The latest Cultural Condrums column looks at the usage of the Japanese word "yappari" (after all; as expected). This is a very common expression, which seems a bit inexplicable to me, but Kate Elwood explains its cultural importance:
As I had more chances to hear yahari or yappari in the following months, I realized that the words are used a lot among people who didn't know each other well, too. When asked who their favorite singer was, many people would respond, "Yahari/yappari I like..." Then they'd mention a well-known singer. But there was certainly no way I could have expected what particular singer they would say, when I didn't know the person well enough to be able to foretell his or her musical predilections and the singer named varied from person to person so there was obviously no unspoken consensus on who the best vocalist was. What they told me may have been unsurprising but it certainly did not fall into the "you could have seen this answer coming a mile away" category either.
What seemed even stranger to me at first was that people also use yahari/yappari when diverging with or opposing someone else's opinion or statement. At a meeting I attended recently more than a few people invariably prefaced their countering remarks with yahari, as in Yahari so wa ikimasen.
So wa ikimasen means something like "that won't work," but if yahari is translated as something that can be anticipated, it would seem a bit harsh on the person who made the proposal to imply that it was unmistakably out of the question, as plain as the nose on your face. But in these kinds of situations of dissent yahari does not in fact sound scornful or derisive.
Yuko Okutsu, who wrote a whole master's thesis on the topic, has suggested that yahari/yappari functions as a conformity seeker: When people agree, it confirms and intensifies the sense of sameness, and when they disagree it serves as an attempt to persuade the listener to conform to the speaker's opinion or view. In English, too, there are times when speakers seek solidarity by chiming in with, "Oh, I know!" when a companion expresses an opinion, or tacking "You know as well as I do that..." to the top of a statement of opinion the listener may or may not necessarily agree with. But these types of phrases do not play as great a role in English conversation as yahari/yappari do, perhaps because a sense of sameness is not necessarily more valued over a sense of uniqueness.
This reflects the concepts of "wa", unity, in-group inclusion, and consensus building that is so important to Japanese culture.
A non-Japanese friend noted that there's a world of difference between saying A so desu ka! and saying Yahari so desu ka, the latter implying, as she put it, "that what the speaker has just told you wasn't news, wasn't original and fascinating information one is fortunate to have heard, but merely something one had known all along." I agree that English speakers may sometimes be a wee bit disappointed with an assertion that their views are hardly novel.
Yahari, we like to be special.
Yappari especially is often also used as an exclamation when something one suspected turns out to be true. The JGram Web site, which contains interesting and useful examples of yahari/yappari and other Japanese phrases with translations in English, included "whaddayaknow" as one rendition of yappari. That's exactly how I felt as I came to realize that indeed yahari/yappari could give me some further insight into the Japanese way of thinking and expressing. Whaddayaknow.