The COVID-19 pandemic has led to an increase in テレワーク (terewāku, remote work) in Japan, but not every profession can allow people to work from home so easily. 車掌さん (shashō-san, train conductors), for example, can’t conduct remotely.
One lesser-known job that has become difficult to perform isn’t a job, per se; it’s a role performed by people in many different positions. I’m talking about the critical role of 司会者 (shikaisha, master of ceremonies [emcee]).
Japanese events, from 結婚式 (kekkonshiki, wedding ceremonies) and 株主総会 (kabunushi sōkai, general stockholders’ meetings) to 宴会 (enkai, parties) and even お笑い番組 (o-warai bangumi, comedy shows), all have someone who directs the events’ 進行 (shinkō, proceedings).
The word 司会者 itself is a good lesson in how one pattern of kanji works. 司会 is given in the Chinese grammatical order. Reversing that into Japanese grammatical order, we get 会を司る (kai o tsukasadoru, control the meeting/party/assembly). 者 (sha) serves as a suffix that signifies a person who performs the action.
As there probably won’t be many large gatherings for the foreseeable future, your opportunities to practice emceeing are limited, but “おうち時間” (ouchi jikan, time at home) — Japanese Instagram’s translation of the #stayhome hashtag — is actually a perfect time to brush up on the very particular language involved in serving as a 司会者. By the time the pandemic is over, you’ll be ready to guide any event from start to finish.
Speaking of starts and finishes, running an event has a sandwich-like opening and closing that encapsulates everything.
The very first and last thing a 司会者 should do is thank everyone for coming: “皆様、本日はご来場いただきましてありがとうございます” (“Minasama, honjitsu wa go-raijō itadakimashite arigatō gozaimasu,” “Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for coming today”). Just switch to the past tense ございました (gozaimashita) at the end of the event.
After you’ve thanked everyone for arriving at the beginning, and before you thank them for having come to the event at the end, you need to officially open and close the event by literally declaring a start and an end:
“ただ今より***を始めさせていただきます” (“Tadaima yori *** o hajimesasete-itadakimasu,” “We will now begin the ***”).
以上をもちまして、***を終了させていただきます (“Ijō o mochimashite, *** o shūryō sasete-itadakimasu,” “With that, we will now end the ***”).
Now that we have the beginning and end outlined, it’s time to lay out the agenda. You can do that quickly with short phrases that will set an order for what happens: まず最初に (mazu saisho ni, first), その次 (sono tsugi, next), and そして最後に (soshite saigo ni, and finally).
The content of the agenda will depend on the event, but you can usually count on 挨拶 (aisatsu, greetings/message) and 発表 (happyō, presentations). These are simple enough to introduce: “田中様よりご挨拶をいただきます” (“Tanaka-sama yori go-aisatsu o itadakimasu,” “Mr. Tanaka will now say a few words of introduction”).
鈴木様に***について発表していただきます (“Suzuki-sama ni *** ni tsuite happyō shite-itadakimasu,” “Mr. Suzuki will now give a presentation on ***”).
Once the agenda is accounted for, and the event is underway, politely cue the other speakers by saying, “田中様、お願いします” (“Tanaka-sama, onegaishimasu”, Mr. Tanaka, please).
Thank them once they are finished, and use other transition phrases like それでは (sore de wa, and now) and 続きまして (tsuzukimashite, moving on) to give the proceedings a natural rhythm.
Don’t stress too much about getting everything perfect. Try to stick to phrases that you’re comfortable with (ideally ones you’ve prepped beforehand). And if you make a mistake, just say 失礼しました (shitsurei shimashita, excuse me/pardon me) and then correct your error.
Some of these sentences may feel unnecessarily rigid, but that’s just how the Japanese language works in events like this. You should feel like you are narrating each part of the event as it happens. Stick to the script! Resist the urge to freelance and invent your own phraseology when Japanese has perfectly good language ready for you to take control of.