Skip to content
CityLab
Culture

The Language Debate Inside Japan's Convenience Stores

Throughout Japan, store clerks and other service industry workers are trained to use the elaborate honorific speech called “manual keigo.” But change is coming.
Japan is a nation of ubiquitous convenience stores, and clerks are highly trained to address all customers the same way.
Japan is a nation of ubiquitous convenience stores, and clerks are highly trained to address all customers the same way.Yuriko Nakao/Reuters

Enter any store or restaurant in Japan and you are almost certain to hear the same two words: “Irasshaimase konnichiwa!” (Literally, “Welcome hello!”)

These earnest multisyllabic greetings from clerks are inescapable in virtually every retailer, both in big cities and small towns across the length of the country. It’s part of an effusive pattern of patter known as “manual keigo”—Japanese honorific speech used by store clerks and applied uniformly regardless of a customer’s age or status. The rote repetition of certain terms and phrases forms a cornerstone of Japan’s solicitous culture of customer service.