RU  UK  EN
Articles  >  Imagine  >  Let’s Talk in Japan or How to Understand a Japanese

Let’s Talk in Japan or How to Understand a Japanese

Author: 01.12.2015 | Japan
Despite the title, in this article we won’t talk about peculiarities of Japanese hieroglyphs and pronunciation. First of all, because there is a whole bunch of specialized literature and secondly, if you don’t study Japanese such knowledge may widen your horizons but will be of no use in practice whatsoever.

This article also isn’t for those who expect revelation of a great mystery of how to learn a foreign language, especially Japanese, in a month. Harrow and alas, other than long and persistent cramming, humans came up with nothing smarter to achieve that. However, this article will provide you with several pieces of advice on communication with the Japanese that you need to know not to get into an embarrassing situation.

We should probably start with getting rid of the myth that you’ll be all right in Japan knowing English. Despite seemingly all-penetrating globalization of Japanese society, merely 30% of citizens speak English. More to that, to one’s ear it seems that among those who actually possess this international language many possess Japanese with tiny speckles of familiar English sounds. Therefore people, who treat Romano-Germanic philology with respect and tenderness, will hardly be able to demonstrate all their talents there. In this country only two languages are in favor: Japanese that is rich for synonyms and as a last resort SIGN LANGUAGE is effective. You should of course be really careful with the latter one because what seems like innocents gesturing to us, too a Japanese may seem incomprehensible or sometimes even rude.

- Thumb-up that we use for ‘everything’s fine’ is considered indecent in Japan. Just in case, I’ll mention that you also shouldn’t raise your little finger. Both gestures will add rude sexual context to everything you’re trying to communicate to your company in a manner that is hard enough already.

- The Japanese may also misinterpret OK-gesture popular among divers when thumb and index finger connect. In Japan this means coins or money so it can be easily regarded as a request to borrow you some or pay for you.

- There is an interesting story with nodding. The Japanese do it all the time during conversations more out of politeness and as a sign that they listen carefully rather than that they agree with everything. Such nods usually perplex Europeans during business negotiations. Japanese delegation would sit in front, listening carefully and nodding and the next day they would send a “polite denial” to an offer they seemed to have accepted the day before.

- Another gesture popular with us that shouldn’t be used in Japan is a so-called satiation gesture when the sharp of a hand slides across one’s neck meaning “I’m full up till there”. For the Japanese this gesture means decapitation and is regarded a sign of aggression or of being fired and it’s an open question as to what’s worth for a Japanese. So, when you’re full and try to tell your waiter that, move the sharp of your hand over your head to express that you’ve had more than enough and can’t eat any more. This will save both your good impression of a restaurant and personnel’s nerves.

- Among Japanese gestures that we don’t understand I’d mention touching nose with one’s index finger – it means “me” and is used very often when a person wants to ask “Is it me you are talking to?”

Good deal of misunderstanding is caused by salutary and farewell gestures that are directly opposite to the ones we use. Now, let’s remember: salutation: waving your hand back and forth; farewell: waving your hand from side to side. Should you be confused, best way out is to nod. Nodding in Japanese culture bears special form of politeness. The Japanese nod very often. With a nod they salute and bid goodbye, thank, apologize, congratulate and express tons of other things. I have to say that this tradition is so catching that when back from Japan one can be bringing Ukrainian citizens joy of nodding to them for about a month.

Now, let’s sum it up.

Normally there aren’t many people who look into phrase books when going on a trip. Many rely on their knowledge of English or other languages. In Japan everything is very different – it is a country for people with imagination or for champions in Pantomime Game. But you can still be sure that even if you know neither Japanese nor English, incredible Japanese politeness and kindness won’t let you get lost in this totally unique and fantastically interesting world of subcultures, anime, technologies and minimalism.

It will be interesting:
Animals in the city: When people sing in tune with Nature
Many city dwellers are irritated by cats, dogs or even pigeons in the streets. Attempts of zoo-advocates to save them from attacks of people and from starvation are mainly ineffective. But there are wonderful cities in this world where people perfectly coexist with deer, peacocks and cattle…
Nihongami: Topknot as a aign of status
Nihongami is a certain way to arrange hair in Japanese tradition. Interestingly, in the Land of the Rising Sun hairdos were legally controlled and served as some sort of dress code for ladies of different social statuses and classes. Therefore, each class had strictly determined corresponding outfit and hairstyle and those laws are still obeyed by geishas and their apprentices.
Little pets of big cities
Germans have other pets besides German Shepherds and in Boston not just Boston Terriers can be seen. People choose dogs relying on own preferences. But sometimes locals are too prone to having a certain breed so it becomes a distinctive of a location. Natural conditions, fashion and even set of mind contribute to it.
We were there: Japan - the subtleties of Tokyo life
Not every tourist will come to Japan. But Marina Belka, a fashion designer, did it, because the mysterious Land of the Rising Sun was her childhood dream. She shared with us her impressions of Tokyo and gave practical advice to future tourists.
Kagoshima: City with kamikaze fame
Build your cities on the slopes of Vesuvius!, Nietzsche exclaimed in a prophetic ecstasy. Gloomy pathos of the philosopher could be hardly understood by the residents of the Japanese city of Kagoshima, located at the bottom of the caldera Aira resulting from the explosion about 22 thousand years ago. Farmers were hoeing edges of the hollow from the Bronze Age, as usual fending off the ashes scattered in the air.
Rice fields: Grains of unbelievable beauty
- Do you want to try some rice? - such a question is greeted by guests in China. And if the owners are also farmers, they can invite you on an unusual excursion and show you the masterpiece of natural art. The grass which we often eat without thinking about its aesthetics, at the time of growing resembles a blanket woven from multi-colored rags ...
This is a real service! Japanese taxi
The first thing every tourist shall learn in a country is a transport system. Very often it seems to be complicated and confusing, and it takes weeks or even months to make head or tail of it. OUTLOOK reader Natalia Usenko visited Japan and is sharing her impressions about the most comfortable and safest transport in the world.
Superflat: Concept of contemporary Japanese art
Anime admirers would never pass by contemporary Japanese art. Especially if this trend is directly related to manga comics. Artist Takashi Murakami was the first to think about how to dub an art that catches inspiration in every new anime, but speaks of eternal values, interlacing with the ethnic canvases of Western artists.
Desperate Futurism: Japan. Part 1
OUTLOOK journalist Elena Rasenko came back from Japan and launches a special series of articles devoted to this country. Warning for very sensitive readers: Beware! After reading, you will get a keen desire to break away, buy a ticket and fly to such a marvelous and fascinating Land of the Rising Sun!
In the rhythm of heart. Japanese drums taiko
Its sounds penetrate the heart, stop the flow of thoughts and cause the blood to move in some kind of magical rhythm. It's a roll of thunder. It gives the shivers. It's a secret. Japanese drums in their homeland are elevated to the rank of cult. Without them, not a single official event is possible, their melodies delight the hearing during joy and help to experience sadness.
Kintsugi. Japanese art of restoration
The Japanese are one of those peoples who zealously respect the ancient traditions. They respect old age, being interested in ancestors and often know the family ancestry by heart. With such a worldview, it is not surprising that a unique technique for the restoration of kintsugi appeared exactly there. Read about it in Outlook.
The ghost brush of miss Hokusai
The eccentric elder Katsushika Hokusai was the real star of the Edo period, the creative genius and the brutal debtor of the half of his city. He used at least 30 names, changed 93 houses and created a lot of prints, drawings and paintings. His internationally recognized print The Great Wave off Kanagawa is mesmerizing. But only a few people know that this block printing, as well as many other works, was created by Hokusai with assistance of his daughter - artist Katsushika Ōi, lost in time and overshadowed by her genius father crazy about art.
Departure: Satoyama
In Japan there is a city with the citizens who trust each other. It seems that they drink water from one source that flows along their houses. As well, they wash hands after the meals in the same places. Satoyama in translation means an ideal place for life in harmony with the nature. It is situated in Northern prefecture Gifu that is isolated from the rest of the world with the mountain tops and rice fields.
Thorny path of flower
Traditional Japanese kabuki theatre has always been a mystery to the European mentality: only an expert on the culture of the Land of the Rising Sun can understand a play without guide’s tips.
Tasty Japan: Give the country a try
Ice cream with a taste of horse meat, pickled insects, fish with deadly venom, etc – Japanese cuisine has things to surprise, amaze and shock you with. And truth be told, enumeration of these dishes doesn’t help my appetite at all. But we are not after exotic stuff. True culinary tourism is an attempt to comprehend mindset and feel national distinctive color through traditional cuisine – not try most exotic dishes. Parts of people’s souls, its history and culture are actually concentrated in national dainties.
Interesting not only in city centers. Residential districts of the world
There are hardly many travelers who would go somewhere further than city centre where their hotel is situated when on a short-term journey. And if location is a metropolis on top of everything else, such “outside” trips are sure to be put on hold till better occasions. And vainly so because it is in residential districts where one can have a look at a foreign country with the eyes of its citizens which is far more educative than hurry-scurry tours around castles and squares.
Rice canvas. Tambo Art
The Japanese are very creative people, especially when it comes to rice. If they have some extra spare time and large spacious rice paddies, then routine process of growing an agricultural crop turns into art...
Colorful paradise: How Japanese people see the aesthetics of beauty
Japan is the country where people are loyal towards the traditions. The colorful scale did not make an exception – on the contrary, in the worldview of Japanese people it acquired almost divine origination. ‘The color of morning sky’, ‘the depth of night heaven’, ‘the shades after the sunrise’ – in such a way Japanese people called colors that they observed outside. The word ‘color’ became a sort of description of a beloved person. Perhaps, in the colorful intonations of color the most gentle and beautiful feelings concentrated. Today OUTLOOK will tell what the symbolic of flowers in Japan is based on.
The Ambassador of Japan to Ukraine along with Kyiv city head and Rector of Kyiv National University named after Taras Shevchanko planted sakuras in Kyiv
On the 11-th April, 2017 the Embassy of Japan to Ukraine planted in Kyiv sakuras. The event happened in Botanic garden named after academic O.V. Fomim, Kyiv National University named after Taras Shevchenko with the participation of the Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of Japan to Ukraine Shigeki Sumi and rector of Kyiv National University named after Taras Shevchenko Leonid Guberskyy as well as near National Opera of Ukraine involving Kyiv city head Vitaliy Klichko.
The Embassy of Japan will plant more than one thousand sakura in twenty cities of Ukraine
This year it will have been 25 years since the moment of establishment of diplomatic relations between Japan and Ukraine. The events in the course of celebration of ‘Japan’s year in Ukraine’ have already been organized actively. As the sakura is the symbol of Japan, the Embassy starts campaign on the tree-planting of sakura along all the territory of Ukraine so as to give to majority of Ukrainians the possibility to savor its beauty.
Close
Outlook facebook page