Japanese Communication Styles Japanese communication patterns and styles can be confusing to Westerners. Americans are used to straight talk. Americans make great efforts to convey the exact intent of their message. Japanese interlocutors tend to use words as only part of the message they are trying to communicate. Other factors, such as silence, subtle body language, mood, tone, and intuition imply communication styles. I would like to explore the aspects of communication styles in terms of (1) body language and physical behavior, (2) silence, (3) eye contact and (4) saving face.
It is often pointed out that throughout the long history of Japan; the Japanese have cultivated their unique communication styles which are based on their high-context, collectivistic and almost homogeneous society (Ishii et al. , 1996). The Japanese are reported to be reserved, cautious, evasive, silent, and ambiguous (Barnlund, 1975), placing an emphasis on not hurting others and keeping harmonious relations with each other. This emphasis on harmony has helped to mold a society where the ability to assimilate differences and to engineer consensus is valued above a talent for argument (Barnlund, 1989).
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In this communication-passive society of Japan, modesty, humility, and suppression of self are considered to be moral ideals (Okabe, 1983), and people are rather reluctant to disclose their true feelings (Barnlund, 1975). Body Language and Physical Behavior Body motion, as a whole, is more reserved in Japan than in the West. The Japanese predisposition for well chosen delicate gestures is born from necessity, for 125 million people live on these small mountainous islands. Japanese living quarters and public places are usually overcrowded. People must share space continuously at ome, work, and play.
It is very easy to physically violate another person’s space, so the Japanese do all they can to avoid it. They are raised to detest pushy and argumentative behavior in public. To avoid such unpleasant exchanges, people tend to keep their hands, feet, elbows, and knees closer to their frame. Being polite, reserved and aware of one’s own and other people’s body movements, is an essential part of being Japanese. A code of physical behavior seems to exist almost everywhere in Japan. People generally do not talk loudly, touch each other unless forced to by vercrowding, or make other disturbances in places traditionally considered public.
People keep to themselves when among strangers. Yet even among friends, there are always subtle codes of behavior to consider, a code for what you can and can not do with your hands and feet. Hand gestures are plentiful and useful, especially when you want to relay a message without drawing the attention of those around you. In the office, hand signs can invite someone to a drink or meal, tell others the boss is angry or has a girlfriend, or simply explain that you’ve Just been fired. In all these examples the hand gestures would be different from those used in the West.
One of the most common communication styles that non-Japanese people are familiar with is bowing. Bowing (oJigi) is a very important custom in Japan. Japanese people bow all the time. Most commonly, they greet each other by bowing instead of handshaking. It is impolite not to return a bow to whoever bowed to you. Japanese people tend to become uncomfortable with any physical forms of contact. But, they have become used to shaking hands with westerners. Bowing has many functions in one. It expresses the eeling of respect, thanking, apologizing, greeting, and so on.
Japanese people bow, when they say, “thank you”, “sorry”, “hello”, “good bye”, “congratulations”, “excuse me”, “good night” and “good morning”. Bowing seems simple, but there are different ways of bowing. It depends on the social status or age of the person you bow to. If the person is higher status or older than you are, you should bow deeper and longer. It is polite to bow, bending from your waist. Men usually keep their hands at their sides, and women usually put their hands together on their thighs with their fingers touching. If it is a casual situation, you can bow like nodding.
The most frequent bow is a bow of about fifteen degrees. Bowing is also an important part of the Japanese tea ceremony. Silence The use of silence in communication is not an exclusively Japanese phenomenon and all languages make extensive use of it. In Japan, however, it is a particularly important part of the language. While we in the West have programmed ourselves to listen for hidden meaning in a Jumble of words and try to read between the lines. Japanese people listen to the silences, for hidden innuendo and deeper meaning, as f reading between the words.
Just as the white space on the paper in Japanese graphics is an important part of the design, spoken Japanese flows among the silent spaces. Silence speaks loudly and clearly to the Japanese. There are many examples in Japanese culture where silence expresses meaning with great force or subliminal elegance. The Japanese tend to be suspicious of words; they are more concerned with actions. They believe in using silence as a way of communicating. They also believe it is better to talk too little than too much.
Japanese people take special note of the pauses between words. They are comfortable with less talk and longer periods of silence than are Westerners. Japanese may even use the fact that silence disturbs Westerners as a strategy to unnerve them. In the United States speakers may use silence to draw the listener in, to slow down the flow of events, or encourage the other person to pay attention while they Justify or explain something (Riesman & Riesman 1987). In the Japan however, silence may be a polite acknowledgment of failure or inability.
This technique is common amongst students who often assume there is only one specific way to answer, as is customary in test-oriented Japanese ducation. Silence signals to the teacher to move on to the next student, maintaining the flow and harmony within the classroom. Eye Contact In most cultures especially Western culture, it is considered rude to not look at the person who is speaking to you. We are taught to look people in the eye at all times and avoiding eye contact is usually associated with being dishonest or uninterested. In Japan it is considered rude or even aggressive to hold the gaze of another person.
Japanese people usually look at the other person’s neck or focus on something such s their tie knot or other parts of the face such as the eyebrows or the mouth. It is less offensive to look at a person’s eyes and then look away or down before looking at their eyes again. The avoidance of eye contact can limit social interactions with non- Japanese person’s who would probably assume that that person is being rude when they are actually practicing a form of communication etiquette. Saving Face Being accurate is very important to Japanese people because it saves face.
When the Japanese make mistakes/errors it is very unacceptable. Most Japanese people do ot like being put in a position where they have to admit to a failure or mistake, because doing so means losing face and it is very serious to them (http:// www. rikkinyman. com/training/]apanese culture/communication. htm). Many are hesitant to admit that they don’t understand something. Japanese people tend to avoid the word “no” for all practical purposes; it doesn’t exist. They believe that no person should be publicly humiliated or embarrassed. This saves face or avoids marring that person’s image.
Saying no or directly showing displeasure or disappointment risks humiliating the other person and they must be avoided. The Japanese have created ways of saying no without humiliating the other party (http:// www. rikkinyman. com/training/]apanese culture/communication. htm). Some examples of how to tell another person no is: asking a question, saying they don’t understand, changing the subject, or claiming they have no authority to answer at the time. When a Japanese person is criticized they take it as a personal offense and it also is considered losing face.
Many Japanese do not understand how Western cultures accept or separate behavioral criticism from personal criticism. Conclusion There are many important differences between Western culture and that of the Japanese people. These important differences show how important it is for people to be aware of other cultures and how they interact and communicate with each other. After learning about Japan and their communication styles, I see how easy it can be for people to misunderstand and stereotype others based on what they don’t know. Etiquette and manners are important and required in Japan.
In our culture it is rare for people to uphold the dignity of others the same way they would for themselves. It s important for Japanese people to adhere to their communicative styles because there is some correlation between the way they communicate and how they live. Without their conversational rules their communities would be chaotic based on their vast population. Japanese people are subtle with words and body gestures and have maintained their cultural communication styles despite Western influence through globalization and technology. References 1 http://www. rikkinyman. com/training/]apanese_culture/communication. htm 2. http://www. danin]apan. com 3. ) Barnlund, D. C. (1975). Public an d Private Self in Japan an d the United States. Tokyo. The Simul Press. 4. ) Barnlund, D. C. (1989). Communicative Styles of Japanese an d Americans: Images and Realities. CA. Wadsworth Publishing Company. 5. ) Ishii, S. et al. Intercultural Communication (1996). Tokyo: Yuhikaku. 6. ) Riesman & Riesman. Conversations in Japan (1987). Basic Books, Inc. , Publishers: New York. 7. ) Okabe, R . (1983). “Cultural Assumptions of East and West: Japan and the United In W. B. Gudykunst (Ed. ) Intercultural Communication Theory: Current States”, Publications. Perspectives. CA: Sage