Japanese Compliments

  • Japanese speakers generally give compliments less frequently than Americans.**

  • The functions of Japanese compliments are similar to those of American English (i.e., create/maintain solidarity, express approval and approval, replace greetings, open a conversation).*

  • Japanese tend to employ limited vocabulary with less dramatic meaning.*
    • 80% of the compliments utilize an adjective to express positive evaluation.
        Ii (good), sugoi(great/surprising/beyond my imagination), kirei (beautiful/clean), kawaii (pretty/cute), oishii (good,delicious), erai (great/diligent)
    • The most frequently used adverb is: yoku (well)

    • I like or I love pattern hardly ever appear.
  • Common topics of Japanese compliments are: acts, work and study, appearance, and taste. Japanese tend to judge others on formal attributes (e.g., the college one graduated from/the company one works for) and compliment very explicitly and openly.**

  • Japanese seldom compliment their own spouse, parents, and children in front of a third party because it would be considered self-praise.*

  • A majority of Japanese compliments were on the ability/performance such as academic standing or hard work in one’s studies.*

  • Less than a third of all the Japanese compliments were about appearance/possessions. Japanese compliments on appearance tend to be indirect (e.g., Odekake desuka?(Are you going out?), Omekashishite (You’re really dressed up)).*

  • Responses to compliments: Almost all compliment responses are avoidance of self-praise.*
    • Question the accuracy of the compliment (Soo? (You think so?))
    • Deny the compliment Ie, ie (No, no), Sonna koto nai (That’s not true)
    • Explain why the compliment is not deserved
    • Smile or say nothing
    • Downgrade the value of the object
    • Say credit belongs elsewhere
    • Give additional information without explicitly accepting the compliment
    • Appreciation/ acceptance of the compliment (Thank you) (5%) is restricted to joking interactions between close friends.
  • A greater proportion of Japanese compliments tend to be given to acquaintances than to close friends. If the relationship is close or intimate, compliments are considered unnecessary or unimportant.**

  • Japanese compliments are expressions of deference to the addressee; thus, create distance. Complimenting is a communication strategy of politeness, and complimenters can maximize its effect by downgrading themselves or comparing themselves negatively to the addressee. Denial of such compliments functions to sustain harmony and emphasizes commonality between the complimenter and addressee.*

Above passages from *Daikuhara (1986) and **Barnlund and Araki (1985).

[ Research notes on the section above... ]



Barnlund D. C. & Araki, S. (1985). Intercultural encounters: The management of compliments by Japanese and Americans. Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology, 16 (1), 9-26.

Daikuhara, M. (1986). A study of compliments from a cross-cultural perspective: Japanese vs. American English. Working Papers in Educational Linguistics, 2(2), 103-134.


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