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Discourse between Japanese and American speakers: How cross-cultural communication patterns contribute to misunderstandings. by Julie Peters Group B. Basic Background Information. Haru Yamada, author Was student of Deborah Tannen Deborah Tannen wrote foreword on her book

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Discourse between Japanese and American speakers: How cross-cultural communication patterns contribute to misunderstandings

by Julie Peters

Group B

Basic background information
Basic Background Information

  • Haru Yamada, author

  • Was student of Deborah Tannen

  • Deborah Tannenwrote foreword on her book

  • Book: Different Games, Different Rules: Why Americans and Japanese Misunderstand Each Other

  • Interest began from her own personal experiences

  • Left Japan at age 3 to come to U.S. and was on 3-year rotation due to father’s work.

Two games with different goals and communication rules
Two Games with Different Goals and Communication Rules

  • Explicit Communication (American)

    • A way to show self-reliance

    • Thomas Mann quote: “Speech is civilization itself. The word, even the most contradictory, preserves contact—it is silence which isolates.”

    • “The squeaky wheel gets the grease.”

    • The Magnificent Seven

  • Implicit Communication (Japanese)

    • A way to accommodate others

    • Proverb: “Kuchiwawazawai no moto.” which is “The mouth is the source of calamity.” or rewritten by cartoonist Gomi Taro, “Oshaberiwakuchi no onara.” which is “Talkativeness is a mouth’s fart.”

    • “Tori monakanebautaremaji” which is “If the bird had not sung, it would not have been shot.”

    • The Seven Samarai

Yamada, H. (1997) p. 14-18 and 139

Two games with different relationship rules
Two Games with Different (Relationship) Rules

  • Independence is stronger than dependence (American)

    • The Ant and the Grasshopper

    • Parent saying something like, “Don’t throw that. If you want to buy something, you put it on the conveyer belt.” (independence)

    • Paid work is valued because it signifies independence, therefore the working man is the role model.

    • Self-help book: “Warning: Beware of the person who sends the message implicit or explicit, “I want someone to take care of me.” Chances are he or she lacks inner intimacy and feelings of stability and self-love.”

  • Interdependence is sweeter than individuality (Japanese)

    • Amae

    • The Ant and the Cicada

    • Parent saying something like, “What will she think if you make a face at her?” (others’ point of view)

    • Uchi versus soto, group membership is important.

    • Nurturing is highly valued, therefore the mother is the role model. Even though she is unpaid, she has her bun or role, esp. as financial planner for family.

    • “DeruKugiwautareru” which means “Nails that stick out get hammored back in.”

    • Classic Zen quote: “A foolish person regards himself as another, a wise man regards others as himself.”

    • Classic Confucian teaching: “If one wants to establish oneself, one has to establish others. If one wants to reach perfection for oneself, one has to reach perfection for others.”

Yamada, H. (1997) p. 3-5, 11, 12

Summary of communication games
Summary of Communication Games

Yamada, H. (1997) p. 20

Direction pronouns
Direction Pronouns

“Another related piece of equipment in Japanese that blurs the distinction among individuals is the use of what I call “direction pronouns” in the place of personal pronouns. Direction pronouns are the terms of direction, kochira, sochira, and achira, which literally mean “this way,” “that way,” “and a still further “that way,” that are used as pronouns: Kochira (this way) stands for “I” and “we,” sochira(that way) for “you,” and achira (that way) for “he,” “she,” or “they.”

Yamada, H. (1997) p. 26

Summary of communication equipment
Summary of Communication Equipment

Yamada, H. (1997) p. 34

Speaker talk vs listener talk
Speaker Talk vs. Listener Talk

“Being able to guess at what others are going to say is central to the Japanese expectation of unspoken interdependence: Like a person who is only a bun, or part of a larger group, a sentence in Japanese is only a part of the larger interaction, and consequently often gets completed across communicators rather than by a single individual on her own.”

Sasshi – “a strategy where players try to understand as much as possible from the little that is said.”

Example: Chie and Fiona talking; Chie finishes her sentences; Fiona keeps speeding up.

Yamada, H. (1997) p. 37 and 40

Speaker talk vs listener talk continued
Speaker Talk vs. Listener Talk continued…

Call Me Dave

Japanese accent is Debu –word “synonymous with fatso in English”

Calls him Mr. Williams instead.

Dave is confused, reminds him first that they are on first name basis, then asks if he should call him Mr. Kawashima.

Kawashima insists that Dave not call him Mr. Kawashima… “No, No, no. You call me ‘Ryu.’ I call you ‘Mr. Williams.’” (levels of respect)

Dave’s assistant refers to him as MISTER Kawashima

Naming practices – American: “at the appropriate time, choose a name, and say it.” Japanese: “grow into” names, starting with last name + san (soto or outside relationship) and later dropping san. First name is reserved for uchi or inside group relationship. Appropriate name would have been Williams then.

Yamada, H. (1997) p. 41

Speaker talk vs listener talk continued1
Speaker Talk vs. Listener Talk continued…

  • Relationship names depend on who is talking (listener-driven)

  • A dozen different ways of saying no without saying no

  • Politeness - “their need for interdependence creates dozens of standard expressions in thanking, apologizing and inviting others to go first, which when translated literally, sound comically polite” (e.g. doozodoozo – after you, after you).

  • Greeting of action versus greetings of care

    • America is “What’s up?” and “How are you?”

    • Direct quote on page 50: “taihengobusata shite orimasu” (roughly, “please excuse me for not calling sooner”) and “itsumoosewasama de gozaimasu” (roughly, “thanks for always taking care of me”), “doozoyoroshikuonegaiitashimasu” (roughly, “please look after me,”used similarly as the English “nice to meet you”), and responses like “okagesama de,” (roughly, “because of you, I’m feeling well”) all show that for the Japanese, well-being is defined in terms of interdependent care.” (Yamada, 2008, p. 50).

Yamada, H. (1997) p. 43-50

Business communication
Business Communication

  • Limited my topic to exclude this specific area

  • Note: difference between cubicles in America and bull pen in Japan.

  • Note: meetings and agendas in America to come to consensus; Japanese reach consensus through uchiawase (informal) meetings.

  • Note: division of work in America, shared work in Japan

  • Note: Japan group identity seen in introductions: “said first is the company name as the largest organizer, followed by the family name, and finally and optionally, the bun or fractional part, the first name.

Two key points to remember
Two Key Points to Remember

Japanese and American speakers are essentially operating as participants in…

  • Two games with different goals and communication rules

  • Two games with different relationship rules


Yamada, Haru. (1997). Different Games, Different Rules. New York: Oxford University Press.