Whether you’re Japanese or not, chances are you have conflicting feelings about Japan’s formal respect-language, keigo. On the one hand, it is one of the most difficult aspects of the language to truly master. On the other, many feel that it somehow contains and expresses a truly Japanese essence. Then there is keigo’s linguistic rarity, which by itself makes it worth preserving, supporters say.

Feelings quickly run high if discussion turns to the appropriateness of keigo in modern life and society. Among foreigners, keigo is mixed up with vague notions of a special Japanese politeness which somehow defines both a culture and a people. Such people resist the suggestion that it might no longer be appropriate in this day and age. Japanese, on the other hand, have even suggested it be abolished.

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