Chances are, if you’ve ever had a conversation in Japanese – or even any other language – with a native Japanese person, you might have been slightly disconcerted by their constant interjections.

That’s because nodding along, saying things like “I see” (naruhodo), “Oh really?” (sou desu ka?) and just plain grunting is considered a polite way to indicate to a speaker that you’re following along in a conversation.

This technique is called “aizuchi” in Japanese and, sure, it seems common sense in any culture to occasionally give a nod of the head or look up from your riveting game of Candy Crush Saga to indicate you have at least a passing interest in what’s being said, but the Japanese really turn it into an art form.

We’ll let YouTuber and Japan resident Micaela give you a sample of what it sounds and feels like below and then give our thoughts on this uniquely Japanese phenomena:

Micaela is generally absolutely right in that aizuchi can seem a little annoying to foreigners who aren’t used to it, but in reality, it isn’t, strictly speaking, always used to show a listener you’re following along. Like in other cultures, depending on tone and body language, aizuchi can also be used to indicate you want the speaker to get to the point or just wrap it up with the whole talking thing.

So, when a Japanese person says, “aa, sou?” , he/she could be indicating that they’re interested in what you’re saying, but it could also be a polite way of telling you, “Hey, I’m sure whatever you’re saying is very interesting, but right now I’m a little more interested in this delicious meatball sub, so could you come back later?”

“This is very important.”


Micaela’s point about conversations in Japanese tending to revolve around the listener’s obsession with your foreignness is also something that longtime foreign Japan residents can probably identify with. Just imagine if a foreigner’s idea of aizuchi was to interrupt dialogue with a Japanese speaker by shouting, “WOW! You can eat meatball subs? That is SOOO impressive!” (Sorry, I… have a lot of conversations about meatball subs.)

The indisputable deliciousness of meatball subs notwithstanding, if you’re learning Japanese, getting used to both hearing aizuchi and using them yourself is a great and pretty easy way to make your Japanese sound more natural and cut down on misunderstandings.

And, because we love you, here are a few suggestions (along with rough translations, but you’re better off learning how to use them by mimicking those around you) for great borderline-grunting sounds you can use to customize your aizuchi. Say them with an upward intonation to indicate intense interest, or in a flat monotone and with a blank, uninterested expression if you just want the speaker to shut up:

“eeeeeeeeh!” (“Whaaaat?”/”No way!”)

“Sou nan da!” (“Oh, that’s right!”/”Right, I get it!”)

“Naruhodo ne” (“Ah, so that’s how it is.”/”Right, I see.”)

“nnnnnnnn” (A deep and meaningful “I’m considering what you’re saying.”)

“fuuuuuuun” (“I’m listening, and it’s intriguing!”)

“Un un un!” (“Right, right right!”)

“KRAKAW! KRAKAW!” (Said while flapping your arms up and down like bird wings.)

We hope you find these useful, Japanese learners! And, be sure to upload your conversation to YouTube for us if you choose to use that last one.

Source: Kotaro Blog
Feature photo: RocketNews24
Inset: Croquille Master