A blog on working, living in Japan.


How to make small talk in Japanese


Meeting someone for the first time, and don't know what to talk about? The blog Art of Manliness, made an extensive post on this topic. Here are the results of a recent survey on the top 10 topics to talk about when you meet someone for the first time. Some topics are particularly different for Japanese business situations. Hopefully these topics and phrases help you break the ice with strangers.

1. Weather (天気)

The standard go-to question. Here are some sample openers:


2. Where you were born (出身地)

This refers to both yours and the person you're speaking to. When you are explaining your birth place, you can explain about weird cultural quirks, customs, etc. When asking the other person's origins, there are generally 2 outcomes: (a) you've been there or heard something about the place and can talk about it, (b) you've never been there and can ask a lot about what's interesting there. Here are is a sample conversations:

Ex. 1:
A: 出身地はどこですか?
B: あ、山梨です。
A: お、この間行きましたよ。うどんは美味しかった。

Ex. 2:
A: 出身地はどこですか?
B: あ、山梨です。
A: あ、そうですか?最近あそこへ遊びに行こうと思いますが、面白いところはどこですか?

3. Where you live (住んでいる場所)

It is generally acceptable to ask where the other person live. Or more precisely, it's common to ask about it the slightly roundabout way:


4. Hobbies (趣味)

From anecdotal experience, the most common answers are: traveling, sports, driving, and music.


5. Work (仕事)

Generally if the other person works in the same company (or project) as you, you don't ask about their job because it's assumed you already know. Usually the second pattern is used in those situations:

On total strangers:

For people in the same company:

6. Today's news (今日のニュース)

You should refrain from discussing politics or religion until you've shared a couple beers. It's best to stick to 'safe' topics, like sports, or general events.


7. Blood type (血液型)

Japanese people are obsessed with blood types, and this is not limited to only women. Another good ice-breaker is also trying to guess the other person's blood type and discussing that.


8. Family (家族)

Remember to use honorifics, even for people that are in a lower position that you (for example, you're a customer or boss). Technically, you are an outsider (外) and not part of their group (内).


9. Interesting book/movie (面白かった本・映画)

Just ask about a movie or book title.


10. Pet (ペット)

Ask if they have a pet at home.


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