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Amae: Sweet Interdependence. Japanese Communication Strategies Beyond Language. “The Japanese Can’t Say No”. Taken From Dave Barry Does Japan Beth: …and then we want to take a plane from Point A to Point B Travel Agent: I see. You want to take a plane? Beth: Yes.

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Amae: Sweet Interdependence

Japanese Communication Strategies Beyond Language

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“The Japanese Can’t Say No”

Taken From Dave Barry Does Japan

Beth: …and then we want to take a plane from Point A to Point B

Travel Agent: I see. You want to take a plane?

Beth: Yes.

Travel Agent: From Point A?

Beth: Yes.

Travel Agent: To Point B?

Beth: Yes.

Travel Agent: Ah.

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Dave Barry Continued…

Beth: Can’t we do that?

Travel Agent: Perhaps you would prefer to take a train.

Beth: No, we would prefer to take a plane.

Travel Agent: Ah-hah. You would prefer to take a plane?

Beth: Yes. A plane.

Travel Agent: I see. From Point A? …

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What’s the problem?

  • There is no plane!

  • Different communicative strategies:

    • Independent (American)

    • Interdependent (Japanese)

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  • “Sweetness” or “Dependence”

  • Mother-child relationship?

    • Dependence on someone

    • Need to be depended on

  • Social Interdependence

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  • Modesty and restraint in behavior; indirectness

    • “Can’t say NO”

    • Downplaying abilities/qualities of self or relatives

    • Refusal to take things that are desired

  • Speaker depends on listener to interpret the message

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  • “Guesswork”; understanding of the unsaid

    • “sore wa chotto” = no

    • “amari jôzu ja arimasen” = might be quite capable

    • “kangaemasu” (“I’ll think about it”) = probably not

  • Listener depends on speaker to give adequate clues

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Independence vs. Interdependence

  • Independent behavior:

    • “Mind your own business”

    • “Say what you mean”

    • Individual needs come first

    • You are defined by how you define yourself

  • Interdependent behavior:

    • “What might he/she like me to do? (sasshi)

    • “I should not emphasize anything about myself that would make me different from others” (enryô)

    • Group needs come first

    • You are defined according to your relationships

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  • Excuse me, sorry, thank you, etc…

  • Independent thinking:

    • You apologize for doing something wrong, taking responsibility for your actions

  • Interdependent thinking:

    • You apologize if you believe you have upset the group (interdependent) dynamic

    • Does not necessarily imply that you did something wrong, or are taking responsibility for actions

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Monku” (Complaining)

  • Independent thinking:

    • If it’s unfair, you should speak up

  • Interdependent thinking:

    • It’s better to endure (“gaman suru”) personal unfairness rather than disrupt the group

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Further Reading

  • Bachnik, Jane, and Quinn, Charles. Situated Meaning: Inside and Outside the Japanese Self, Society, and Language. Princeton: Princeton UP, 1994.

  • Barry, Dave. Dave Barry Does Japan. New York: Fawcett Columbine, 1992.

  • Doi, Takeo. The Anatomy of Dependence. Trans. John Bester. Tokyo: Kôdansha International, 1981.

  • Lebra, Takie Sugiyama. Japanese Patterns of Behavior. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1976.

  • Yamada, Haru. Different Games, Different Rules: Why Americans and Japanese Misunderstand Each Other. New York: Oxford University Press, 1997.

  • “Young Japan.” Time Magazine Special Double Issue. May 3-10, 1999: 20-57.