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Old 01-02-2015, 11:45 AM
Join Date: Oct 2003
Location: Taiwan
Posts: 9,097
Originally Posted by hibernicus View Post
I have a related question for our native Japanese posters.

Based on my idea of Japanese ultra-politeness in formal settings, I would have expected Japanese people, when receiving a gift, to be extravagantly thankful, to talk about how wonderful and special the gift is, how unworthy the recipient is of such generosity and so on. Effectively, I am extrapolating from what would be considered polite in western cultures.

However, what I've experienced in reality is that the Japanese person receiving the gift puts it aside almost immediately after the most cursory of acknowledgement. This is in the context for example of a work meeting where the visitor brings a memento from his/her home country as a gift for the host. I've noticed overseas visitors being taken aback by this seeming abruptness.

The best explanation I can think of is that the giving/receiving transaction is potentially "awkward" and the receiver is aiming to minimise any awkwardness by getting it out of the way with as little fuss as possible.

So, two questions really:
1) Is my observation correct? Is this how Japanese people generally behave when receiving a gift, or only in certain contexts?
2) Why?
My emphasis.

I'm not a native, but I'll go ahead and give my thoughts.

This is something that Westerners get wrong. As you say, people know that Japanese are ultra polite, so Westerners assume that Japanese would give the same ultra polite response that a Westerner would on such an occasion. Westerns are taught to ooh and aah over gifts, so people expect that Japanese would do the same. They don't.

Gifts are given under different circumstances in Japan. Bringing back souvenirs, usually sweets, is a social requirement, for example, when going on either a business or personal trip. However the gifts are not fawned over. I wouldn't go so far as to say it's a perfunctory courtesy, but close.

In informal situations, such as among business friends, there is more appreciation shown, but it's understated. Gratitude by silence, widened eyes and a bow. A slightly audible intake of air if it's particularly impressive, such as then I gave a 1990 St Emilion Grand Cru Classé to a really good customer who appreciates wine. (Most Japanese do not, but this guy knew his wine and his Scotch. He look me to a Scotch bar once where he easily spend $500 for the two of us.)

In contrast to the West, it is improper for inferiors to evaluate superiors. A student would never think of telling a professor that their lecture was "good" only that they learned a lot. Native posters can weigh in, but this may be a factor for more significant gifts.

Originally Posted by dstarfire View Post
If I' understanding you correctly, you're saying that gratitude is a sort of gift with it's own value, and that expressing it with a "thank you" reduces or negates that value of the gift.

I'd equate this to giving somebody in America a gift and failing to convince them there's no need to reciprocate.
Not really. As hibernicus points out, Japanese tend to apologize to others in situations where Westerns tend to express feelings of thankfulness. They feel bad that they have had to inconvenience you.

Giving direct thanks is often considered juvenile behavior, or arrogant in many situations where Westerns would simply say "thanks" or "thank you."

One of the more common uses of doo itashimashite would be when an older person has given a child something, the child thanks the person and the older person would say that, especially elderly people or when you are teaching children manners.

Originally Posted by hibernicus View Post
I just want to say that even though I have been married to a Japanese person for many years, have Japanese friends and family and have lived in Japan, I have gained valuable learning and understanding of Japanese culture from this thread. どうもありがとうございます。
どういたしまして。(doo itashimashite, an obvious joke, since this is where Westerners would very well say, "You're welcome.) I'll put on my Japanese hat and say いいえ、うまく説明できなくって、申し訳ございません。 "No, I'm sorry that I was not able to explain things well." 

How long were you in Japan and what were you doing? I'm really surprised how much less I understand Taiwanese culture despite being married to a Taiwanese (and I'm glad that you specified that it's a person you're married to ;-) ) and living here for almost two years.

I had been married previously to a Japanese and had lived there for 25 years over a 33-year-period, but the circumstances are completely different. Here, I don't interact with Taiwanese as a "native" where in Japan, I was more or less forced to as a salesman.

Originally Posted by Jragon View Post
Another question, arigatou gozaimasu vs arigatou gozaimashita. Obviously the latter is the past tense, but are they totally interchangeable or is there a real difference? I've listened to a lot of stuff in Japanese and they seem to be used totally interchangeably, but it bugs me not knowing for sure.
To add on to what Saturn Dreams and jovan say about mashita is thanking someone when the action is complete. Often you will hear the people at restaurants say arigatou gozaimasu after you have gotten up from your table and when you are headed to the cashier. After you pay, they will all call out arigatou gozaimashita.

Some of these differences are similar to the English use of the simple past versus the present perfect in that there can be subtle degrees of difference or they can be interchangeable.

I used to hang out in a jazz bar, where I kept a bottle of scotch. The mama-san would always say itsumo, arigatou gozaimasu "Thank you for always (coming here)" probably to emphasis our ongoing relationship, where the female bar tender at another club would always use arigatou gozaimashita.
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