Japanese Studies Centre Seminars, Semester 2 2013

 Thanking and Politeness in Japanese: Balancing Acts in Interaction

Weds 23 October  2013

12 noon to 1 pm

Japanese Studies Centre Auditorium

Dr. Jun Ohashi (Asia Institute, University of Melbourne)


This seminar is a preview of his book of the same title, which will be published by Palgrave Macmillan later this year.  It synthesizes his previous work on thanking, politeness and Japanese pragmatics and crystallises the theoretical underpinnings of thanking, how it is realized linguistically and the social meaning and significance of this aspect of Japanese communication. The book employs three empirical studies to reveal conversational participants’ collaborative work in thanking episodes, specifically, their acts of balancing obligations. It illuminates the mutually dependent nature of social interaction in Japanese and beyond, and suggests a new theoretical framework in understanding what is expected in social interaction across the languages. This is the definitive work on how Japanese people thank one another, and will provide ongoing value to second language Japanese teachers, textbook writers and academics seeking to make sense of, and define, this beautifully subtle, complex yet essential speech act in Japanese.

At a ground floor reception area of a medium sized hotel near Kyoto station, two middle-aged women wearing traditional kimono are talking face-to-face and bowing to each other. The way each reciprocates the other’s bow produces an effect similar to a seesaw in motion. One bow begets another, and so on. A group of Western tourists just ten meters away look on with queer expressions of astonishment doused in curiosity. Needless to say, they had not a clue as to what was happening. They and I were witnessing an everyday Japanese o-rei ritual; a set of culturally shaped conversational behaviours marked by frequent exchanges of bows in a thanking episode.

As a Japanese native speaker who has been educated in Japan until undergraduate level, I have observed and have been involved in many Japanese thanking episodes. However, my experience in the Kyoto lobby was marked out to me because of my experience living outside Japan. As a sojourner, returning to my native country, I was for the first time able to imagine how outsiders, the tourists, may find the mores of Japan hard to fathom. In other words, I had reached the juncture between my unconscious acceptance of all Japanese culture as completely normal, and the eye of an outsider trying to make sense of what is a truly complex and somewhat unconventional social practice.  

The couple dispersed and the tourists moved on, but for me the encounter had a lasting impact. This research has in many ways grown out of that experience. What would it take for the tourists to fully understand the thanking episode, and how would that explanation be articulated? Undoubtedly, extra-linguistic information such as bowings presents one of the keys to understanding how Japanese thank each other. The specific utterances and the underlying notions of face and politeness all contribute to a greater understanding of Japanese communication, social expectations and etiquette. It is hoped that this work will offer an explanation of this phenomenon and contribute to our knowledge of Japanese society as a whole. 


Past Seminars
Approaches to studying language and social interaction: Analyzing longitudinal conversational data in Japanese 
Dr. Shimako Iwasaki and Dr. Ikuko Nakane (Monash University, University of Melbourne)
Weds 25 September 2013
12 noon – 1 pm 

Japanese Studies Centre, Building 54, Neustupný Auditorium
Using interview data collected over 24 years by Dr. Kaori Okano, this presentation considers several approaches to analyzing language and social interaction in Japanese. The data set provides a unique opportunity to examine how language and interaction change over time in conjunction with life transitions from young adulthood to motherhood and with transforming urban and social landscapes. The presentation combines explication of findings from analyses by our multidisciplinary team and reflection on how we can analyze longitudinal changes in spoken language through different approaches including discourse-functional linguistics, sociolinguistics, conversation analysis (CA) and CA-influenced interactional linguistics. The presentation introduces and demonstrates several analytic methods while considering their implications for understanding Japanese discourse.
From inbound to outbound: The changing landscape of student mobility in Japan 
Professor Hiroshi Ota (Center for Global Education, Hitotsubashi University)
Weds 28 August 2013
12 noon – 1 pm 

Japanese Studies Centre, Building 54, Neustupný Auditorium

The intake of international students has been a priority in government reform of Japan’s university sector for many years. Despite numerous setbacks and ongoing structural and cultural challenges, international student numbers have grown steadily and Japan is now one of the leading providers of international education in the non-Anglophone world. In comparison, very little attention has been given to supporting Japanese students wishing to study abroad. Recently, however, national governments from both sides of politics have moved rapidly to promote greater outbound mobility. This presentation will examine these recent developments in light of changing economic and social dynamics in contemporary Japan.


Dr. Hiroshi Ota is Professor of the Center for Global Education at Hitotsubashi University, Tokyo, where he is also Director of the Hitotsubashi University Global Education Program (HGP). Prior to his current position, he worked for the Office for the Promotion of International Relations at Hitotsubashi University (2007 – 2009) and the School of Commerce and Management as International Student Advisor at Hitotsubashi University (2003 – 2006), the Office of International Education at State University of New York at Buffalo (2000 to 2002), and Toyo University, Tokyo (1988 – 1999). He also served as Research Advisor of the Project Team for Supporting University Internationalization at the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science (2005 – 2010). His research primarily focuses on higher education policies and practices related to internationalization and international student mobility in a comparative perspective. He is currently conducting a government-funded research project titled “Developing Evaluation Indicators and Methods to Assess the Internationalization of Japanese Universities”. From the State University of New York at Buffalo, Ota received his Ed.M. in 2001 and Ph.D. in Social Foundations of Education (Comparative and Global Studies in Education) in 2008. He is a recipient of Fulbright Scholarship.

Japanese Applied Linguistics: Postgraduate research

Wednesday 31 July 2013
12 noon – 1 pm 
Japanese Studies Centre, Building 54, Neustupný Auditorium
This seminar will feature research by Monash postgraduate research:  come out and support our emerging scholars!

Repetitions and repair in Japanese conversations between nonnative and native speakers: A case of interaction in a homestay setting

Sae Bando

This presentation investigates the use of repetition and repair in conversations between native speakers (NS) and non-native speakers (NNS) of Japanese by analyzing one case of interaction in a homestay setting. Through an analysis of a ten-minute audio-recorded conversation that compared the total number of repetitions by the three participants (2 NSs/1 NNS), I found that repetition by NS and NNS is formed in various ways and functions differently to develop conversations. In addition, I focused on a particular type of repetition, repeat-formatted repair, and qualitatively analyzed how it was being presented and utilized. Findings suggest 1) both NS and NNS need to be aware of how repetition is employed in NS-NNS interaction and 2) interaction in informal settings provides potential opportunities for L2 learners to practice language management through repetition when there is a problem. 

Don’t change a word: the use of nonstandard orthographic selection to index variations in fluency in Japanese manga.  

Wes Robertson

Although the flexibility of written Japanese has long been noted throughout both creative and formal environments, in depth discussion of this phenomenon is still limited. This presentation attempts to provide a more in-depth analysis of where, when, and for what purposes deviation from orthographic norms occurs, specifically focusing on how nonstandard orthography is utilized to portray learners of Japanese. A theoretical framework based around the idea of indexicality is employed to provide an explanation how these changes are able to transmit information, requiring readers to use both context and the sociocultural associations embedded within each script to comprehend the author’s intent.

The seminar will be followed by refreshments in the JSC foyer, and will provide an opportunity to farewell graduating Masters students and welcome new and returning postgraduate students.