The essentials to holding a interactive conversation in any language, is to use the “5W1H” (or better known in English as the “Five W’s“. This is something I learned that was essential in any kind of presentation during school education, and was emphasized a lot during my previous job in consultative sales…
Actually, a lot of Japanese conversations are almost like a crossover between “a presentation” “consultative sales (or active listening)” and of course “chatting”, and the “5W1H” and in Japanese, the “+2W” as I call it, is a crucial part having a fluid, free flowing Japanese, conversation. I have noticed that through my 1.5 years of Japanese tutoring, people who get stuck with conversation, always tend have trouble here. (See also “the short cut to becoming a fluent speaker”)
Therefore when having a conversation with a Japanese keep mind the following “5W1H+2W”.
5W1H + 2W
いつ when いつ りょこう に いきますか？
だれ who だれ と いきますか？
どこ where どこ に（へ） いきますか？
なんで（なぜ） why なんで いきますか？
なに what なに が すきですか？
(2 extra Ws)
どの which どの えいが が すき ですか？
どんな which kind / what kind どんな えいが が すき ですか？
So Why Do We Need the “+2W”s ?
Well, if you really ask me exactly “why”, that’s a very difficult one to answer, but through my 20+years of schooling and sales experience in this country, is that Japanese people put a huge emphasis on “categorization”.
What I mean by “categorization” is that if you occasionally like checking out movies on HULU or NETFLIX, Japanese people tend to like to know, “what kind (genre)” and exactly “which one”. I have seen many people at my guesthouse saying something like
“I like Ghibli movies わたしは ジブリ映画が 大好きです。 (watashi wa ghibli eiga-ga daisuki-desu)”
and directlly be asked questions like
“Which Ghibli movie do you like どのジブリ映画が好きですか？（dono ghibli eiga-ga suki-desuka?)” or ” What (other) kinds of movies do you watch/see?（他は）どんな映画をみますか？ (hoka-wa, donna eiga-wo mimasuka?)” .
You could imagine that reason behind the “quirkiness” of Japanese people is that they always like to collect and organize information instantaneously. This is probably a cultural habit that is ingrained through out many aspects of life. A lot of conversations can trail off into “what kind(genre)” and specifically, “which( or which one)” .
Personally, I believe that a lot of western dialogues have a tendency to focus on the “why” and “how”, but usually in Japanese, both those questions can be included in the “what kind” aspect. You can also sometimes find that asking too many questions on “why” could sound a little aggressive(interrogative) to a Japanese person, and more often avoided in a conversation.
In Japan, showing respect to some kind of “genre” or “form” shows a little bit about yourself, your personality, and maybe your philosophical way of thinking. There has always been rivalries between, “Gundam vs Evangelion”, “Final Fantasy vs Dragon Quest”, or “Dragon Ball vs. One Piece”. (there are “Star Wars vs Star Trek”, and “Pepsi vs Coca-cola” think of it as something similar, but maybe goes a little bit deeper into the individuals’ philosophical thought) It is same with different “forms 型(kata)” of traditional and martial arts in Japan, if you follow one art, that defines a part of your character or philosophy… this may sound like the Japanese people have a tendency to label and misjudge you through your experiences, but it is rather a much more ambiguous and free-of-judgement loose assumption, this is just a way for people to set a starting point in their conversation, so that is why you don’t need to feel stressed about being asked the question, but it is important to know how to engage in these kinds of conversations because they become gateways to an engaging dialogue.
So next time you have a conversation with a native, be sure to ask the “5W1H”s and prove deeper into the conversation with the “+2Ws”!!