Usually, when we speak, it is perfectly normal that we use often pauses like “umm”, “hmm”, “ahh”, “eee”, and so on during conversations. There are many reasons on why we do this. Some theories say it is a general human tendency to spur some suspense, discovery, excitement and interest during a conversation. There is also a cultural aspect attached to it. And some Japanese people take this to entirely another level! Here are some of the possible reasons I feel why Japanese people take occasional pauses.
Japanese culture entirely is based upon mutual respect and trust. It is essential for a Japanese to show interest in your conversation while you are speaking. Also, when they speak, they do not want to make any mistake. So, that`s why they use pauses. Moreover, their body language when pausing generally includes a slight bow and it indicates that they are being respectful. Building trust through conversations is also very important in a collectivist society. It is imbibed in their culture so deeply on a sub-conscious level that they don`t even know they are doing it. This pausing generally is occasion-based and it is not normally seen among friends or someone whom you know for long time.
Moreover, you must also be hearing “Sumimasen” with a slight pause, most of the time in a first time Japanese conversation.
“Sukuon” is a slight pause between two syllables which is common in most of the Japanese words. It is indicated as “っ” (small “Tsu”) and is heavily used in writing and in songs. Usually, in normal to fast daily conversations, these pauses do not show up much. Because of “Sokuon” also, it might look they are a bit pausing sometimes. The influence of it is, however, evident when some Japanese who cannot speak much English try to speak in English.