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2 Japanese Expressions to Help You Build Better Relationships in Your Community

In a previous article, I wrote about how, in Japan, it can be difficult to engage in small talk with those outside of your immediate social circles. However, if you’ve just moved to Japan, or to a new neighborhood in Japan, getting to know the people you see on a regular basis is a great way to develop a sense of belonging.

Besides greeting and giving gifts to your neighbors, it’s also important to develop relationships with the staff at the shops and convenience stores that you frequent. But how can you do this in a culture where cash register encounters tend to be devoid of small talk? Read on to learn two simple expressions that can help you generate a sense of belonging in your new environment. 

Showing Recognition and Appreciation

Imagine that you’re inline at the grocery store in your Tokyo neighborhood. You recognize a familiar, friendly cashier, and you’d like to acknowledge that without interfering with the routine flow of set Japanese phrases such as “Would you like a bag with that?” and “Here’s your change.”

At the end of your transaction, after saying arigato gozaimasu (thank you), quickly say mata kondo, which means “see you next time” in this context. This quick phrase is the perfect, subtle way to show the store clerk that you recognize and appreciate their service—without disrupting the essential flow of the checkout process with western-style small talk. The next time you visit the store, if it’s not crowded, you may be pleasantly surprised when the clerk strikes up a conversation with you. Just make sure that you’re ready to comprehend and respond to questions like “Where are you from?” or “How long have you been in Japan?”

For shop clerks that have gone the extra mile to help you on multiple occasions, take your gratitude to the next level by saying itsumo arigato gozaimasu. Adding the prefix, itsumo, to arigato gozaimasu means “Thank you as always” or “Thank you for everything.” This is a great way to show appreciation for those who are making life in your new environment a little easier.

One Caveat Before You Go

Before sending you on your way to try out these phrases, I should note that you won’t typically hear them initiated by Japanese customers—at least in Tokyo, where communities tend to be less cohesive than those in more rural locations. In particular, itsumo arigato gozaimasu, will come off as being overly polite or formal coming from the customer side of a simple shopping transaction.

Regardless, a little awkwardness is a small price to pay for the opportunity to quickly forge relationships in your community. Additionally, as a foreign resident, you have some leeway when it comes to doing things differently, and this is one situation where it’s fine to rely on that.

Be it the convenience store in your office complex or the neighborhood grocery store, give the expressions in this article a try, especially if you’ve been feeling a little isolated in your new surroundings. At the minimum, you’ll add a few smiles to your day and, in the long run, you may end up making a few new friends.

Originally from California, I've been living and working in Japan, now my second home, since 2009. My work as a communications consultant lends a unique perspective to my writing, and I often explore the business behind Japan’s beauty. When I’m not working, you can find me hunched over a screen reviewing kanji flashcards in my never-ending quest to master the Japanese language.