KJ200710: Restraint(enryo) and Conjecture(sasshi)

Dominique, a French national, notices that her friend is looking kind of down. She approaches her:
“What’s wrong? Are you okay?”. The friend responds:
“It’s nothing ; I’m all right”, but Dominique can’t just leave it at that, and so asks again “Something’s wrong isn’t it? You can tell me about it.”

Toru, a Japanese national, notices that his friend is looking kind of down. He glances at his friend and thinks“ Something must be wrong. I’ll leave him alone for a bit. ”Toru will wait until his friend feels like talking with him.
Both people feel the same consideration for their friend ; the way in which they express it, however, is quite a bit different.
A lot of Japanese people, it would seem, have some difficulty in expressing their desires and other emotions directly. Instead of putting it into words, they wait for the other party to make a conjecture at what they are feeling.
For example, a guest might ask her host “Isn’t it warm in here?”. The latter guesses that she means ‘would you please put on the air conditioner?’ and so replies “I’ll turn on the a/c!”. If the host were to reply simply “it sure is!”, she risks being thought of as inconsiderate.
If one is the type not to care so much about what others think, this might not be such a difficult situation.
But most people probably don’t want to be thought poorly of.
Why couldn’t she just have said “it’s really hot ; would you please turn on the a/c?” right from the start?
Because of restraint. One must show some self restraint ; coming straight out with “I want―――“ or “Please―――“ is a rude way to speak. Of course, some partners in conversation don’t require that sort of restraint, and that is a different case.
Mr. Tanaka, coming out of a meeting rather late, finds that he has missed the last train home. Suzuki-san offers him a ride home ; Tanaka, while thinking‘ I’ve been saved!’, says “I couldn’t possibly? it’s so far out of your way”. He shows his restraint.
Mr. Suzuki cannot just say “okay then, see you tomorrow”. He suggests that “it’s no bother at all, really. please don’t stand on ceremony.”
“Really? If you insist, then” says Tanaka-san, as he gets in the car, grateful to Suzuki and his good luck.
Incidentally, how many husbands of Japanese women tell their wives verbally “I love you” after a number of years have passed? It seems that a lot of people think that “she understands that it’s true even if I don’t come out and say it”.
As a sort of test, try asking the men around you what sort of woman their wife is. A reply of “she’s nice, and beautiful, and I am really happy ”will be rare ; most people will say something like “she’s inconsiderate” and maybe list a fault or two. The husbands actually think very highly of their wives but, being embarrassed, they exhibit a certain modesty.
What complicated communication! Wouldn’t it be better to speak more directly? Maybe this habit of seeking out each others’ feelings non-verbally is one born of the necessity of living among a lot of people on such limited land, while still maintaining some amount of harmony (wa).
Communication among Japanese people is an every-day process of trial and error.


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This page was written by i-pal for 3, 2007 2:54 .

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