Whether it is Japanese anime, manga, music, movies, or TV shows, the word “hai” is permanent. In various contexts, this word gets used in Japanese media.
After all, it is an accurate reflection of Japanese society as well. People in day-to-day settings, like during casual conversations or business meetings, use this specific word.
But why do they use it so much? And is it the English equivalent of the word “yes”?
The Japanese word “Hai” (はい) directly translates to the English words “okay” or “yes.” Japanese use this word often because it helps perpetuate cultural norms of politeness and formality. Thus helping maintain social harmony.
What Does The Word “Hai” Mean in Japanese?
The Japanese word “Hai” translates directly to the English word “yes” or “okay.” However, it isn’t always used in that context while communicating. The implication of the word differs according to the setting as well as the people who are talking.
For example (via 33rd Square):
- Confirmation: “Hai, soo desu ne” (That’s right)
- Acknowledgment: “Hai, wakarimashita” (I understand)
- Stalling the conversation: “Hai, eto…” (Okay, let’s see…)
- Answer: “Hai, Watashi desu.” (Yes, speaking.)
Alongside the above, “Hai” shows engagement and attentiveness towards the speaker. Also, it helps keep the conversation flowing while you are thinking of what to say next.
A University of Minnesota study by Professor Naomi McGloin (via 33rd Square) summarized how the word “hai” is used:
“The emphasis is on demonstrating understanding rather than agreement. By frequently saying ‘hai,’ the Japanese speaker supports social harmony…The message is ‘I’m with you’ rather than ‘I agree with you.’”
Why Do Japanese People Say “Hai” So Much?
“Hai” is a word that can be used in multiple ways in a conversation. It’s used as everything from a conversation filler to showing affirmation with the speaker’s words. Due to its wide use, it has become a core part of Japanese culture.
In Japan, people are expected to know how to act in different settings with the proper etiquette and language. This prevents anyone from getting offended during the conversation or event.
The word “hai” helps perpetuate this formality while allowing individuals to remain relaxed during the conversation. Not to mention that it helps everyone feel respected and included without anyone having to go out of their way to use more engaging formal words.
Also, you must have noticed that the word is rarely used in a negative aspect.
At most, it’s used to stall the conversation. Since much of Japanese culture is seeped in formality that values politeness and respect, the word helps maintain that by allowing listeners to show respect towards the speaker.
Along with that, it helps establish social harmony and humility since it’s also a conversation continuation tool. So, a simple “hai” can help avoid awkward and barren moments in talks.
Moreover, it allows the listeners to show that they are paying attention to the speaker without interrupting them. But when did this particular word develop?
As per Social researcher Brigitte Steger, it traces back to the Edo era. She said:
“‘Hai’ became part of the honorific language developed during the Edo period to affirm reciprocity and obedience in an environment where mutual responsibility was essential for survival.”
However, there has been a generational shift in using the word “hai.” With globalization, many parts of Japan are ceasing to be as strict with formality. As a result, the use of the word is gradually decreasing.
But, as a result, many have also raised the alarm over conserving Japanese identity and culture.
Do you think the younger generation uses the word “hai” less? Have you used it while conversing with a Japanese citizen?
Let us know your experiences and thoughts in the comments below.