2012 Spring Eric Burton Temple Japan Temple Summer

Lost in Connotation

Generally speaking, people in America tend to be honest, straightforward, and direct when communicating.  Whether it be in business, among friends, or romance, we tend to be vocal about what we really want; in hopes that confusion/misunderstanding between other parties is minimal.  Individualism is also an important part of American society.  Standing up for yourself ensures that your opinion will be heard.  Media as well as our peers tell us that our opinion is important. Communication theories would say that because of these things, America is a low context society.  The way in which we communicate highly relies on the verbal.

Even the slightest drizzle and I find myself having to weave in and out of hordes of umbrellas.

Japan takes a different approach to communicating.  For the most part, communication among parties can be very indirect.  There is a lot of “assuming” that occurs in which intuition plays a big role in determining whether or not both parties are on the same page.  People generally tend to be less verbal, and more attentive to listening.  There is a collective mentality in this society, where group harmony is favored over individualism.  This mentality is even reflected within in the Japanese language.  When referring to oneself in a sentence, there is a strong tendency to drop the “I am…” in the beginning of the sentence.  In addition, the pronoun “you” is rarely used in conversation.  Because of these factors (as well as many others), Japan is considered to be a high context society.

A night out with my TUJ 友だち。

I regularly come across these differences in communication on a daily basis.  When hanging out with mixed groups of Japanese and American friends, my Japanese friends tend to be more “go with flow.”  Even if they aren’t interested in whatever the plan is at hand, they will not say they are uninterested.  They may drop hints in hopes that it would indicate their disinterest, whereas my American friends would just say exactly how they feel.

Once I started to become more aware of the differences in communication styles, I slowly learned how to adjust how I communicate with other Japanese.  I relied more on  intuition and body language to gauge how a person was feeling.  While trying to assimilate into a culture through communication, one comes to realize that there are other Japanese trying to do the same thing.  The influence Western culture has on this society blurs the line between high and low culture.  Especially in very urban areas such as Tokyo.

Being around so many different cultures in Tokyo has helped me learn a lot about how I communicate.  I have become much more attentive to small things in daily communication.  Sometimes I find myself mixing Japanese colloquial gestures and phrases into my English speaking.  Overall, I have realized that listening is an extremely important factor in all types of communication.  My strong sense of individualism sometimes clouds my listening skills, but I’m learning.

It’s not always about what someone says, it’s about how they say it.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: