Minoru Aizawa, JCMU’s Japanese Language Coordinator in Hikone, discusses why the weather is often used as an icebreaker when striking up conversation with a Japanese person.
Words describing the weather are probably some of the first terms introduced to Japanese learners when studying the language. Such words are much more frequently used than their English equivalents. When meeting someone for the first time, for instance, they are commonly used to open a conversation. Some useful expressions are as follow:
- “ずいぶん寒くなりましたね。” (It has become very cold, huh?)
- “梅雨に入りましたね。” (The rainy season has finally set in, hasn’t it?)
- “蒸しますね。” (It’s humid, isn’t it?)
- “いい天気だね。” (Great weather, eh?)
It will be very beneficial, therefore, to learn how to use them appropriately in various contexts.
Why is it that Japanese people have come to use these expressions that state the obvious about the status of the weather as nice tools to begin a conversation? Two possible reasons come up to my mind.
One is that the dividing lines among four seasons have traditionally been clear in Japan and so have the changes in weather and temperature. This has made us more sensitive to weather in general. The other is that weather has had a strong influence on many Japanese engaged in agriculture, namely those raising rice. Changes in weather can have a direct impact on rice crops, leading us to become more concerned about weather.
If you are currently studying Japanese, try to pay attention to the weather in your neck of the woods. It might help you get a feel of the people who have started this custom in Japan!