Japanese article is here; https://japaneselanguagesalonbymikapanda.com/the-communication-not-to-say-anything-1-460
- At first
- Japanese are liars!?
- Why don’t they tell directly?
- Japanese can read “the air”, between the lines
- “Haiku” and “High-context” culture
- Final comment
Hi, this is MIKA!
It’s kind of sudden, have you ever had any troubles when you communicate with Japanese people?
For example, you couldn’t judge they said yes or no, they abandoned the job even though they said to take it on, or they didn’t tell you their thinkings or reasons clearly…
When you had such troubles, you might be angry and say “What do they think in the world!? I can’t understand them anymore!!” in your mind.
However, in fact, these ambiguous expressions are manners of Japanese communication!
If you know that, it’s possible to avoid the troubles with Japanese as many as you can.
So this time, I’ll tell you the thinking of Japanese for communications!
Japanese are liars!?
Do you know the accident called “The mistranslation of the century”?
It has been occured at the summit talks of Prime minister Eisaku Sato and President Richard Nixon in 1969.
Eisaku Sato said “Zensyo-shimasu（善処します）” in Japanese to President Nixon who required the self‐imposed control on the export of textile products for US.
And the interpreter translated it “I will do my best”!! That was the beginning of troubles after the summit.
Because “Zensyo-shimasu（善処します）” means “No, I can’t accept your requirement!”, doesn’t mean “Yes, I do”!
Actually “Zensyo-shimasu（善処します）” can interpret to “I will do my best” if we translate it literally. However, it was “Tatemae”; a publicly stated opinion, definitely not “Honne”; a true desire and feelings!!
You may wonder “Why he didn’t say “No” directly? He had to refuse it politely”.
In that case, we can think the position of Japan and Prime minister Sato was one of the factors not to say “No” directly. But it’s impossible to ignore the characteristic of Japanese not to prefer direct expressions.
Why don’t they tell directly?
We can give mainly two reasons why Japanese don’t like a direct communication.
First one is they are agricultural people who value a group behavior.
Second one is they believe there are spirits called “Kotodama” in each words since ancient times.
Cooperation is the most important thing in Japanese society
Sometimes it’s possible to hunt alone, but it’s impossible to farm alone.
That’s why Japanese naturally value a group behavior.
In the oldest Japanese constitution which has been established in 604 AD, there is the word “和（わ）を以（もっ）て貴（とうと）しとなす”.
It means “it’s always the best thing not to fight to do something”.
Because such sense of values has been born by farming, we need the way for communications not to hurt others or take them umbrage.
Are there “Spirits” in the words too!?
“Pumpkin, be a carriage!”
As you know, there is the famous scene the witch in “Cinderella” casts a spell to let a pumpkin become a carriage.
That’s extreme example, however, Japanese people believe there are “Spirits” called “Kotodama” in the words which have the spiritual power to make it real like the spell of witch since ancient times.
You may think “No kidding!”, but imagine a bit.
When you say positive words, they make you comfortable.
And when you say negative words, they make you uncomfortable, don’t they?
It has been proved “Kotodama” can impact on not only the mind of humans but also rices by the experiment!
It’s one of the reasons why Japanese pay attention not to hurt someone or make him/her uncomfortable by the spiritual power of direct words.
As one of the concrete examples, there are some “Imi-kotoba” in Japan.
“Imi-kotoba” is tabooed words which we shouldn’t use in specific scene.
For examples, we say “Cutting the wedding cake” as “Putting a knife on the wedding cake”. Because “Cutting” is bad word to let us associate a “Divorce”.
Also it’s one of Japanese indirect expressions to say “Toilet” as “Otearai” or “Kesyou-shitsu”.
“Otearai” means the place to wash our hands, and “Kesyou-shitsu” means the place to make up.
With the such background, we think it’s desirable not to use baleful or dirty words, and way of speaking which has the possibility to hurt a companion if it’s all at possible.
Japanese can read “the air”, between the lines
Have you ever heard the word “reading the air”, “Kuuki-wo-yomu（空気を読む）” in Japanese?
Of course we can’t read the air, it’s also one of Japanese indirect expressions.
It means “reading between the lines”, “judging the situations or companion’s feelings and thinkings”.
In other words, observe the things which aren’t written or said by oneself.
As stated above, because Japanese have the national character not to tell their true feelings and thinkings directly, they’ve acquired the skills to observe companion’s feelings and thinkings even though it’s indirect expression or there aren’t any words!!
That’s why Japanese can understand the true meaning of “Zensho-shimasu”, which I told you at first, if it’s said by Japanese.
“Haiku” and “High-context” culture
“Haiku” is the shortest style of poem around the world
「古池（ふるいけ）や 蛙（かわず）飛（と）び込（こ）む 水（みず）の音（おと）」
This is the masterpiece of Basho Matsuo, the very famous “Haiku” poet in Edo era.
“Haiku” is the shortest style of poem which is made by only 17 letters.
With only 17 letters, they describe beautiful scenes in each seasons and the mind of humans.
However, they never write direct words such like “beautiful” or “lovely” to the theme. It’s same in the case of people’s mind, it’s so senseless to express it with directly words such like “happy” or “sad”.
Writers select the words carefully and tell to readers the theme with minimum necessary expressions.
And readers imagine the scene or mind which the writer has described with limited words.
For example, how can we appreciate the haiku of Basho Matsuo which I introduced you a while ago?
He doesn’t tell us only the fact “I heard the sound which frog has made by diving into an old pond”.
It’s interpreted he wanted to say “It was quiet enough to hear the sound which frog has made by diving into an old pond”.
Of course there isn’t the mention “It was very quiet”. However, it’s the real pleasure of “Haiku” to observe the essence which hasn’t been written.
Japanese are the most “High-context” people
“High-context” is the cultual characteristics to observe the hidden “true feelings and thinkings” by not only the information of language but also the context or companion’s expression, movement, and method of speaking.
Countries in Asia and Africa are corresponded that, and Japanese has the strongest “High-context” culture around the world!
In the other hands, “Low-context” is the cultual characteristics to judge the situation or companion’s feelings and thinkings by only the information of language, because it’s everything for them.
The countries of immigrant like US and Australia, Westurn countries like UK and France are corresponded that.
First one tend to prefer indirect and unclear communication, and second one prefer to direct and clear communication.
No one can judge which is good or bad. However, we should be careful each other to communicate.
I’ll pay attention not to be like the couple in the picture!
How was it?
Does this article make you nervous to communicate with Japanese?
For me, sometimes it’s troublesome even though I’m Japanese. However, it might be Japanese politeness.
So, When Japanese say “Chotto…”, “Well…” in English to your invitation, it’s better not to ask anymore.
And you shouldn’t expect a good result when they say “Let’s do that when we have another chance” or “I’ll go if it’s possible”.
Finally, “Difficult” means “Impossible”, “It’s hard for me to deal with someone or something” and “I don’t like it” means “I hate it”. I reccomend you to remember them.
When you cann’t understand what Japanese people say perfectly, ask them honestly by saying “I’m sorry. Because I couldn’t understand very much, is it possible to tell it directly?”
I hope you enjoy the communication with Japanese people not to have any stress!