In the Japanese language, Aizuchi (Japanese: or ?, IPA: [aiz?t?i]) are the frequent interjections during a conversation that indicate the listener is paying attention or understands the speaker. In linguistic terms, these are a form of phatic expression. Aizuchi are considered reassuring to the speaker, indicating that the listener is active and involved in the discussion.
Aizuchi are frequently misinterpreted by non-native speakers as the listener showing agreement or fully comprehending what is being said.
Common aizuchi include:
Business relations in particular can be hampered by non-native speakers assuming that their Japanese counterparts have been agreeing to their suggestions all along, when in reality the Japanese have only been saying that they follow or understand the suggestions - "got it", not "agreed".
Aizuchi can also take the form of so-called echo questions, which consist of a noun plus "desu ka". After Speaker A asks a question, Speaker B may repeat a key noun followed by "desu ka" to confirm what Speaker A was talking about or simply to keep communication open while Speaker B thinks of an answer. A rough English analog would be "A ..., you say?", as in: "So I bought this new car"; reply: "A car, you say?".
This can cause serious confusion when Westerners and Japanese communicate because it sounds like the Japanese person is saying yes all along and then suddenly saying no, it's difficult, or [...] Japanese body language for, 'No way in hell, sorry.'
De Mente, Boye. (2011). Japan's Cultural Code Words : 233 Key Terms That Explain the Attitudes and Behavior of the Japanese. Rutland, Vermont: Tuttle Publishing.