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[This is a guest post by Nathan Hopson]

I never thought this day would come.

From convenience stores to high-end luxury retailers, the daily soundscape of Japan is punctuated by millions upon millions of calls of “Irassshaimase!” It’s a greeting so pervasive that it becomes one of the most searing impressions of the country for first-time tourists, and for those of us who live here long-term it’s hard to imagine Japan without it. But perhaps now we will have to. The unthinkable, it seems, has been thought.

Irasshaimase (いらっしゃいませ) is a formal imperative form. It comes from the root verb irassharu (いらっしゃる), a “polite” verb that can mean to come, go, or be. The simple imperative is irasshai (いらっしゃい), which, though more unusual these days, can still be stumbled upon if you escape some of the more formalized spaces of the mainstream bourgeois economy. Both irasshaimase and irasshai mean, more or less, “Come on over!” or “Come on in!” In its modern incarnation, used primarily to greet customers who have already entered a store or restaurant, the nuance of irasshaimase is closer to “Welcome!” Occasionally you’ll hear it paired with “Goyukkuri dōzo” (ごゆっくりどうぞ), in other words, “Please take your time.”

The use of irasshaimase as a greeting for customers can be traced back at least several hundred years into the Edo period (1600-1868), the “Once upon a time” of the national imagination that provided so many of the elements typically seen as representative of “Japanese culture.” Vendors and entertainers working on the streets of Edo, Osaka, and Japan’s other cities and towns called out to potential customers, beckoning them over. This seems to have been particularly true of shows and exhibitions, which included everything from crafts to acrobats to “freaks,” and from exotic animals to exotic regions of the female anatomy.

The modern formalization of irasshaimase as the default greeting has its detractors. Some find the monotone intonation of straight-from-the-manual “Irasshaimase” by bored convenience store clerks to be grating at best. Others complain that it feels impersonal to be greeted repeatedly during the same visit to a store―for them, rather than feeling seen and recognized, being welcomed over and over is a reminder of the cold anonymity of modern capitalism.

Nevertheless, “Irasshaimase!” is a boldly permanent fixture of contemporary Japanese life.

Or is it?

In mid-April 2021, newspapers here in Japan reported that the national beef bowl (gyūdon) chain Yoshinoya announced plans to scrap “Irasshaimase!” and replace it with “Ohayō gozaimasu” (おはようございます, “Good morning”), “Konnichiwa” (こんにちは, “Hello”), and “Konbanwa” (こんばんは, “Good evening”). These are the standard greetings for everyday life, the sort a first-year Japanese-language student learns in the first week of class. And it seems that this banality was the criterion for choosing them. Yoshinoya’s CEO, in making this announcement, remarked that whereas “Irasshaimase!” left no real way to respond, everyday greetings would make it easier, maybe even leading to genuine interaction. Whether many customers―or overworked retail store employees for that matter―have any desire to engage in conversation is frankly doubtful, but apparently, we are about to find out.

It’s a little thing, but if Yoshinoya’s campaign catches on with other retailers, this could be the beginning of a fascinating sea change. Aisatsu, a diverse range of greetings and other set phrases that serve as social cues and lubricants, are part of daily life from early childhood. They are a critical part of school education and company training, formalized into manuals that have made this shared sociolinguistic practice part of the backbone of a shared national culture. It’s unclear whether Yoshinoya’s new aisatsu will become as popular or ubiquitous as its beef bowls, but this strike at the heart of a taken-for-granted piece of Japan’s public hospitality culture could be a harbinger of things to come. For that reason, if none other, it is worth watching how this turns out.



  1. Stuart Luppescu said,

    April 19, 2021 @ 7:45 pm

    Uh, wait. "exotic regions of the female anatomy"? I've lived in Japan for more than 12 years and have never heard of this. Please explicate.

  2. David C. said,

    April 19, 2021 @ 8:00 pm

    The greeting is also what marks a store as "Japanese" outside of Japan. I wonder if the plans to scrap the greeting extends to Yoshinoya in other countries.

    13 ways to say 'Welcome' in Japanese / 13種の「いらっしゃいませ」

  3. Victor Mair said,

    April 19, 2021 @ 8:06 pm

    "I've lived in Japan for more than 12 years and have never heard of this."

    The author was talking about Japan during the Edo period. You weren't alive then.

  4. Y said,

    April 19, 2021 @ 8:19 pm

    Is that influenced by the greetings used in shops in the anglophone world?

  5. Jim Breen said,

    April 19, 2021 @ 9:34 pm

    I'll be sorry if it dies out. I can well remember from 40 years ago the well-dressed young ladies who stood at the escalators in department stores and bowed said いらっしゃいませ to every customer.

    When I was living in Arakawa ward in Tokyo about 20 years ago our local supermarket had a machine that bellowed "Irasshaimase" every time someone came in the door. It reset with every entrant, so on a busy Saturday morning it was non-stop "Ira-I-I-Irasshai-Ira-I-Irasshaima-Ira-…". (The 下町っ子 took it for granted.)

  6. Laura Morland said,

    April 19, 2021 @ 9:49 pm

    I realize that my opinion has little value in this context, but I would definitely support this change.

    Why? Because of the terrible awkwardness I feel at NOT BEING ABLE TO REPLY to "Irasshaimase!" I first experienced it in a restaurant near the Ginzu district, and my chagrin at this then-perplexing greeting (which was accompanied by laughter) remains with me still, although the meal turned out to be one the most exciting culinary adventures of my life.

    A newish (and excellent) Japanese restaurant in Berkeley, Kamado Sushi, also practices the "Irasshaimase!" greeting, minus the laughter I experienced in Tokyo. I twice implored different staff members to give me a clue as to how to respond, but they replied — apparently correctly — that there is no proper response.

    So if ”Konbanwa” should ever replace "Irasshaimase!" I'll be grateful.

    P.S. To an ancillary point made by your guest author, living in France, I'd point out that it's considered terribly rude here to say "Bonjour" twice in one day to the same person, and back when we used to shake hands, more than one handshake per day was a no-no. In both cases, it implied that you were not sincere the first time around.

  7. a s said,

    April 19, 2021 @ 11:57 pm

    Gyu-Kaku in the US also has their staff yell いらっしゃいませ at you, but it's a bit painful because they don't seem to teach them how to pronounce it, and Americans do not do a good job at the vowel sounds without guidance.

    (It seems like it's very similar to Spanish at least, not that I know Spanish.)

  8. other one spoon said,

    April 20, 2021 @ 12:38 am

    This is really interesting and certainly worth giving some thought, but at the end of the day, color me skeptical. I very much doubt this will be a lasting change even in Yoshinoya franchises, let alone spread more broadly in Japanese dining and retail culture. One thing I'm confident it will do, though, is generate some good publicity for the Yoshinoya chain. In fact just reading this article has made me crave their gyudon; if I still lived in Japan, I'd probably be motivated to get me some. :)

  9. David Marjanović said,

    April 20, 2021 @ 5:46 am

    living in France, I'd point out that it's considered terribly rude here to say "Bonjour" twice in one day to the same person

    E-mails often begin with Rebonjour for that reason.

    (It seems like it's very similar to Spanish at least, not that I know Spanish.)

    It is; basically global default vowels, u excepted.

  10. Victor Mair said,

    April 20, 2021 @ 5:59 am

    I experience exactly the same awkwardness as Laura Morland when I hear "Irasshaimase!", especially in a non-shop setting. The best response I can give is to nod my head slightly and smile a bit.

  11. Duncan said,

    April 20, 2021 @ 6:12 am

    No experience at all on that side of the world (it's all NorthAmerican/African/European), but my immediate reaction/question is…

    If "Irassshaimase!" is appropriately translated as "Come in!" or "Welcome!", for which at least here I'd say a polite English response might be a smiling "Thank you!", a doubled "Thank you! Thank you." or perhaps (for "Come in!" or assuming it can be extended at mealtime to "Dig in!") "Thank you! I will!", how is it that there's no similar response for "Irassshaimase!"?

    And is the lack of a similar appropriate response more due to it not being a perfect translation, even if it's the best possible, or more due to differences in culture, such that a smiling "Thank you!", perhaps with an appropriate extension as above, would be inappropriate or even rude in some way? Or is it more something else?

    Continuing with the second and third possibilities, I recall reading that Japan's social structure and form-of-address customs are comparatively rigid, such that the social stress of mistakenly addressing someone incorrectly isn't insignificant even for young people growing up there. If that is indeed the case (personally I have no idea other than that I read it somewhere), could it be that the reason there's "no real way to respond" is because it involves an element of "At your service" ("At your service, Sir/Ma'am"), that is, implied subservience, such that a response isn't expected as it'd be a reply to an (implied) underling?

  12. Christian Horn said,

    April 20, 2021 @ 7:37 am

    I understand the awkwardness of not having anything to reply to a "irrashaimasse", but after all the person saying this is very well aware that there is nothing to reply.

    So I have settled with a "nod" with my head into the direction where the "irrashaimasse" comes from, which I think shows that I do not ignore the person and is enough of a reaction to put my mind at ease.

    Curious if other stores will follow, but I would not be surprised if the "irrashaimasse" was to stay. It's simply a part of the culture.

  13. George Lane said,

    April 20, 2021 @ 8:48 am

    I had a Japanese friend who occasionally, upon being greeted with "Irasshaimase," would playfully respond, "Irasshaimashita."
    I'm not sure a non-Japanese could get away with that, though.

  14. Frank L. Chance said,

    April 20, 2021 @ 8:53 am

    The nod is not a bad response, but if you feel the need to verbally respond to "irrashaimase" there are at least two perfectly valid and polite things you can say. First off "onegai shimasu" (or it's less polite variant "onegai") tells the greeter that you would appreciate their service. The literal meaning is "[I] beg you to…." with the connotation of "please serve [me] well,"
    A little less formal and more personal verbal response would be "yoroshiku" which also might be expanded to "yoroshiku onegai shimasu." That carries more or less the same meaning as "onegai shimasu" but also echoes the set phrase used when meeting someone for the first time. It also has connotations of "please take care of [me]" Note also that in none of these phrases is the subject or object explicitly stated, which makes them less egotistical in feeling than the English equivalents.

  15. Jerry Friedman said,

    April 20, 2021 @ 12:27 pm

    I'm a bit surprised that one doesn't respond with some kind of thanks (for being invited to come over), but than I know very little about Japanese culture.

  16. Chris Button said,

    April 20, 2021 @ 12:32 pm

    Presumably "tadaima" and "okaerinasai" aren't driven by the same market forces.

    On the topic of Spanish, many of the vowels are indeed similar to Japanese. But I've always felt the more interesting comparison comes from intonation.

  17. Robert Coren said,

    April 20, 2021 @ 3:48 pm

    @Laura Morland: When I was working for a company that had an association with a French company that sometimes resulted in business travel to France, what we were told about not saying "Bonjour" to someone the second time you encountered them was that it implied that you had forgotten the first one.

  18. chris said,

    April 20, 2021 @ 9:20 pm

    replace it with “Ohayō gozaimasu” (おはようございます, “Good morning”), “Konnichiwa” (こんにちは, “Hello”), and “Konbanwa” (こんばんは, “Good evening”).

    I found this part a bit baffling: specifically, the fact that the one English phrase that is not like the others (in that it doesn't reference a specific time of day) does *not* match up with the one Japanese phrase that is not like the others. Did someone just scramble the translations around or is there a deeper story here?

  19. Nathan Hopson said,

    April 21, 2021 @ 2:09 am

    @chris, I rendered “Konnichiwa” as “Hello” rather than “Good day” not because of any temporal issues but rather because a) “Good day” is not widely used in US English, which is my native language and afaik the default / lingua franca here, and b) because I assumed it would be clear that it filled the lacuna left by having a morning and evening/night greeting. Clearly, I was wrong, and thank you for pointing that out.

  20. Ouen said,

    April 21, 2021 @ 3:28 am

    In the film the handmaiden set in Japanese occupied Korea, there is an early scene where the servants of a house greet a guest with いらっしゃいませ. The Chinese subtitles for this scene read 歡迎光臨. This really makes me curious. Both phrases are now used to greet customers to convenience stores in the societies where each is used, but are these phrases really equivalent? Both sound very wooden and formal, that's true. But there is a sense of deference to the other, of placing the listener above yourself, that is present in the Japanese to me but is not to my knowledge something that can be easily replicated in modern standard mandarin. Similar to changing the everyday 話す to the reverential おっしゃる. Is いらっしゃいませ used in settings in modern Japan other than between store/restaurant employees and customers? I'm highly suspicious that 歡迎光臨's use is just from the conscious need to find an equivalent to いらっしゃいませ's use in Japanese convenience stores, is this the case?

  21. R. Fenwick said,

    April 21, 2021 @ 9:14 pm

    I admit, the whole idea strikes me as somewhat bizarre. Irasshai(mase) always makes me think of the culturally (and semantically) near-parallel Turkish buyurun, which similarly doesn't demand any response. Hell, there's no standard response to English welcome either, now I think about it. I suppose for my part I'm just used to the idea that there are many utterances in many languages that require no response; not everything has to be said with the intent of eliciting an answer.

  22. Victor Mair said,

    April 21, 2021 @ 9:25 pm

    If someone says "Hi" to you, isn't it rude to ignore them?

    Don't you somehow feel obliged to acknowledge their overture to you — just as a matter of common courtesy?

  23. Terpomo said,

    April 22, 2021 @ 1:25 am

    Victor, how do YOU know Stuart wasn't alive in the Edo period?

  24. Philip Taylor said,

    April 22, 2021 @ 5:19 am

    For me, "Welcome !" does require a response, which is "Thank you !", "Thank you very much !" or similar.

  25. Victor Mair said,

    April 22, 2021 @ 6:29 am


    Ha, got me!

  26. David C. said,

    April 22, 2021 @ 5:10 pm

    In many places now, when in stores, cashiers, sales attendants and the like don't appear to expect a response to their "How are you?" any more. When I respond back with a "Good, thanks. And how are you?", half the time I get no response.

  27. wanda said,

    April 22, 2021 @ 5:39 pm

    @Terpomo: He said he's lived in Japan for 12 years. That, to me, implied he's been living there the *past* 12 years. If he has been alive since the Edo period, he wasn't living in Japan.
    Although I will say, I have to agree with Stuart. I don't find any regions of the female body particularly exotic. Maybe if she had a intrahepatic gallbladder or a neck rib or a double uterus or something.

    Whether "welcome" needs a reply: If a greeter said, "Welcome" as I entered a store in English, I would probably smile and nod. I don't particularly want to invite shop employees to engage me in conversation. I greet my college students in the morning as they come in with a "Welcome." They usually just smile and nod as well, probably for the same reason. The other thing they might say is, "Hi!" or "Good morning!" It seems that if I am inviting someone to a space that they have every right to be in, like a store or a classroom, there's nothing to thank me for- I'm not doing them some special favor. The "Welcome" is just a greeting.

  28. R. Fenwick said,

    April 23, 2021 @ 12:10 am

    @Victor Mair: If someone says "Hi" to you, isn't it rude to ignore them?

    Usually, yes, of course.* But "hi" isn't "irasshaimase": the cultures, contexts, and expectations are different. And in Japanese society, where many expressions are heavily ritualised, I can understand how a spoken welcome may be as much about the speaker observing the forms as anything else. Like when a Japanese person begins their meal by saying "itadakimasu". It's not spoken to anyone, it requires no response, it's purely phatic. Ultimately, because greetings and salutations in particular are so often heavily formulaic, I'm perfectly okay with knowing that an appropriate response to some is a non-verbal action (as with "come on in" in English, at least if you're responding in the positive), or simply an understanding that the social forms have been obeyed. It's unusual, sure, but once I know that's what the ritual is, I'm quite comfortable to work with it.

    * (Leaving aside those sadly-too-frequent instances where predatory strangers exploit that expectation. I've seen too many misogynists try to strike up conversation with women and then use their "rudeness" when they don't respond as an excuse to abuse them publicly.)

  29. Philip Taylor said,

    April 23, 2021 @ 3:02 am

    Totally confused by your last part, RF — why would a misogynist ("a person who dislikes, despises, or is strongly prejudiced against women") seek to strike up a conversation with a member of the very sex that he (or she, I suppose) dislikes, despises, and/or against which he (or she) or is strongly prejudiced ?

    'Normal' males (those who like women) might indeed seek to strike up such a conversation, but I cannot see how the same is true for misogynists.

  30. M. Paul Shore said,

    April 23, 2021 @ 5:30 am

    Philip Taylor: The subject you’ve brought up is way too big, as well as too distant from the subject of linguistics, to be significantly dealt with within this thread, or within Language Log in general; but the short answer is that the type of impudent conversation-starting stranger R. Fenwick is talking about would in many cases probably be better described by a term like “semi-misogynist”: fond enough of women to want to have sex, and possibly even some sort of rudimentary romantic relationship, with them, but unfond enough of them to be willing to treat them in a psychopathically exploitative way. (Walter of the Victorian autobiography My Secret Life is an example of that type of individual.) One big, big problem is that the line between men of that type on the one hand, and well-meaning men who for the most part just want to explore the possibility of a non-exploitative relationship on the other, is quite indistinct, so that men of the second kind often get viciously accused of belonging to the first kind. I’ve actually seen people argue that a system of arranged marriages, while not perfect, is preferable to this.

    By the way, how do you do italics on this rather technically basic forum (as you did in your post)? There’s no explanation anywhere; and while I can think of two strong possibilities as to how they’re done, I’d rather not experiment, since defective posts can’t be modified or deleted.

  31. Victor Mair said,

    April 23, 2021 @ 5:55 am

    A nod, a smile, a recognition of the other person's existence — especially if they are intending to serve you — for me, coming from Stark County, Ohio, it would seem almost inhuman to ignore them entirely.

    On the other hand, having lived in the urban environment of Philadelphia for 42 years, I've acquired the street smarts necessary for survival. If an aggressive, sometimes even hostile, street person approaches me, even if he says "Sir", I've learned to avoid eye contact or make it only minimal. On the occasions when I've responded to their overtures, I invariably regretted it, sometimes grievously so.

    But if I encounter a sad person who is obviously in need of want, yet passive in their behavior, I will go out of my way to help them.

    Feelings, friends. Feelings.


  32. Philip Taylor said,

    April 23, 2021 @ 6:13 am

    Many thanks for your comment, Paul, which is much appreciated. The forum infrastructure allows a subset of HTML to be used within comments, and in particular the <i>, <b>, <em>, <strong>, and <blockquote> elements. The text which is to be {italicised | emboldened | block-quoted} should start with an {<i> or <em> | <b> or <strong> | <blockquote>} tag and terminate with a {</i> or </em> | </b> or </strong> | </blockquote>} tag. The tags appear here as plain text because each commences not with a "<" symbol but with an "&lt;" string. The latter has been entered as &amp;lt; to prevent it from being prematurely expanded.

    The effect of markup such as this on a comment can be assessed by pasting the comment into before publication.

    (E&EO, because using HTML markup to explain HTML markup is not only incestuous but also highly error-prone !).

  33. M. Paul Shore said,

    April 23, 2021 @ 7:04 am

    Many thanks, Philip!

    Incidentally, I see that you wrote “E&EO”: is that “errors and exceptions omitted”? The version I’ve usually seen is “E&OE”, “errors and omissions excepted”. Another possible version, I suppose, would be “errors and Internet effects and irregularities omitted”, “EIEIO”, which could be particularly useful if the venerable linguist/Sinologist Edward McDonald had a forum.

  34. Philip Taylor said,

    April 23, 2021 @ 7:22 am

    You are very welcome, Paul. And yes, it was an "E", in what should have been the "E&OE" disclaimer !

  35. J.W. Brewer said,

    April 24, 2021 @ 10:30 am

    Perhaps a loanword is in order? I don't recall being irked by the lack-of-ability-to-respond when I lived in Tokyo as a boy, but perhaps I was unaware of the social dynamics that could have made it feel weird, or maybe I just assumed w/o paying attention that the actual Japanese people were somehow giving an appropriate acknowledgement or response but I could expect to be forgiven as a gaijin child for not knowing how to do that. Later on, as a teenager, I spent a summer in southern West Germany, where I became rapidly habituated to the ritual of entering a store, having the storekeeper and other customers say grüß Gott to me, and saying grüß Gott back to them.

    So my modest proposal is that Japanese adopt grüß Gott, perhaps in the form グルスガツ although maybe there are other potential transliterations, as an optional response to いらっしゃいませ for those who feel awkward remaining silent.

  36. Linda Chance said,

    April 24, 2021 @ 2:59 pm

    It took me a while to observe and learn that the proper response to “irasshaimase” was null, but I acquired it in order to be a better speaker. (It’s not much different from telling the clerk behind any cash register who says “How are you today?” “Fine,” when what I really want to say is “I had a crashing migraine this morning and I can’t believe I’m standing here.”) To me, offering no response to “irrashaimase” could represent a kind of empathy, too–my discomfort at having no appropriate way to respond is not something I need to burden the store clerk with, after all.

    I recall reading in research about Japanese customer service that “irasshaimase” is prized as an acknowledgment of concern for the customer. If one does have something to ask of the clerk, your presence as a customer has been recognized. And maybe that is enough. As Nathan notes in his elegant commentary, the CEO of Yoshinoya may be more interested in changing the experience for the worker than for the customer. The “real interaction” that might come with this change could be pleasant for the person having a meal, but it could be just more labor for the young person behind the counter.

  37. John Chew said,

    April 24, 2021 @ 7:05 pm

    Although "irasshaimase" is formally a greeting, I often see it used here (Toronto) to signal your arrival to the person who is responsible for interacting with you. An automated irasshaimase/arigatogozaimashita device on the door of a convenience store uses it to tell the clerk to keep an eye on you; a sushi chef in a busy restaurant might use it to let the host know that they have to hurry back to the entrance after handing off the previous arrivals to a waiter.

    I always bow minimally (nod) in response to a irasshaimase, even if it's a recording. I don't think any further response is called for, unless you're ready to begin conducting your business. Mind you, I'm a Showa-era slacker who doesn't bow back to television newscasters like my grandmother used to.

  38. Philip Taylor said,

    April 25, 2021 @ 6:26 am

    That last part is a truly delightful anecdote, John — did your grandmother really bow back to television newscasters ? (I ask this as someone who does tend to respond to recorded greetings/farewells almost as if it were a real person saying them).

  39. John Chew said,

    April 28, 2021 @ 10:16 am

    Philip – Yes indeed, my late grandmother (born in 1912 and raised in Asakusa) would always sit seiza in front of the TV for newscasts, and bow respectfully in response to the newscasters at the end. My late mother and aunts (born in 1933 and later) thought it was endearing; my American linguist father still thinks it's funny.

    I bow (nod) reflexively, but only in person (or I suppose now, Zoom); my teenage sons bow appropriately but to my eye there's a delay of a few tenths of a second that indicates that it's a conscious act.

  40. Josh R said,

    April 29, 2021 @ 7:27 pm

    I imagine just about every L1 and L2 Japanese speaker has had experience bowing on the phone when saying certain ritual expressions.

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