Japanese Communication Styles
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). 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 home, 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 overcrowding, 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 feeling 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...
References: 3.) Barnlund, D. C. (1975). Public an d Private Self in Japan an d the United States. Tokyo.
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4.) Barnlund, D. C. (1989). Communicative Styles of Japanese an d Americans: Images and
5.) Ishii, S. et al. Intercultural Communication (1996). Tokyo: Yuhikaku.
6.) Riesman & Riesman. Conversations in Japan (1987). Basic Books, Inc., Publishers:
7.) Okabe, R .(1983). "Cultural Assumptions of East and West: Japan and the United States",
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