age, etc. My typical self introduction ends up sounding like this…

“Hello, nice to meet you (this first time).
My name is Maddie Brehm.
I am from Minnesota, located in America.
I am a senior at St. Catherine University.
I have been studying Japanese for three years and studied abroad in Japan for four months last year.
I look forward to being in Japan again this time as I work as an RA for IES Tokyo.
Please look after me/I look forward to working with you.”

And of course this is followed by nodding and bowing and smiling and several rounds of “よろしくお願いします(yoroshikuonegaishimasu).”

What I have been sitting here contemplating is how much people share with the people around them and when the correct time to do that is. Maybe this is incorrect, but my feeling is that the information that is released in the Japanese self introduction is something that Americans typically find out about each other in a first conversation–whereas the Japanese self introduction is a bit more like a monologue.

I think this is largely due to language use. In Japanese when you first meet someone or when people are being introduced, everyone is very formal. You humble yourself while raising the status of the people around you–and most importantly you send and receive information that allows everyone to recognize any potential hierarchy. Who is the oldest? Who has the most power? Who will lead the conversation? Who can lower their speech and who should remain formal? Before even beginning a simple conversation, all of these things need to be recognized in order to talk in a way that is socially correct. And because of this, Japanese people need to find out more information without being rude and needing to ask for it–and thus the monologue-like self introduction.

But even that kind of introduction is small–it shares the bare minimum needed to continue a conversation with someone you just met. And yet, it is called an “introduction” as if it were introducing a book or a famous person about to give a speech.

So the question is, even in Japanese when I give a “self descriptive monologue,” am I truly introducing myself? Does “Hi my name is Maddie and I am a university student studying Japanese” introduce my life? The simple answer is no, in no way does this begin to introduce who I am or what I have been doing with my life or why.

Should it? Probably not. I mean, it is the first time you are meeting someone and the hope is that you will either enjoy meeting that person and slowly discover more and more information about each other, or you will not pursue the relationship in which you don’t need to know more information about the other person.

But what if that was socially acceptable? To truly introduce yourself when giving a self introduction? What would you say? If it weren’t shaped by language as the Japanese self introduction is or by speed like the American self introduction is, what would you say?

I think about this sometimes–whether specifically with a self introduction or with something I would like to introduce about myself to people who don’t know me very well. If someone gave you five minutes instead of five seconds to introduce yourself, to talk about yourself and your life, how much would that change the subsequent conversations and relationships?

If I was able to explain or had the courage to explain or introduce my life to people, what would change?

That is a hard question to answer, but I do wish for that kind of an “introduction” some times. I would like to tell people that I am where I am because of having a long and turmultuous childhood, and even though it was a hard journey that I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy, it made me who I am today. I would like to tell people that I plan to follow my dreams–wherever that leads me. There is no use thinking you can’t achieve something without trying–and there is no reason not to try again if you fail. I would like to tell people that I try my best to treat others in a way I would like to be treated, because I know how it feels to be treated poorly by people I once called my friends. I would like to tell people that I take alternate routes in life not because I seek them out but because I see no need to be forced to do things the same way as everyone else, and just because the option isn’t in front of me doesn’t mean the option doesn’t exist.

Now realistically I understand that this is probably too much information, but at the same time, unless you have time to sit down and really try to get to know someone, this information may remain hidden for weeks, months or even years–despite the fact that if I were to truly give an introduction of myself it is the information I would include.

Again I have rambled. (>_<) Ahh well, hopefully you have enjoyed reading this glimpse into my thought process–and now you know more about what I do at work. (Though to be fair I did get a lot of real work done and my shift is 12 hours so I do legitimately have time to think about these things).

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