Monday, April 13, 2009

Speaker Beware

In Japan there seems to be no understanding of the need to express things, in the most Latin sense of the word: to communicate feelings, ideas, experiences, just to get them out. Being in such a close-quarters self-contained culture for so long, one of the exceptional elements of Japanese people is their ability to stay inside themselves. It doesn’t demand the same kind of effort of them as it would in the West to take a secret to the grave, or to wear a mask that is never lifted. If there is something you don’t want to make public, then you keep it to yourself, it’s as simple as that. Once something is spoken it’s communal property, with none of the unspoken understanding that this-and-that shouldn’t reach so-and-so’s ears. After all, if it was any kind of secret, why not just keep it inside? Before I realized this it took many experiences of voicing half-private impressions, thoughts, or questions about a colleague to another in unspoken confidence, only to have my “confidante” quickly translate it and shout it across the room to the person in question, all in complete innocence, oblivious to the notion that if I’d wanted my words broadcasted I would have asked for such services. If you want privacy here, you have to find it within yourself.


  1. This is pretty sad. I don´t know how they can survive. It leads me to the impression that the Japanesse are rather suspicious and they don´t trust people. Maybe they thought up the structure of etiquete and traditions because they just don´t want to communicate in other ways - and of course only staring at each other would be quite embarrassing. BTW the article sounds pretty bitter. - Blue elephant

  2. Well I don't mean to sound bitter, but perhaps I am a little. But that's because I have a different system of communication, not because they are wrong. And it's not necessarily sad! After all, in the West we get ourselves into all kinds of trouble because we "have to tell someone" something. I always respect self-sufficiency, and while the Japanese are dependent in different ways, in this way I respect their strength. It just makes it difficult for an outsider to adapt!