By Lucca Bey
Since the beginning of the 2018 Japanese Plus program, we’ve not only been learning about the Japanese language, but we’ve been learning about the coinciding culture. This is how we came across the Iceberg metaphor. Above the iceberg’s waterline would be aspects of a certain subject, or in this case culture, that are readily visible, and can be seen from basic observation. However, icebergs are much deeper than they initially appear. Aspects of the Japanese culture that cannot simply be seen from observation are labeled ‘below the surface’ information – one of the many overlapping sections of the spoken Japanese language and the ‘below the surface’ Japanese culture.
When we learned about Chotto, the Japanese word that’s directly translated as ‘a little,’ I was surprised and interested at the context in how it was used. Chotto, as I learned, is the super polite Japanese way of denying someone something. One example that Eshita Sensei told us about was, if you were asking if there were any movie tickets left in their theater, and there were not, a ticket booth worker would still say, ‘Chotto,’ despite it not making too much sense in translation.
Simply learning about this word gave me a great introduction and general insight into the culture and value placed on respect in Japan. Typically in America, we would say no, straight out, but finding out how commonplace that Chotto is in Japan really opened my eyes to how much value people place on manners and offering people what they want in Japan. All in all, I’m getting more and more excited to learn about the interconnectedness between the Japanese culture and language, and Chotto was a great introduction to this!