On Intercultural Communication between Japan and Specific Asia


Considering persistent disputes about worship by the prime ministers of Japan to Yasukuni Jinja (Yasukuni Shrine), it seems not easy to reach a mutual understanding beyond cultural difference even in today's global era. And I suppose not just a few Japanese people have had some exciting experiences as well as some difficulties in communicating with foreign people. I, myself, have had similar experiences in the USA, and have been very interested in the reason for such difficulties and the rewards involved in intercultural communication. I would like to introduce some results from my research, in addition to my recommendation on how to solve the Yasukuni problem.

Some scholars in intercultural communication recognize two types of communication; Low Context Type and High Context Type. The concept of these types of communication was originally found in Edward T. Hall's “The Silent Language” (1959) and “Beyond Culture” (1976). The former type of communication is mainly found in Western societies and the other type can be observed in Asian societies. The characteristics of each type are as below;

◆Low Context Type Communication / Society
・Need for precision in language; words and sentences should carry explicit meaning
・Responsibility based on contracts
・Propensity to make excuse
・Agreements written down and kept by each partner
・Individuality respected
・Uncomfortable with silence; indicates a breakdown of communication
・Well-timed interruptions that move the conversation forward accepted
・Decision-making is logical, i.e., based on facts, price, contract, etc.
・Segmented concerns

◆High Context Type Communication / Society
・Tolerance of verbal ambiguity; non-verbal and coded communication
・Responsibility based on general agreement
・Prosperity to apologize and let facts become clear afterwards
・Written agreements not so important
・Group-orientation normal
・Comfortable with silence; can be communicative
・Interruptions considered rude, particularly when made by a junior
・Decision-making allowing for feelings
・Holistic concerns

One of the most important points to keep in mind is that “Low Context Type” or “High Context Type” indicate the characteristics of a certain type of communication. In other words, there cannot be a “High Contextual Language,” nor can there be a “Low Contextual Language.” We can say many things in English or German most illogically, and at the same time say something perfectly logically in Japanese (maybe also Chinese or Korean too). The reverse is also true, as we can easily discover by reading editorials of Asahi Shinbun. In other words, all natural language is more or less illogical when compared with languages used in Symbolic Logics, which a history of analytic philosophy shows.

With regard to the problem of worship to Yasukuni Shrine, a very important and interesting matter may be introduced from what I have described; China or Korea can hardly understand the explanation, so long as Japan does with it in Japanese (in a High Contextual Language). Although not only Japanese but also Chinese and Korean are High Contextual Languages, each of three languages has its own particular code for the speech communication; Yamato-spirit or Sinocentrism. Shortly speaking, Japanese is the Titans’ language for Chinese or Korean people, while Chinese or Korean are the languages of the Martians for Japanese people.

Considering what I have described above, Japan had better get rid of any expectation that China and Korea will accept the explanation at last. At the same time, even if Chinese or Korean people show their open hostility towards our prime minister's Yasukuni Worship, we don’t have to worry about them any longer. Who must worry about what are impossible in the first place? Only way where we should go on is to explain our diplomatic plan and purpose in the globally standardized communication code; the established international law (as one of Low Contextual Languages).

Japan must translate its diplomatic plan and purpose into the globally standardized diplomatic code, and then we Japanese should sincerely explain them. This manner of dealing problem doesn't differ from a business manner on an international business scene; we may ask anybody to write down their claims or complaints on a piece of paper, and we can ask any question as long as we give enough time for them to respond to the questions.

Without China and Korea, most of the foreign countries want to work in good harmony with Japan. Almost of all peoples, except Chinese and Korean people, are working with the established international law, whether they like it or not. I hope a High Contextual Language is compatible with a Low Contextual Language, although no one can translate perfectly. Therefore I believe the two East Asian peoples should learn this manner of communication:“When in Rome, do as the Romans do.”

(2005年6月11日:goo版「英語と書評 de 海馬之玄関」にアップロード)





テーマ : 特定アジアと日本
ジャンル : 政治・経済






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