Politeness seems ubiquitous and quite mandatory in Japan. One very clear example is the courteous shop clerks (店員, ten’in) who are a part of Japan’s famous service industry. In every convenience store, supermarket or small kiosk in every corner of this country, you will find the cheerful clerks who welcome you in their store. As you walk by, they will greet you, “Irasshaimase,” with a slight bow. I was fluttered at first. The shop clerks in my country barely smile or show any enthusiasm to the customers. *sigh*
It will probably make you feel confused as of how to react towards them. Actually, it is socially acceptable to just keep walking without saying anything to them. But if you do not feel comfortable ignoring their greetings, you can bow very lightly to them – just like nodding. If you don’t think it is enough to show some acknowledgment, you can say, “doumo”. Say it casually. “Doumo” is a very useful phrase that you can use in many situations. It can mean “hi”, “bye”, “thank you”, and even other things, depending on the situation.
I’m not exaggerating when I say the customer is treated like a god. When you pay for the product you buy, they will handle your money or credit card in a courteous way, showing that they respect your money. Even if you only buy an onigiri, they will still give you their best service with a smile on their face. When you leave, they will thank you while lightly bowing. Sometimes, the shop clerk even bring your bags and accompanies you to the front door. It feels like being a VIP.
One unique fact about female shop clerks, they tend to use extra high, nasal voice when they say “irasshaimase, irasshaimase.” Why? Because they have to constantly repeat “irasshaimase” hour by hour, and it can obviously cause too much strain on the vocal cords. In order to minimize the strain, they make their voice more nasal. Furthermore, Japanese people believe, that nasal voice is easier to be heard. At last, who would disagree that Japanese women strive to be cute? And Japanese society generally sees this kind of high-pitched voice as cute.