Stop Grunting at Me, Japan!

If you’ve been studying Japanese long enough to attempt a conversation with a Japanese person, you’re probably familiar with the concept of aizuchi, which is described as ‘interjections during a conversation that indicate the listener is paying attention and/or understanding the speaker.’

Which is to say, grunts to let you know they’re listening.

I’ve actually seen this taught in elementary school textbooks as a form of good manners. Which it unquestionably is.

But for folks learning the language, this can be quite distracting. While this may come as a surprise to all of you out there who have described me as a ‘Renaissance man,’ ‘Enlightenment personified,’ and ‘The most complete man ever to walk the Earth,’ foreign languages do not actually come all that easy to me.

Hell, spitting out a complete sentence in my native language is a struggle in and of itself. So when I’m wracking my brain, trying to remember Japanese vocabulary and grammatical structure, aizuchi is clearly going to destroy any chance I had at success.

I’ll never forget my first encounter with aizuchi when I was desperately trying to hold a conversation with my talented and extremely kind sensei at a Japanese language school in Aichi-ken.

After squeezing out a couple Japanese words, she nodded at me while grunting. Un.

At first, I thought that she was just clearing her throat so I pressed on, painstakingly producing a few more words as her eyes widened and she let out an enthusiastic grunt. UN.

My God, is she okay? I thought, wondering if she was on the verge of an epileptic seizure.

Despite my concern for her health, I continued to plug away, managing to squeeze out a couple more words before she let loose a string guttural grunts. Un un un.

Holy crap, I thought, completely taken aback. She sounds exactly like young Forrest Gump did when he was mimicking the school principal after he’d engaged in a vigorous mattress session with Forrest’s mother in exchange for admitting young Forrest into his school. Was my lovely Japanese teacher preparing to mount me?!

Forrest Gump - Young Forrest on Porch.jpg

Clearly, I had leapt to an absurd, narcissistic conclusion, but even as I’ve gotten used to aizuchi over the years, it can still break my concentration and send me off on a tangential train of thought as to whether grunting is really necessary.

Isn’t eye contact and nodding enough?

I may be on my own here, Japan, but when speaking to Johnny Box, could you please hook a brother up and stop grunting at me? Onegai!

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