Tuesday, January 31, 2012

The gaijin complex~ Japanese communications

Many Japanese feel uncomfortable with foreigners because Japan is homogenous and still a very closed country and they are not used to interacting with foreigners. In fact, a couple of decades ago, Japanese pointed fingers toward rare foreigners and muted "gaijin" which means "outsider person". Lately, the number of foreigners visiting Japan has been increasing and the number of Japanese obliged to live abroad for business reasons is steadily growing. This internationalization increases the opportunities for Japanese to interact with foreigners and Japanese need to conquer the gaijin complex. However, to overcome the gaijin complex is not easy, and learning English is not a sufficient requirement. Japanese and Americans often approach each other with radically different assumptions, and some serious mutual misperceptions arise. These occur because Japanese communications are completely different from Americans: the gift-giving, vague communication and consensus orientation are some specific areas that are different.

One of the misperceptions occurs because Japanese use the characteristic method of interacting with others to show friendship by gift-giving. Japanese give gifts to friends and people that they respect, and Japanese give gifts to keep their friendships. Such a gift or a favor can also mean a debt for Japanese and might impose heavy obligations for them to repay the favor. In this matter, Japanese gift-giving is complicated but one of the important aspects of Japanese culture to show friendship and courtesy. Unlike Japanese, Americans also give presents to their friends or to help others but do not expect an obligation for the favor. Therefore, Americans might make Japanese feel obligated for even their small gifts. On the other hand, if Japanese expect some return for their favor toward Americans, Japanese are frustrated about receive nothing or a lesser gift in return.

Another source of communication problems between Americans and Japanese comes from the Japanese tendency to use a vague communication style. Vagueness is used to avoid conflicts with each other in Japan. Since Japanese dislike conflicts, they keep an attitude of courtesy to other people. However, their courtesy is just on the surface and they hide their real feelings and opinions in many situations. For example, Japanese try to be good to other people, even if they harbor anger underneath. These behaviors are also found in their negotiations. Japanese might save face for their negotiating partner through vagueness, reflecting a polite way of refusing. Even if they want to say "no", giving a flat refusal to any proposition is difficult for Japanese. Such vagueness arises in misunderstanding on the part of Americans. They do not understand the real meaning of Japanese artificial behavior, and often conclude that Japanese have made some commitment.

Another example of vague communication is that Japanese people state their opinions softly and indirectly, which also leads to confusing Americans. Japanese tend to express their thoughts with an indirectness and unclarity, and they may circle around their topic, veer away and wander off on a tangent. The indirectness is a strategy not to hurt other people, and Japanese can read between the lines even with such unclear expressions and understand each other. However, Japanese find it difficult to communicate with Americans who state their opinions clearly and logically and cannot understand subtle meanings. Such direct communication is effective to debate and persuasion, but it might hurt Japanese. On the other hand, the Japanese vague and indirect communication often result in frustration for Americans, and makes it difficult for both Japanese and Americans to conduct effective public relations.

The third point of mutual misperception arises from Japanese principle that is based on consensus oriented communication not to hurt another's feelings. Japanese build consensus and exhibit goodwill to others. The Japanese principle reflects a difference in managerial or negotiating styles from Americans. When we have to solve some problems together, Japanese try to make concessions to reach a solution and saves face all around. Unlike Japanese consensus orientation, Americans are interested in achieving concrete solutions. Therefore, those different principles lead to mutual misunderstanding. Americans feel that Japanese gestures are meaningless or deceitful, and are interpreted as tacit admissions of guilt. Despite Japanese instinctive efforts to reconcile contradictory viewpoints, Americans regard Japanese as two-faced and opportunistic.

Thus, the communication between Japanese and foreigners is very difficult because their many different assumptions come from cultural differences. Japanese have characteristic culture such as a gift-giving, vague and indirect communication and consensus orientation which are their communication strategies to avoid conflict and get along with others. However, since Americans have different principles from Japanese and use other ways to interact with people, Japanese and Americans have some serious mutual misunderstandings. To avoid frustration from misunderstandings and make good relationships, Japanese should understand another culture and learn other communication methods. This is important for Japanese to achieve their goals in the world.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

The place friends get together

I liked the TV show "Friends ". Now I like "The Big Bang Theory" and "How I Met Your Mother". Yes, I like comedy. But I have another reason why I like those TV shows. I like their friendship. In those shows, the small group of friends often get together at someone's house or the bar, and they talk about funny stories and their problems. I always wanted to have such a group of best friends. That is one of my dream! Do you think it can happen in real life? or just in TV shows?

Recently, I sometimes hang out with a small group of my friends. Even though it is still not like a group in those TV shows, I have a good time with them. It is not everyday, but we get together whenever someone wants to. We have a lot of laughs and talk about serious things. Last time, they listened to my problem and I came to feel better. I am glad I have those friends.
Do you have a group of friends like that?

Saturday, January 7, 2012

"Improve your English quickly *without* effort."

I often see advertisements for English learners online. Most of the advertisements say something like this; "you will be able to speak English fluently in three months by studying for 20 minutes a day", " Just let English go in one ear and out the other, and you will come to understand movies in English soon" or " Don't study English. Just read this book."

What do you think about it? Now I do not believe those advertisements at all. But, to tell the truth, I believed a part of them before. I was stupid. I was just desperate to find the best way to master English with the lest amount of studying. I also thought that I would automatically become a fluent English speaker if I come to the US. But I was wrong; I could not improve my English at all.

I definitely needed English to survive. So I decided to learn English. I found my teacher and I expected her to save my life. But I was still thinking that the teacher could improve my English all by herself. That idea was also wrong. She could only help me. I finally realized that I had to study by myself. Actually, my teacher was really good and encouraged me to study hard. So my English is improving little by little now. But I feel it is still very slow. My teacher says that language learning is a slow process and we just have to keep studying.

These experiences of mine suggest that both concepts of "without effort" and "quick improvement" from those advertisements are wrong!

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Japanese food in the US ~Is it really Japanese food?

There are many Japanese restaurants in my town. I went to a Japanese restaurant with my American friend. I have many friends who love Japanese food. Some of them even know about Japanese restaurants better than me.

My friend asked me if the food in the restaurant was real Japanese food. That is a good question!
Some of the Japanese food in the US are strange to me. For example, I have never seen certain kinds of California rolls and spicy sushi rolls in Japan. We do not put avocado or mustard in sushi. And Japanese usually wrap rice with seaweed, but those rolls are opposite, so rice is outside. Also, we eat tempura, but broccolis and zucchinis are not fried in Japan. There are many other differences...
But I like this American-Japanese food, too. I wonder why we do not make them in Japan.

What are your favorite Japanese foods?

This is inari sushi I made :)