Unit 4                            甲府市(こうふし)のホストファミリーとの会話(かいわ)

Conversations with the Kofu City Host Family


Part A: 家族しうかい The host family live in Kofu City in Yamanashi-ken, the same prefecture as the Ono family of the previous unit. Their lifestyles differ because this family lives in town.  See if you can find Kofu-shi on a map of Japan.


1.    もんだいのそうだん


Information and Suggestions for Teaching and Learning


When the ryuugakusei senses that everything is not as it should be, it is often a family friend or a counsellor that can help.


One of the aims of this situation is to provide the learner with the strategies to raise sensitive topics like this one.


The other is to provide an opportunity for the learner to accept that there is more than one way to open this conversation and that the speaker does have a choice. The choices include for example the typical structures for asking permission ( te mo ii desu ka ), for making a polite order ( te kudasai) or for asking a favour (te kureru) and any number of other options.  





Teachers reference for facilitating class discussion

a)    こまっているんですけど、ちょっと話してもいいですか。



This is a sensitive matter and the approach is gradual, softened by the use of chotto in a similar way to the English “just” – I’d just like to speak to you about something. The student allows the listener time to focus on the matter before then asking permission to talk with him about it.  

b)    ちょっと話してもいいですか。



The message would be conveyed just as well without the specific reference to having a problem. Presumably Junichi would follow up with, for example, nan deshoo ka.

c)     ちょっと聞いてください。


 –te kudasai is typically used for orders not requests but the student is concerned and wanting to get straight to the point. If said in the tone of a request (and not an order), Junichi would understand the motivation, which is to get attention in order to seek advice (and not to tell him what to do).

d)    ちょっとこまっているんだけど、聞いてくれる?


-te kureru  is used for making a request in uchi relationships. Junichi may accept this casual style because he is only 30 and they have quite a good relationship. Since the student is about to confide in him, it might feel right to be close. The final choice on whether it should be kureru or kuremasen ka lies in the finer contextual details (relationship, compatibility etc) 

e)    ちょっとこまっているんですけど…….


The student  leaves the specific request (kiite kureru/kuremasu ka ) implicit. The conversation would normally flow on from this point as the Junichi takes the initiative with, for example, Nani? Nanika atta no?  As in c) the decision on choice of register relies on the finer contextual details.

f)      いそがしいですか。 





This is another  indirect way of broaching the subject  and if timing is good and Junichi is intuitive and knows you well, he may respond with nani ka? (hanashitai koto aru no?)


g)    あのう、お話したいことがあるんですけど……




Another gradual entry and safe start similar to d) but in a less intimate way using the honorific o- hanashi shitai  and desu kedo instead of dakedo. Even if the speaker is usually casual with Junichi, it sounds quite natural to switch to a more formal register when seeking advice from a ‘senior’.

h)    わたし/ぼく、お兄さんに何かわるいことをしたのかな。



A creative approach opening up the topic from further down the track than in other examples. The student has not directly asked Junichi to listen, but by finishing with ka na which has the effect of “I wonder if..” leaves the opening there and most likely it will lead to receiving some advice from Junichi. Without eye contact with Junichi, this would appear to be half spoken to oneself, in which case the student can use plain form safely.

i)      じゅんいち、わたし/ぼく、ちょっとそうだんしたいことがありますけど、


Typical and safe.






  1. 何を(きて)て行けばいい?


 Information and Suggestions for Teaching and Learning    

All the following choices are in the informal register in the knowledge that the student has been with the family for six months, the relationship is good, and the mother Etsuko encourages informal language and feels comfortable with it. The focus therefore is on the various ways of expressing the same thing using different grammar forms rather than on matters of register.


All of the options are possible and since the student is aiming to find out how to do the right thing, Etsuko could not be offended by any of them. What the learners develop in this exercise is a repertoire of possible strategies for seeking information, and an understanding of how there are close English equivalents for all the Japanese options. Note how intonational stress in spoken English often encodes the meaning demonstrated by particles in Japanese (e.g. なんか in c)

After some deliberation, the writers have not given a) an O rating on the basis that the student had no intent of putting all of the responsibility on to the mother.


a)    何をきていけばいいの。


eba ii is often used seeking advice:

 doo sureba ii desu ka

kite iku (wear and go) is similar to the English what will I wear to it projecting the mind to the two a (as in b, c and e) actions of wearing and going there.


ii no (or its more formal equivalent ii n desu ka) gives the impression that the student is dependent on the mother’s opinion and that she knows the answer. The no in particular implies You know. You tell me the answer. The student is not airing an idea as in c) e) g). It could encode the edge created by then in Well, what should I wear then? (since I have to go, and you are he one who knows the rules)


When no is used with an interrogative (nan,dare,doko etc) the speaker is expecting an answer from the other.

b)    どんなふくをきていけばいい。



Asking for less precise detail than nani, donna (or doo iu ) is asking for advice on the general category of clothing. The answer might be, for example, foomaru, infoomaru.

Otherwise similar to a) this not asking for an opinion but an answer.

c)     ふつうのかっこうでいい?



Futsuu no kakkoo refers to casual informal clothing. Etsuko is sure to suggest that you dress in something a little more formal than usual (depending on how neat and presentable you look in your everyday clothing) but the questions would certainly elicit the necessary information.

d)    ジーンズなんかだめだろうね。


I don’t suppose I could wear say jeans could I?   

なんか  exemplifies the previous word, ジーンズ as say might be used in spoken English. The motivation behind this reference to jeans is to suggest that is what you would like to wear if it is acceptable.

e)    スーツじゃなくてもいいでしょ?


It doesn’t have to be a suit does it?  As with d), reference to a specific piece of clothing is motivated by a personal preference not to have to wear a suit. Wishful thinking perhaps.


f)      何をきていいけばいいと思いますか。



Unlike a,b,c,e which assume the mother has the answer, to omoimasu is asking for her opinion in a softer way. Omou? might be even more appropriate at this stage of the relationship.

g)    このふくでいいかなあ。



Similar to f) the student is seeking an opinion and is taking some responsibility as well instead of putting it all on the mother. As in d) and e) the student refers to a specific piece of clothing rather than using an open question using nani , doo iu etc.



3. ふとったね

Information and Suggestions for Teaching and Learning   

The focus in this situation is on the development of strategies which allow the student to retrieve some control over the situation. Foreign students ( particularly those who don’t look Japanese) will often be the recipients of comments on their appearance. These comments are not intended to offend. In some senses the comments flow from a stream of consciousness in which people verbalise their thoughts about appearance more easily perhaps than in some other cultures. These personal comments and evaluations reflect the speaker’s capacity for frankness about self and others, particularly within uchi relationships. The degree to which the neighbour is soto or uchi is the degree to which this statement could be perceived as insulting or contributing the development of a closer relationship. The neighbour may also have difficulty determining where in the uchi to soto continuum the student stands at this stage and innocently overstepped the mark. This is good opportunity for teachers to raise these cross-cultural awareness issues with learners as they discuss the language choices.  The examples of what you could not say are included in the discussion only for their value as glimpses of cheeky and even sarcastic responses (rated X if included in this context) which someone might want to say but cannot! It is the language of slapstick comedy and manga.





Teachers reference for facilitating class discussion

a)    そうですか。 そうですね。


If the purpose of the neighbour’s comment was to engage the student in conversation at his/her own expense then the agreement removes the possibility of that control. If the intent was to bond or indicate that he feels comfortable enough with you to talk at a personal level, then this is also a safe response.

b)    お母さんのりょうりがおいしいから


The student responds with a compliment to distract from the issue raised. The distraction may result in a switch of topic. 

c)     ほんとうですか。


This seeking further detail would result in further unwanted discussion of the weight issue.

d)    わたし/ぼく、ふとった?


Same as c) Turning the question back for confirmation is asking for further details and that is not the student’s intent.

e)    え、ショック。




Shokku! from the English “shock” is saying I’m shocked that you should say that, and lets him know that you are not happy with the comment.

f)      そんな言い方はないでしょ。(笑いながら)


The response is gently confronting. This could prevent it happening again. Sonna is an emphatic word. Even sonna by itself implies such an unacceptable way.

g)    え、ひどい!(笑いながら)

The neighbour might think the student is enjoying the attention if they laughs saying this, and if the student says this without laughing it may be confronting - it depends on the student’s intent.

h)    わたし/ぼく、気にしているんですよ。(joking way)


This is an assertive response which would perhaps make the neighbour regret his comment. It is similar to saying I’m feeling sensitive about that you know.

i)      そんな言い方をしてもいいんですか。


A rhetorical technique but a confronting and therefore risky one. Do you really think it’s OK to speak to people like that?  The student would have had to say it in a gentle way to avoid causing the (sensitive) speaker considerable dismay! The speaker whose purpose was not to insult but who by way of greeting used a personal comment without malice would be taken aback by the terse response thinking What did I say to deserve that? The speaker had simply made the first observation that came to mind.

j)      ………………

    (だまる- do not respond at all


If the intent was not to hurt, not to respond at all would make the neighbour and the student feel uncomfortable. A pregnant pause would bring the communicaton to a standstill.





      Information and Suggestions for Teaching and Learning 


The choice between yaru, ageru and omitting them is a dilemma even for the Japanese. While there is a general understanding that ageru can be used when making an offer to meshita or equals, the difficulty is knowing, for example, how Yoshihiro feels about being helped, his confidence, his sense of independence, how he perceives your relationship with him at his stage, and the way the Goto family members generally relate to each other. The writer in consultation with the expert collaborators has decided on three options as safe and typical based on the known context but accepts that teachers might have another opinion. Since the use of ageru is so debated, the writer sought alternative opinions from another Japanese teacher (female), an engineer (male) and a Japanese speaker and resident of Laotian-Chinese background (male) all in their late twenties. These authentic opinions may be difficult for learners to fully understand but assist the teacher by providing further data.     


1. The Language Choice




Teachers reference for facilitating class discussion

a)    手伝(てつだ)ってあげる。


Ageru is used when speaking to meshita or those of the same age especially in the uchi contexts.  Ageru can be used in uchi relationships, when you are clearly doing a favour for someone. I will help you.  The definite ageru however might suggest to Yoshihiro that he cannot do it at all by himself. 


Adding yo as in tetsudatte ageru yo somehow softens it:

 I can help you, you know.(or if you like) as if to convince him so sounds more like an offer than a definite statement.


The writers have rated this as safe assuming the student says it in supportive way.

b)    手伝ってあげましょうか。


A typical and safe way to make an offer. Would you like me to help you?  It is more likely that at this stage the student would use the plain form ageyoo ka since he/she is speaking with a younger sibling.

c)     手伝ってやる。


Yaru  is not safe for someone who is not a true family member.  To use yaru in the second person without offending is generally a privilege confined to secure, established uchi relationships, or when speaking of the family pet. The use of yaru in the third person is more common. e.g otooto ni tetsudatte yatta. It might be said among boys in the family.

d)    ぼく/わたし手伝ってやろうか。



On the other hand, yaroo ka is an offer with a gentle impact and would be accepted by Yoshihiro. It might be said among boys in the family.


e)    ぼく/わたしやってもいいよ。


This is also an offer which gives Yoshihiro the opportunity to accept or not, similar to the English I don’t mind doing it for you, you knowbut it does sound as though he is going to do it all for him and not only help.

f)      ぼく/わたしにやらせて。


Taking over the situation, yarasete is direct, like Let me do it. Depending on the finer contextual details of the relationship, it may not be a safe choice. This also implies that Yoshihiro could not do it and the student will take over.

g)    ぼく/わたし、手伝おうか。


Tetsudaoo ka,is a gentle offer among family members and unlike ageru and yaru,  implies no personal cost on the side of the speaker.







Information and Teaching and Learning Suggestions

The student in this situation would presumably be a university student or adult and not a high school student. It would be most unusual for this to happen with a high school exchange student but the occasional gesture would do no harm. It is most likely that the host mother will refuse the offer initially and that the student will have to insist to be able to pay. 


1.The Language Choice




Teachers reference for facilitating class discussion

a)    お母さん、ぼく/わたしがはらいますので。


A definite statement and similar to the English Mum, I will pay (with the encoded message of, for example, so don’t think of it), this would be rated O except for the use of node which sounds objective and too impersonal for an uchi relationship, especially in this situation. In general kara is considered to be a more uchi type word than node.

b)    お母さん、ぼく/わたしにはらわせてください。


As with the English Please let me pay, this is an entreaty or request and Okaasan who might feel more obliged to respond with iie than the previous choice which was so definite.


c)     お母さん、ぼく/わたしがおごるから。



The verb ogoru, is not used towards meue no hito. It is used like the English It’s my treat, but, somewhat like ageru, the speaker is implying that the giving is at a cost.

d)    お母さん、いいです(with gesture)


This would have to be accompanied by a determined glance and a gesture with an open flat hand pushed sideways indicating for her to put her wallet away.  It may be necessary to repeat it or add one of the other ‘choices’ given.


e)    きょうは、ぼく/わたしがはらいます。お母さんいつも払ってくれるから。



This choice has added value. The student is reinforcing his/her determination to pay by adding the reason of “paying back”. She would appreciate the student’s recognition of her previous generosity. Kyoo wa helps convince by implying that today as compared with other days (when you paid).

f)      お母さん、ぼく/わたしにはらわせていただませんか。

Some host mothers might be taken by surprise by this very polite Japanese something like Please allow me the pleasure of paying. Harawasete the causative form of harau meaning allow me to/let me pay and itadakemasen ka, the formal version of moraemasen ka, encodes extreme politeness in that it suggests that the mother would be doing the student a favour by letting him/her pay.

This switch to the formal register when making an offer could do no harm, but if the student feels self conscious or fears that it will distance him/he from the host mother using such formality, then it can be said with a touch of irony (“Allow me Madam” said with a grin and bow) and amuse as well as please. Whatever the tone and gesture, drop the itadakemasen ka and it would sound quite appropriate.











6. アンパン



Information and Suggestions for Teaching and Learning    

This situation raises discussion of honne (the true feelings) and tatemae (the social face). The paradigms of tatemae and honne are convenient and it is seductive for teachers and learners to conclude that this is a purely Japanese phenomenon or that it is a typical aspect of Japanese communication in recent times as it once was. Give learners time to reflect on how people deal with this type of situation in their own country and inevitably they should discover that people’s language in all cultures changes to accommodate the feelings of the other person. Hopefully the discussion will lead to consideration of why tatemae and honne may be an issue more in some cultures than others and perhaps discussion of the need for cohesiveness and harmony in close communities which rely on strong neighbourly bonds.


 1. The Language Choice




Teachers reference for facilitating class discussion

a)    (まえ)にもこういうのをいただきましたね。

Ambiguous. It risks sounding like This is what I received from you (or from someone else) before and could be implying Is that all you can think of? On the other hand, it might compliment the giver by indicating that you remember receiving it before. Itadakimashita, the polite form of moraimashita is respectful so that could save the situation but this is a risk.

b)    どうもありがとう。


Since you don’t like anko, this is an appropriate response, thanking for the gift but not commenting on the content.

c)     いただきます。


This is said when receiving gifts that you, or someone in the house, will eat at some stage. Depending on the intonation (e.g. itadakimaaasu.) it could sound as though you are about to eat it on the spot. The intonation on the recording is the itadakimasu of accepting the gift ( “I accept the gift thank you” ).

d)    うれしい。あんこ、大好き。


Since you don’t like anko it would be advisable to avoid enthusiasm for the contents and settle for c) instead.

e)    どうもすいません。


Arigatoo and sumimasen/suimasen are often interchangeable so this is similar to c) except that this has a “thank you for your trouble” nuance which acknowledges he effort more than the gift itself.

f)      いつもすいません。





As for f) but acknowledging that the neighbour is regularly doing something for you or giving you things.



g)    わあ、おいしそう。どうも、あとでいただきます。


Depending on the student’s usual level of emotion, this waa oishisoo may be too enthusiastic for someone who doesn’t like anko. Waa is very “girlish” and depends on the student’s style. Taking the student’s words as honne, the neighbour might then make a habit of bringing anpan regularly! On the other hand it might be accepted simply as tatemae and consideration for the neighbour’s feelings. This decision is one of personal style.