What is this Japanese greeting?
December 30, 2008 5:04 PM   Subscribe

In Japan, upon entering a shop or restaurant I was pelted with this greeting. This was over ten years ago. It remember it like "ashira - shy - ma - zay" My friend, and guide told me this was absolutely obligatory and a staff worker could be fired for not saying this. Where does this come from? There is a restaurant in my neighborhood (brooklyn) where the staff says this (or something, it happens quicly). It seems to be not just a greeting but an alert to other staff "there is a customer present!" What is the purpose? What does this mean most literally? Thank you!
posted by ezekieldas to Society & Culture (10 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
いらっしゃいませ (irasshaimase)

It just means 'Welcome', and is said to a customer entering a restaurant or shop. (There are other ways of saying Welcome in Japanese, depending on the situation.)

I guess staff could be reprimanded for not greeting a customer properly, though being fired on the first offense would be rather extreme. There's a lot of stock placed in being polite in Japanese society, especially to customers.
posted by thread_makimaki at 5:14 PM on December 30, 2008


It's the traditional welcome. Literally, it means "come in". Pretty much every sushi counter I've ever been to in the US does this, too.
posted by peachfuzz at 5:15 PM on December 30, 2008

add: this About.com Japanese language page has a typical restaurant exchange in Japanese, and an audio version of irasshaimase lower down.

No, the staff are not yelling 'Customer here!' when they say that, though by one person saying that it might serve as an alert that a customer is present.
posted by thread_makimaki at 5:19 PM on December 30, 2008

I forgot to ask: how does one (properly or traditionally) respond? I don't recall my friend doing or saying anything. At the restaurant here, I smile and give a short nod. But what would one do in Japan, particularly being sensitive (but not overly so) to custom and manners.
posted by ezekieldas at 5:20 PM on December 30, 2008

Your question made me remember an interesting blog post I read a year or so ago about an Australian in Japan, culture shock, and this "irasshaimase" greeting.
posted by losvedir at 5:22 PM on December 30, 2008 [2 favorites]

Irasshaimase is used as a greeting by service providers as a soliciting phrase: "I am here, ready to serve you!"

Grammatically, it's an imperative, and the polite form of verbirassharu, meaning "coming," going," or "being."

Your friend's business establishment may require its service providers to acknowledge customers with "irasshaimase," not only to greet them, but to demonstrate that the providers are ready, willing, and able to fulfill customers' gastronomic wishes.

Irasshaimase requires no response.
posted by terranova at 5:39 PM on December 30, 2008

The short answer is: a nod and smile is fine in Japan too. It really depends on the situation: if it's a small restaurant you might want to be a bit more friendly; if you are greeted with a barrage of irasshaimase's entering a department store you can just sail by.

The long answer: In Japan, when you are the customer, you are king (or queen). That doesn't mean you have free license to be rude, though some people are. When you are in a store or restaurant the staff are there to serve you and expect to serve you. This attitude is more prevalent the more traditional a business establishment is. It's considered OK for the customer to talk to staff in an informal manner while staff must always use 'keigo' - the polite form of language, with the corresponding body language. So in essence they are your servants so you are given license to treat them as such.

But on a practical note you can't really go wrong by just being normally polite. (And besides, most Japanese people in Japan do not expect foreigners to know anything about social norms..just don't be wacky/rude and you're fine.)
posted by thread_makimaki at 5:48 PM on December 30, 2008

There is similar greetings in other Asian languages too. In Taiwan you always hear "Huan Ying Guang Lin" upon entering a store or other business - it serves pretty much the same purpose as irasshaimase. It's a common thing in China too.
posted by gemmy at 7:42 PM on December 30, 2008

Is the restaurant Sushi D in Ft. Green? Because I've been pelted with this there and I'm glad to see some answers here.
posted by spicynuts at 9:24 AM on December 31, 2008

Same thing and same thing in Korea - phonetically 'ohsuhoseyo!' (with variations).
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 8:18 PM on January 1, 2009

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