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How Japanese communicate?

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According to cross cultural analysts, Japanese people often communicate with each other without using words, heart-to-heart, like telepathy.  The Japanese call this “ishin denshin”.  It is more subtle, more indirect.  Saving face and not embarrassing people are important.  This is quite different from Americans.  We love “straight talk”

But do you really believe that Japanese communicate in this way?

If you look at Japanese people in the metro or in cafes, they do not seem communicate at all, unless there is a process of long range telepathy.  Most are wired up to a Walkman and to listen to music.  Married couples do not see much of each other.  Against that young Japanese, especially girls, are forever chattering away.

A recent BBC survey of more than 27,000 across 26 countries provides some interesting insights into how the Japanese communicate.  In short, Japan is the nation which is the most hooked to the Internet.  Some 84 per cent say they could not cope without the internet, and 94 per cent agree it gives them more freedom. 

But a relatively low proportion (20 per cent) of Japanese consider communicating with people the most valued aspect of the Internet. Almost all Japanese agree that the Internet is good for learning.  The most valued aspect is finding information of all sorts.  Only a low proportion believe that they can express their opinions safely online, 34 per cent (I have even heard it said that Japan has the world's highest number of anonymous bloggers).  I guess that they are suspicious of government or bureaucrats watching over them.  Japan is still a very controlled society.  Similar trends were observed for China, Korea, and Thailand.

Japan’s neighbour and rival, Korea, is the most wired country on Earth.  Nearly all of the country's citizens already enjoy high-speed net access.  Korea also has the greatest majority of people (96%) who believe that net access was a fundamental right.  Four in five people worldwide believe that access to the Internet is a fundamental right.

At the time of writing, spring weather is still struggling to break through and take over from Japan's winter.  The weather is rather weird.  The Japanese have an expression for this, “sankan-shion".  This means a cycle of three cold days being followed by four warm ones.  This type of weather certainly does not facilitate communication.

But the Japanese also often say that "neither heat nor cold lasts beyond the equinox".  So after 21 March we should be guaranteed warm weather.  By then, plum flowers will have ended, and the cherry blossom (“sakura”) will be blooming.  This is the time for “hanami” or flower viewing.  In modern Japan, this means drinking and partying with friends underneath the sakura at day or even nighttime.

As everywhere, in modern day society, a bit of alcohol is the best means for improving communication.


“The Japanese Mind”, edited by Roger J. Davies and Osamu Ikeno, 2002.  Tuttle Publishing


BBC World Service Survey on the Internet