Japanese man point

Indirect Communication in Japanese Culture

In Japanese culture, communication styles reflect on maintaining harmony.  The Japanese are generally non-confrontational and rarely directly give negative responses such as insults, criticisms, or cause embarrassment to anyone. To present something disagreeable, Japanese usually will do so using indirect communication. It may be quite difficult for some who are unaware of this custom to read between the lines. It is important to be able to discern body language.

Japanese girl questionThe pattern of Japanese indirect communication uses far less words to convey intent in a more subtle manner. Indirect communication uses expression, posture, and tone of voice of the speaker to draw meaning from the actual conversation.

Japan is categorized as one of the most high-context cultures, where linguistic characteristics are indirect, implicit, subtle, layered, and nuanced, according to Erin Mayer (2016). This establishes the fact that it is culturally accepted that Japanese people usually prefer to communicate indirectly. When learning Japanese, it is important to learn how Japanese people use the language and communicate with each other. When people write something to others, it is preferred to put many introductory words before mentioning the main topic.

Many metaphors are used in Japanese literature, Indirect and implicit ways are noticeable, not only in written communication but also in verbal communication. Subjects are often omitted from sentences and it is expected that others know the same context and understand it. Communication in high context culture is especially explicit when they say something negative and disagree as Japanese people tend to use affirmative words as a way of suggesting a disagreement or a rejection.

Japanese man shockedFor example, when you suggest something and they disagree, they may say “I will think about it.” This way, Japanese people show respect and try not to hurt others’ feelings. Therefore, if you are from low context culture, and communicate with Japanese people without any consideration, they might think your words are too direct and rude.

To surmise this cultural trait, many Japanese people tend to care more about gestures and facial expressions of others rather than the literal meaning of the language. If someone says “I’m all right” but his/her facial expression is sad, others notice that he/she is actually not all right and needs some help. Probably for other cultures to navigate around this discourse to find the true meaning is to check for clarification numerous times using open-ended questions.