Week 2: Communication April 27-May 3

Reading:

Pray:
Pray daily for Japan and Japanese, using Operation Japan. Make a note in your blog concerning the information and/or your prayer.

Writing: Weekly Paper: “Impressions and Points from Your Reading”

    • 1. Interact with the discussion questions at the end of each chapter.
    • 2. Discuss how these cultural characteristics might affect your ministry with Japanese people.

Extra Suggestions:

Discussion

  • 2

    Week 2 communication reflections

    Linda Grimms
    Reply

    First I want to confess that ambiguity in communication is a real challenge for me. As a retired attorney, clear and precise communication is simply the way that I think and process information – which is vital for communication in my own culture. However, as this week’s readings and Anne’s blog demonstrate, Japanese culture approaches communication very differently. I am humbly learning to come to terms with this cultural difference and to grow in my appreciation for the strengths of the Japanese silence, ambiguity, and contextual approach to communication.

    One of the most intriguing things about learning the Japanese language (of which I am a rookie/beginner) is that the Japanese people have so many words and contextual clues within the language to reflect these cultural values. Anne’s blog highlighted a wonderful collage of words and body language with their literal/nuanced contextual cultural meanings. Language learning has helped me to begin to see the nuanced layers of polite and plain, the courteous and the indirect communication styles – honestly, it is hard to understand sometimes! There is so much still to learn, and I look forward to continuing to grow in my appreciation of the rich tapestry of Japanese communication in my language classes, as well as this class and other RJC Academy classes. I would love to have more time to spend in Japan, in an immersion-style of learning language in context, but that is not an option for now. Anyway, this topic of ambiguity, silence and contextual communication is really fascinating!

    • Riz Crescini

      Very insightful post, Linda! Japanese, when compared to English, actually has less words but the use of those words are so rich and so varied. I am nowhere near the speaker that Anne is but after 20 years in Japan, I have come to appreciate Japanese language and communication and less frustrated with it. As believers, we are to seek the goodness, beauty and truth where it can be found because God is the Source. And, in my experience, the more you spend time studying and using Japanese language, the more you will see its beauty.

    • Ethan Silveus

      Those are some great thoughts Linda! I also really enjoyed this past weeks reading and the concepts found within! And I can’t help but agree with what Riz said! It is so important to recognize the goodness and beauty within things in life because God is the source of all good and beautiful things, especially including language! So many times I think to myself of how much easier it would be if we could just all speak the same language like before Babel, and even though language was in a sense put here to be a “punishment” of confusion, the restored end picture is that we have all these various tongues and nations and cultures worshiping the same one Jesus Christ! Praise God for his redemptive plan and how it even brings the complex languages all together to glorify Him in the end!

  • 3

    Emily's Notes on Japanese Communication

    Emily Frey
    Reply

    Luckily, chinmoku is one Japanese communication concept I am familiar with. I have sat among a group of about 6 Japanese college girls, enjoying some drinks, and everyone was quiet and staring out the window. It was then that I remembered chinmoku so I started asking questions about their American experience because I felt awkward. I let each one answer for themselves but it sure was taking a long time to get answers and then there would be like 3 more minutes of silence again. I didn’t understand why no one was interacting or continuing to ask each other questions, at least engage in small talk if nothing else! I soon learned to let the awkward silence and not get all bent out of shape about it. Eventually, someone would speak up for the group or an answer would come as I learned to respect the silence. Doesn’t keep me from attempting small talk but at least I am aware of it!

    Lebra explained that Japanese believe the saying, “Thus a man of few words is trusted more than a man of many words.” This implies the belief that Truth is to be found inside a person as opposed to outside a person. The book suggests this is a Zen Buddhism worldview concept which would be somewhat opposing to Christian beliefs until conversion and baptism by the Holy Spirit.

    The Japanese seem silent to a fault. While silence is meant to avoid hurt and contribute to peace and harmony, it seems to do the opposite more often than not, creating a lot of misunderstanding and miscommunication. It also feels like they are spending more time and energy maintaining silence and vagueness than actually communicating in beneficial and helpful ways. I can definitely see how Westerners are not attuned to depending on each other in relationships at a level where personal information about age or status is needed in order to get along with others.

    Regarding aimai, I remember many moments asking my Homestay student if she would like this or that for a meal and she would aptly and regularly answer “either is OK”. If I had not had close engagement with a collective culture previously, I might have hounded her for a more explicit answer. But, understanding her desire to please and keep harmony by not inserting or having an opinion, I would take her up on it. It definitely made life easier for me not feeling compelled to make 5 different sandwiches if I didn’t have to (the American expectation). Sometimes, I would not even ask even though I felt compelled to because I knew she would be content with me not doing so and giving her what everyone else was getting. This is totally offensive to most Americans who feel entitled to choice in just about every matter.

    With all of Japan’s intentional and unintentional vagueness and hesitations that communication implicit things, how do young people today now infer these nonverbals over texting? Do they use emojis to add a little more context? Or is all the context lost? Can you interpret silence, vagueness, honne and tatemae text?Luckily, chinmoku is one Japanese communication concept I am familiar with. I have sat among a group of about 6 Japanese college girls, enjoying some drinks, and everyone was quiet and staring out the window. It was then that I remembered chinmoku so I started asking questions about their American experience because I felt awkward. I let each one answer for themselves but it sure was taking a long time to get answers and then there would be like 3 more minutes of silence again. I didn’t understand why no one was interacting or continuing to ask each other questions, at least engage in small talk if nothing else! I soon learned to let the awkward silence and not get all bent out of shape about it. Eventually, someone would speak up for the group or an answer would come as I learned to respect the silence. Doesn’t keep me from attempting small talk but at least I am aware of it!

    Lebra explained that Japanese believe the saying, “Thus a man of few words is trusted more than a man of many words.” This implies the belief that Truth is to be found inside a person as opposed to outside a person. The book suggests this is a Zen Buddhism worldview concept which would be somewhat opposing to Christian beliefs until conversion and baptism by the Holy Spirit.

    The Japanese seem silent to a fault. While silence is meant to avoid hurt and contribute to peace and harmony, it seems to do the opposite more often than not, creating a lot of misunderstanding and miscommunication. It also feels like they are spending more time and energy maintaining silence and vagueness than actually communicating in beneficial and helpful ways. I can definitely see how Westerners are not attuned to depending on each other in relationships at a level where personal information about age or status is needed in order to get along with others.

    Regarding aimai, I remember many moments asking my Homestay student if she would like this or that for a meal and she would aptly and regularly answer “either is OK”. If I had not had close engagement with a collective culture previously, I might have hounded her for a more explicit answer. But, understanding her desire to please and keep harmony by not inserting or having an opinion, I would take her up on it. It definitely made life easier for me not feeling compelled to make 5 different sandwiches if I didn’t have to (the American expectation). Sometimes, I would not even ask even though I felt compelled to because I knew she would be content with me not doing so and giving her what everyone else was getting. This is totally offensive to most Americans who feel entitled to choice in just about every matter.

    With all of Japan’s intentional and unintentional vagueness and hesitations that communication implicit things, how do young people today now infer these nonverbals over texting? Do they use emojis to add a little more context? Or is all the context lost? Can you interpret silence, vagueness, honne and tatemae text?

    • Tnishihara

      It was a great thoughtful reading. Thanks for sharing!!

    • Tnishihara

      I learned a lot from your experiences Thanks again!

    • Gregg Hutton

      Emily, thanks for your thoughts on these topics, especially for sharing your experience with the 6 Japanese college girls. Those are good questions to ask young people. How has texting and less direct personal communication aided or exacerbated comprehension in the Japanese culture? Who can we find to ask?

  • 2

    Vagueness as a Virtue

    scbehar
    Reply

    As I read and thought about the amai section of the reading as well as read Anne’s blog I was struck by something that seems to be lost in the discussion of vagueness. The Japanese see vagueness as a virtue. Western readers need a lot of context to explain how the Japanese understand vagueness and its value. The book and blog were really struggling with vagueness as a fact of life to be gotten over or put up with. From what I gathered in the reading; vagueness is a struggle for everyone involved. It is hard for the speaker trying to express a personal opinion in a way to avoid conflict. It is hard for the listener who has the task of interpreting what is being said (or not said). This means that there is extra room for confusion and miscommunication. With that being said, vagueness is, as a means of building consensus and demonstrating a desire to prioritize relationships, a healthy and common practice.

    In the space allotted for this discussion, I will simply say that most people value a certain level of vagueness and discretion. People have different preferences with direct communication. The Japanese have developed over a long period of time a kind of dancing communication style. There seem to be particular steps you have to take at certain times to play your part. Knowing when to speak up and when to be silent is vital. Knowing how much to say or not say as well as knowing how to figure out body language and other verbal and non-verbal communication are the cues you need to stay in rhythm with the dance. There is a steep learning curve. Some people who tend to see the world as right or wrong will struggle to see how this isn’t straightforward deception. Shouldn’t you just say what you are thinking? On a small scale everyone knows about being vague. There are appropriate times and places to share the true feelings you possess, and there are other times that sharing your unfiltered thoughts would land you in serious trouble. “How are you doing?” “What do you think of this politician?” “Does this outfit make me look fat?” The direct unfiltered answer to any of these questions may not cause any problems for some people, but for others it would too much information, opening a door for losing a friend, or hurting someone’s feelings when what they really want is an affirmation of affection.

    I can see the value and virtue of vagueness and silence. There is room in any kind of communication for serious misunderstanding. Direct, unfiltered communication can wreck personal relationships when the Bible encourages us to give soft answers (Prov 15:1-2). Indirect, high-context speech can leave people with a feeling of being lied to. As a person from the Southern USA, I have experienced for years a kind of indirect communication—a veneer of politeness and hospitality. At the heart of Southern culture is the desire to make people feel welcome and to give them a chance while showing your good manners. There is also the cold, unfeeling snubbing that people often receive when some nonverbal cue was missed. The trick is seeing the cues. It is in reading between the lines.

    In my limited experience in Japan I have seen how vagueness and silence slow down communication and make decision making snail like. I know that some of the nice people who greet me and seem willing to help are just playing a part in the overarching cultural environment. I have felt tempted to just rush ahead to the conclusion of interactions. Since I don’t speak Japanese (yet) I know that there are many things that I am missing. Ways that a person is trying to say I wonder why you are here (in a positive or negative sense). I am eager to be able to interact more with the people I meet as well as trying to figure out what is really being said.

    SB

    • Gregg Hutton

      Thanks for sharing this reflection, Sam. I like how you describe communication as a dancing style. Various steps are needed in proper order to perform a dance correctly, much like a conversation. So many cues to catch to lead and follow properly! You bring up a good point also in saying we all appreciate a certain amount of vagueness and silence. We need to be gracious and see the beauty of cultures different than our home culture, much like different styles of dance.
      Gregg

    • Emily Frey

      I like how you compared and contrasted the direct verbal communication of our Western culture, and how it can lead to conflicts in relationships. Since effectiveness and getting a job done is more of our goal, we tend not to care about conflicts or disharmony we create in the communication that goes into it. I definitely struggle with the vagueness more than the silence. I have a more aggressive and direct personality to begin with and have a real hard time understanding ambiguity as anything desirous! Thank you for your post.

  • 1

    Gregg's Reflections on Week 2: Communication

    Gregg Hutton
    Reply

    “Vague Japanese”
    I agree with the readings and Anne that Japanese people have many reasons for being vague and welcoming vagueness as part of their culture and daily lives. This makes communication here sometimes like a treasure hunt video game.
    Anne brought out the phrase “kuuki wo yomenai” or “KY” which, according to the Yahoo! Japan Q&A site (1), has been in the vernacular since 2007. Most of the usage I have heard has been negative (-nai), for example: “He’s really KY” or “How can you be so KY?!” It’s one way for the speaker to show they’re in the know and the other person is not. If a person can’t read the ‘atmosphere’ ( the Japanese for that is 雰囲気 “fun’inki” but pronounced ‘fuwinki’ in Kansai) of a situation or place, then they are KY.
    Many internationals when they first arrive in Japan are nearly helpless when it comes to ‘reading the air’ and are probably thought of as KY. Yet, the Japanese people are gracious and helpful. As Anne pointed out, it’s easy for various listeners to interpret what someone says in different ways. This may depend on the filters and background experience we have. For those of us listening to Japanese as a second language, we’re hoping we get it right. I wonder if it’s best to operate under the assumption that we are likely missing part or much of the speaker’s intention and heart. I know I’ve missed what someone has said to me because I was trying to comprehend the words they were actually saying to me and missed the ‘air’ in which it was said. Or if I’m so busy trying to read between the lines, I miss out on some of what they’re actually saying. Sigh…
    Sharing the gospel and loving Japanese people means we should be willing to listen carefully and ask gentle confirming questions in private. If you have a close sister or brother in Christ who is a native speaker, that person can listen along with you and then be a sounding board and assist you in confirming if you are catching what the person is really saying. If you have that privilege, you can gain experience in filtering Japanese communication.

    Chinmoku
    One of the challenges of working here in an international church in Japan is being balanced in our approach to communication. Discussions, bible studies, meetings all involve listening and sharing. Many internationals tend to respond quickly or offer their opinions freely whereas most Japanese members are more reserved. After reading the chapter on chinmoku, I can recall numerous meetings I was a participant in where there was little said by the Japanese in the group until the end of most of the discussion. Since they hadn’t spoken up, they would be asked, “What do you think?” By that time, they’ve read the air and they would not speak up or take a position that would be different to the leader or others in leadership. We’ve learned there needs to be more nemawashi (see chapter 19), prior to a larger meeting to help the Japanese feel a part of the process and receive their input.

    I am interested in reading and hearing about other participants’ experiences and thoughts on these topics.

    (1) https://detail.chiebukuro.yahoo.co.jp/qa/question_detail/q1024826935 (accessed 2020-5-03)

    • Ethan Silveus

      These are some great thoughts Gregg! I especially appreciate your bit on Chinmoku! That was what really struck me in this weeks reading, and it ended up being the focus of my post actually! It was great to read someone else’s experience with this, and I look forward to learning more about it as I talk with more and more Japanese people!

  • 0

    Silence in Japan

    Ethan Silveus
    Reply

    I really enjoyed this weeks reading! In many of my culture classes Japan is often used as a prime example of indirect communication. These few chapters hit every point I was ever taught about indirect communication and it was a really great reminder, and it was also very “enlightening” in a way to read about why silence as communication is valued so much! The one thing that stayed on my mind the entire time of reading was, “What does this mean when it comes to sharing the Gospel?”
    In comparison to how American pastors are taught to preach, I feel like it is the complete opposite! We are taught to be able to take one verse and extract enough information and come up with enough examples to fill half an hour to forty-five mins. The book makes it very clear that things that are expounded upon and “driven home,” as we might say, are not considered either true or of actual value. So, the question I brought up to my wife was, “how can we as American ministers of the Gospel explain something that we value so much by using the least amount of words possible?” If we value it as much as we say we do then technically, in a Japanese person’s mind, we should use as few words as possible, right? This is so hard for me to comprehend! My gut reaction goes to the classic saying that says, “Actions speak louder than words,” but I don’t know if that is the right way to think about this or not. For those of you who have some experience in this area, what are some ways that you see this value of silence impacting how the Gospel is spread? What does a “silent” Gospel message look like? What advise would you give to me concerning sharing the Gospel as I minister to Japanese people here in Atlanta, Georgia? Thanks a ton, and I look forward to seeing your responses!

  • 0

    Week 2 Reflections

    hana.porter
    Reply

    (Hello! I apologize that my first post is late.)

    Culture is an incredible thing. It is hard to comprehend that efforts to communicate clearly, act efficiently, or create a warm environment in the U.S., might be perceived as disingenuous or impolite in Japan.

    Even growing up with Japanese culture from my family, I lean towards wanting to fill the silence when I encounter it. In the U.S. school system, the most valued students are often those we can facilitate meaningful discussions. In social contexts, we are seen as charming if we can fill silence well. In other words, the formula for success often leaves silence out of the equation. Per the book, in Japan, silence is respectable, an indicator of control and social understanding, and, consequently, an essential component of the success equation.

    After reading these chapters, I reflected on my own experiences with friends in Japan, and on how I might have made them uncomfortable with my discomfort in silence and ambiguity. I recall one instance where I went with a group of friends to karaoke. After around 2 hours of passing the mic, the conversation was minimal, and no one seemed to be having an especially good time, so I quietly asked my friends if they were ready to go home. Everyone was surprised. I quickly realized I had misread the situation. We stayed 2 more hours in that atmosphere, and I went on several similar outings with that group. I had interpreted the silence as awkward, and perhaps it was a bit awkward. But for my friends, it was not an indicator of poor quality relationships or anything wrong. I wonder how they read my motives at that moment when I suggested leaving.

    I want to learn how to read these situations better to be a better friend, and especially a more understanding granddaughter when I go to Japan in June. I know that a lot of understanding comes from time and experience, but does anyone know of any resources on reading different contexts? Or would anyone be willing to have a conversation? 🙂

    Also, after reading the “aimai” chapter and Anne’s blog post, a few contrasting conversations with other college students in Japan came to mind. They may not be generalizable, but I wonder how much “aimai” is shifting these days among younger people in Japan. If anyone has insights on the current direction, I would love to hear them.

  • 0

    Week 2

    tidus
    Reply

    I’m not all surprised about the verbal silence in Japan because after reading the three chapters, I can tell that this also happens in America. However, it seems that in Japan it’s been applied more than other countries/cultures. The questions in the book really challenged me to think if this benefits Japan or not. And to be honest, there are many possibilities we can take from it either good or bad.

    I do think however when it comes to bullying and witnessing a molestation on a subway train is indeed one of the things I believe needs to be more reinforced because those two can cause traumatic problems for individuals, especially for the children at school. I think its the right thing to do to speak up when witnessing such an act or as a parent at a PTA meeting whose child is suffering from bullying is a real problem. These issues are serious and shouldn’t be taken lightly in my opinion.

    It’s hard to compare the western culture to Japan’s in terms of verbally speaking out your emotions and feelings. I can truly understand why Japan is against doing this but at the same time, in my own experience, letting people know how you feel is a great relief. I’m sure there are other ways to work around this problem without causing a eruption in relationships or workforce.