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Jason has set foot again in the Land of the Rising Sun and started a new blog, "Japan Blog." Nice name. Ahem, on behalf of Japanese citizens, I would like to express a hearty welcome to .... uh, OK, OK, well, he has already posted several interesting entries on his encounters with things Japanese.

The "What are your Hobbies?" entry, among others, has got me thinking about the way Japanese people talk to strangers. He wonders why Japanese like to ask "What are your hobbies?", which I agree they (we?) actually do. I posted a comment there saying it's simply a handy question for Japanese who generally are not good at keeping conversation going when talking to people from other countries. However, after reading Kurt's comment in which he said he saw some Japanese TV talk show where the interviewee was asked "Shumi wa nan desu ka? (What are your hobbies?)", I began to wonder if this is a question that Japanese people really like to ask whatever the situation may be.

Come to think of it, this question is often heard in talks among Japanese as well. It must be a must-asked one at omiai (an arranged formal meeting where a man and a woman meet for the first time in the hope of marriage possibility), which I have never experienced in my life. ;) Oh, I remember when I was going to driving school in my college days, - uh, you know, you have to go to driving school for 1-2 months (!) to get a driver's license in Japan - the instructor asked me the question during a lesson, at which I was rather surprised because that was a totally unexpected one when practicing driving. Too bad the instructor was a man, huh?

Then, why? Hmm...why? It could be said that Japanese in general like to ask personal questions. And especially when talking to a person they see for the first time or don't know very well and want to be friendly with, they tend to ask such ones. You may sometimes find it annoying. Actually I sometimes do, though I'm Japanese. But they mean no offence; just want to know about you as much as possible. If they don't have any interest in you, they wouldn't ask such questions, maybe.

In this sense, among other personal topics that can be rude, "What are your hobbies?" would be a fairly good one. By asking this, which in Japanese sense is rather like "What do you like to do in your free time?", you can know what kind of person s/he is to some extent. Also, if the person has the same interests as you do, the talk will be an exciting one. Even if not, you can ask about it further, possibly making a familiar atmosphere among you.

Whether you will answer it seriously or not is up to you to decide, but when in Japan, I hope you won't frown at being asked "What are your hobbies?" frequently. No harm. Just get ready.


Hey Kiyo,

What I find interesting are some of the responses to the question, "what are your hobbies?" While I was an English instructor I remember hearing responses like eating and sleeping. I guess I can understand answering eating - I used to love going out to restaurants and trying different kinds of food - but when we, the Nova English instructor, would follow up and ask, "oh, so what do you enjoy eating?" often we would get pretty odd responses. You'd expect to hear something like, "I like Thai food or new-fusion cuisine" but many times the response would be something like "fruits."

Likewise students would often respond saying their hobbies were travelling, driving or snowboarding. But when asked oh, so where do you drive, or how often do you go snowboarding, often we'd find out that they had gone snowboarding just once in the last year, or can't really say that they've gone driving like along the ocean or up mountain roads.

I remember it used to irritate some of the teachers - though I think you quickly realize that the question, what are your hobbies, really means, what kinds of things do you enjoy? And then it's exactly the situation you describe - where the question is asked simply to just find out a little bit more about the other person.

Just strikes me as a situation where the literal translation of something (shumi wa nan desu ka = what are your hobbies) comes out with a slightly off target question or statement. I know it happens all the time when I try and speak Japanese. As you say, I guess as English instructors we should teach them to ask instead, "so, what do you do in your free time?"

Anyway, so what are my hobbies? If I answer "blogging" would people understand? =)


Yeah, Jason, how to take the words "hobby" and "shumi" is a bit different between the two languages. Your examples illustrate it well, and so tell us a lot.

My answer is blogging too, but only a few people would understand it. ;)

Previously someone asked me the same question, and I answered computer (means net surfing), they replied, "otaki desune." I start to think about what my hobiies is.

One of the reasons I'm comfortable with Japanese is that there are so many "set dialogs". I've never been very good at chatting in English, at coming up with witty "cocktail conversations". When I'm in a roomful of strangers, I find I have nothing to say. My shyness is often mistaken for arrogance.

However, in Japanese, I don't have to worry about it. There are so many standard questions and answers. As long as one is agreeable and replies in the expected fashion, interaction can proceed smoothly. Questions might sound personal, but replies do not have to be--or even truthful, as long as they do not interrupt the flow of banter.

I'm always amazed at how Americans insist on being disagreeable and coming up with unexpected replies. "Keeping it real" as the youngsters say. What a wasteful expenditure of energy on trite things.

Ken Loo, was that "otaku" or "otakkii"? Anyway, I don't think net surfing as a hobby is in no way "otakuppoi." ;)

M, what a thought-provoking comment! Sure, "set dialogs" are a good spice for making things go well in this country. I love them too.

I found your blog searching google for hobby sites and came across your site. Its very interesting and I have been a fan of hobbies for the last 20 years. I even have my own blog dedicated 100% to hobbies! I look forward to reading more posts, and hope you would check out my blog as well. Thanks again. Good Day!