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Japanese Culture A look into Japanese weddings, religion, dining, holidays, and childhood education to better understand communicating more efficiently with members of the Japanese culture. Spencer Graves, Jessica Hartenstine, Jory Carnahan, Veronica Feist, & Jade Herring
Dining in Japan A look at the nonverbal experience of eating in Japanese tradition. Japanese culture is one of high context, where nonverbal messages are expressed and received with high meaning. It is important to be aware of general expected nonverbal interpretation. Jade Herring
In home dining vs. restaurant dining- Entering and being seated
Dining in someone's home-
It is polite and customary to take off your shoes when entering someone's home. There are usually slippers available for guest to wear at the entrance of the home (Hays, 2010).
If invited to a Japanese home, consider it a great honor, Japanese do not tend to invite just anyone to their homes (Hays, 2010).
If you receive a bow, bow at least as low as the bow given. This bow represents the status and respect given and expected. If bowing to someone of great status, your bow must be lower. The bow is an emblem for honor and respect (McBennett, 2010).
It is not considered rude to wear shoes at a restaurant if there are tables. However, if there are only traditional tatami mat floors, than you will change into slippers provided. Tatami mats are hard to clean and Japanese culture highly values cleanliness (Dining Out, 2008).
Traditional table settings are a bowl of rice to your left, bowl of miso soup to your right , other dishes placed behind these bowls, and chopsticks are placed in front of your rice pointing left on a chopstick holder (Mishima, 2010).
Tea is served with most meal and in restaurants is served as part of your meal (Dining Out, 2008).
If you want a refill of your sake or tea you first want to drink all that is in your cup and let someone else in your party fill your glass. It is also custom for you to fill others cups if you see they are empty. If the cup is not empty it is a signal that they may no longer want anymore to drink. Another way to avoid refill of sake and express you are done drinking is to hold your hand over the top of the cup when someone tries to refill your cup (Table Manners, 2008).
Japanese culture relies quite a bit on gestures, it is important to learn some of them unless you want to end up very drunk after a night of not knowing how to keep your glass empty without offending your host!
Picture of Saki.Retreived November 5,2010, from factsanddetails.com
Rice is a staple of the Japanese diet, served at most meals (Food and Culture Resources, 2010). There are several things to know when eating your rice, don’t leave your chopstick standing straight out of the rice (this is too similar to an incense ritual at funerals) and it is okay to pick up the bowl and hold it towards your face to make it closer to your mouth during eating (Hays, 2010).
It is okay to slurp and make noise while eating and is a signal to your host or chef that the meal is good. Many also believe it makes the soup and/or noodles better (Hays, 2010).
It is not okay to burp at the table like in some other Asian countries.
It is frowned upon to blow you nose in the presence of others, especially the table (Mishima, 2010).
Picture of rice and child eating noodles. Retrieved November 5,21010Factsanddeails.com
“ Itadakimasu" at the beginning of dinner, and "gochisou-sama-deshita" at the end. It is polite use these phrase and it will show you host that you have enjoyed the meal (Williams, 2008).
If you would like more rice in you bowl during a meal, leave about a teaspoon of rice left in the bottom to indicate this to your host, if you do not want more rice, eat every last grain.
It is considered rude to point or use your chopsticks for anything other than eating (Food and Culture Resources, 2010).
The Japanese toast is ' Kampai ' (literally 'dry glass') (McBennett, 2010).
Never use our American gesture for “okay” with your hands, this is a Japanese emblem for money, Japanese do not talk openly about money or flash it about (Wiiliams, 2008).
Remember, the Japanese consider food an ‘art’ so take a moment to enjoy the presentation of the food you have been served.
Childhood Education A closer look at the nonverbal communication, cultural values, and group communication used in Japanese schools. By: Jory Carnahan
Nonverbal Communication “communication other than written or spoken language that creates meaning for someone” ( Beebe, Beebe, & Ivy, 2010).
In Japan the most prevalent form of communication is nonverbal. ( Condon, John C.)
Japanese classrooms usually have more students per classroom than American classrooms, though the children are better behaved. This is due in part to the high level of organization and discipline by the teacher. There is a great amount of pressure for each student to constantly be aware of all nonverbal signs that the teacher gives them. (Wood, Monika D.)
Starting on the first day of school children are taught to follow these extensive routines and rituals. The children are expected to follow cues from the teacher. ( Japanese Education System)
Unlike American students, children in Japan are rarely reprimanded individually. Instead the teacher may use a techniques similar to peer pressure to encourage a misbehaving child to correct their undesired behavior by themselves. Each child is expected to interpret nonverbal messages through observation of others actions. (Wood, Monika D.)
Each student is responsible for their own behavior.
In Japanese culture learning to become a good citizen with strong morals is equally important as academic success. ( Japanese Education System)
Tips for Verbal and Nonverbal Communication
Speaking too much is associated with immaturity or a kind of empty headedness.
(Be direct and to the point when you speak, and be conscious of what message your body language is sending)
Show respect when communicating.
(Be attentive when listening, and do not interrupt. Not paying attention is very disrespectful.)
Cultural Values (whatever a given group of people value or appreciates)
Japanese schools are designed to work in a “ collectivistic culture ”. A culture that places a high value on collaboration, teamwork, and group achievement. ( Beebe, Beebe, & Ivy, 2010. )
Examples of these cultural values in school include; (40 fun facts)
Students in both public and private schools must wear uniforms, also known as seifukus.
Students must remove their shoes and wear special slippers in their classroom.
Students take turns serving lunch to their classmates. The children also use ceramic ware having to be responsible and not break the dishes.
You must eat everything on your plate.
After lunch a moment of silence is given to show their gratitude.
Children eat with chopsticks. Rice and green tea is served with every meal.
Boys must keep their hair cut short. Neither boys or girls are allowed to change their hair color, only natural hair color is allowed.
Girls can not wear make up, nail polish, or jewelry.
Japanese schools practice great teamwork. Everyday after lunch 15 minutes are dedicated to cleaning. Every student is responsible for doing some kind of cleaning. Typical jobs include sweeping/mopping floors, wiping down windows, dusting shelves, emptying garbage bins etc. Not only do the children clean their own classroom they also take turns cleaning the library, music room, gym, and playground.
Understanding the purpose of Cultural Values in school.
These values are meant to instills Focus, Structure,
Morals, and Ethics which ultimately influences how
the Japanese communicate.
Communicating in Teams (Team: A coordinated group of people organized to work together and achieve a specific common goal.)
The majority of the school day children work together in small groups and teams.
It is expected that children work harmoniously, are cooperative and polite. Harmony is considered to be the most crucial ingredient for working productively.
Included in the course of study are weekly ceremonies to emphasize character development and the importance of group effort and cooperation. (Elementary schools)
Japanese students are placed into “han”. Han is similar to a platoon, a squad, or a working group and it operates with little to no hierarchy. Each han is comprised of 5-8 children depending on the class size with a total of 6-8 han groups per classroom. (All about life)
In a han no individual person is ever praised or reprimanded (Japanese Education System)
Again, the students must wear uniforms in school, creating an even greater sense team pride.
Japanese children sit close together in their class room, and even eat lunch in groups.
(picture below taken from Peterson)
Unlike the children in Japan, American students strive to be unique, individuals, who have their own personal identity. Most American children in public schools are not forced to wear uniforms and are able to express their unique personalities though clothing and hair styles of their choice. Children in American schools, learn ‘stereotyping’ at a very young age. American students are expected to sit at their own desk. It is most common for children to complete their school work independently. Except for group activities such as P.E. (physical education) or music class, American children do not usually participate in structured group activities. According to oppapers.com , American classrooms are smaller (about 30 students per classroom) than Japanese classrooms (about 50 students per class room). With fewer students per classroom in the US it is easier to build interpersonal relationships with peers (Differences).
Understanding the differences between Japanese and American schooling is one way to better understand the difference in how we communicate. Japanese are more nonverbal , where as Americans tend to be primarily verbal.
Japanese Holidays Adapting to Others Who Are Different from You Jessica Hartenstine
Assuming Similarity Coming from one specific culture, many times we are unaware that people from other cultures do not celebrate the same holidays we are raised with, or that they may have similar holidays on different days or with different meanings. For instance, Christmas in Japan is merely a commercial event, with Christmas Eve being a romantic night out as opposed to the more Christian views of a holy remembrance. (Japan Tourist Info, 2000) The Japanese have their own version of Thanksgiving, Labor Thanksgiving, which is celebrated on November 23 rd . Traditionally a celebration by the Emperor giving thanks for the rice harvest, it is now a day to thank laborers for their hard work. (Elementary School Japanese Department, 2005)
Major Holidays, Festivals, and Celebrations Shogatsu, the new year celebration from January 1 st -3 rd , is the most important holiday in Japan. Families gather together, eat traditional foods, play games, and celebrate the fresh start of a brand new year.
Golden Week is usually when most Japanese take their longest vacation. Four national holidays take place during this time-
Showa Day – April 29
The birthday of Emperor Hirohito’s
Constitution Day – May 3
The celebration of the National Constitution
Green Day – May 4
A celebration of nature
Children’s Day – May 5
A day for children, mainly boys, celebrated with the flying of carp streamers, known as koinobori
The Japanese generally have festivals or rituals that go along with their holidays. Many holidays are to celebrate historic events, seasonal changes or Emperor’s birthdays. O-Bon is a widely celebrated Buddhist festival to pay respect to ancestors in August. Graves are cleaned and offerings are left as the spirits of the ancestors return. At the end of the celebrations, there is a dance called Bon Odori held in many neighborhoods. (Japan Tourist Info, 2000)
Intercultural Communication Though we can look to written sources to learn little bits about a culture’s holidays, the best way to understand the holidays that are important to a person is to ask questions. Japan is divided into many different regions, and they have their own festivals and celebrations that another region may not take part in. Becoming mindful of others is essential. We should not assume that someone celebrates a holiday just because we do. Instead of asking, for instance, “What are you doing for Easter?” asking someone if they have any Spring festivities they take part in is a way to expand your intercultural communication competence. (Beebe, Beebe, and Ivy, 2010)
JAPANESE WEDDINGS A LOOK AT BOTH THE SYMBOLISM AND TRADITIONS EXPRESSED IN JAPANESSE WEDDINGS Veronica Feist
In the Japanese American Wedding Traditions article the author states that, “Most Japanese Americans include the “san-san-kudo” sake sharing tradition, which translates to “three sets of three sips equal nine.” Using three flat sake cups stacked atop on another, the bride and groom take three sips each from the cups. Next their parents also take sips, for a total of nine, cementing the bond between the families.” (Japanese American Wedding Traditions, 2010)
At the ceremony many Japanese brides have 1,001 folded gold origami cranes. This represents : Good luck, good fortune, longevity, fidelity, and peace to the marriage.
To understand Japanese weddings we must understand the symbolism that is expressed in traditional weddings.
In Communication: Principles for a Life time, Beebe, Beebe and Ivy explain that, “Symbols are words, sounds, gestures, or visual images that represent thoughts, concepts, objects, or experiences.” (2010)
Japanese Brides use the symbolism of white on their wedding day to symbolize the new beginning to their husbands family and the ending as their fathers daughter. They also use san-san –kudo to represent the bond between the two families.
To better communicate with members of the Japanese culture it is important to understand and take into consideration what would other wise be unknown facts about Japanese culture. Understanding non-verbal symbols is necessary to understanding Japanese culture and efficiently communicating with a member of the culture.
Japan’s population is comprised largely of followers of two different religions:
107 million Japanese people identify themselves as Shinto, while 89 million identify themselves as Buddhist (Bureau of Democracy, 2009)
Only 13 million Japanese people identify themselves to be followers of religions other than Buddhism or Shinto (Bureau of Democracy, 2009).
Figure 1. Japan Map and Flag, an outline of the country being discussed and an example of the nation’s flag.
Japanese Buddhism Figure 2. Buddha_big, a Japanese Buddhist shrine
Buddhist belief revolves around a desire to attain personal enlightenment and free one’s self from suffering through many cycles of reincarnation (Robinson, 2009)
To attain enlightenment one must gain control over their mind through practices like meditation, which is believed to lead to wisdom (Robinson, 2009)
The Buddhist path to wisdom involves basic principles that resemble those of mainstream Christian religions, with a focus on awareness (Robinson, 2009)
This Buddhist path is eightfold and is known as Buddha’s eightfold path (Robinson, 2009)
Buddha’s Eightfold Path
1) Samma ditthi Right Understanding of the Four Noble Truths
2) Samma sankappa: Right thinking; following the right path in life
3) Samma vaca: Right speech: no lying, criticism, condemning, gossip, or harsh language
4) Samma kammanta Right conduct by following the Five Precepts
5) Samma ajiva : Right livelihood; support yourself without harming others
6) Samma vayama Right Effort: promote good thoughts; conquer evil thoughts
7) Samma sati Right Mindfulness: Become aware of your body, mind and feelings
8) Samma samadhi Right Concentration: Meditate to achieve a higher state of consciousness (Robinson, 2009)
Figure 3. Shrine, A Shinto temple in Kyoto Japan Shinto
Followers of Shinto believe in many deities known as “Kami”
“ Among them [is] a divine couple, Izanagi-no-mikoto and Izanami-no-mikoto, who gave birth to the Japanese islands.” (Robinson, 1995)
Some of the other Shinto Kami are;
Natural objects and creatures such as animals, bodies of water, and rocks
Guardian spirits of regions of Japan and individual Shinto clans
Exceptional members of Japanese society, including past emperors
“ Believers revere "musuhi" , the Kamis' creative and harmonizing powers. They aspire to have "makoto" , sincerity or true heart. This is regarded as the way or will of Kami.” (Robinson, 1995)
Followers of Shinto are guided to;
“ 1) To be grateful for the blessings of Kami and the benefits of the ancestors, and to be diligent in the observance of the Shinto rites, applying oneself to them with sincerity, brightness, and purity of heart.
(2) To be helpful to others and in the world at large through deeds of service without thought of rewards, and to seek the advancement of the world as one whose life mediates the will of Kami.
(3) To bind oneself with others in harmonious acknowledgment of the will of the emperor, praying that the country may flourish and that other peoples too may live in peace and prosperity.” ( Shinto Online Netwrok Association, 2005 )
Beebe, Beebe, and Ivy state that “Interpersonal conflict is a struggle that occurs when two people cannot agree on a way to meet their needs.” (2010)
When communicating with a member of the Japanese culture it is imperative to understand the religious background from which they come
Because of the focus on awareness, sincerity, and mindfulness of both of Japan’s major religions interpersonal conflict with a member of the Japanese culture could be very different from interpersonal conflict between two Americans.
If conflict arises with a Japanese person it would be safe to assume that the Japanese participant in the conflict would strive to participate only in constructive conflict.
Beebe, Beebe, and Ivy define constructive conflict as “Conflict characterized by cooperation in dealing with differences; [it] helps build new insights and patterns in a relationship.” (2010)
Within Beebe, Beebe, and Ivy’s text they discuss Wilmot and Hocker’s hallmarks of constructive conflict. One of these hallmarks is that “constructive conflict provides each partner with a more honest, complete picture of himself or herself.” (2010)
With this knowledge, one involved in a conflict with a Japanese person should avoid destructive conflict and strive to communicate only within the guidelines of constructive conflict to aid more effective communication.
Figure 3. Two people arguing, an example of conflict
Conclusion When participating in any form of communication with a member of the Japanese culture it is important to remember some of the things learned here regarding large aspects of this high context cultural group’s way of life. In particular, be aware of any nonverbal cues you may be giving that could be misinterpreted or that you are being given, be understanding of Japanese dining customs, both verbal and nonverbal while eating with a Japanese person, be mindful of the tendency a member of this culture may have to aim to handle conflict constructively.
What are some examples of good conversation starters to learn more about the holidays a person who may have a different cultural background celebrates? Jessica
How do you think traditions in Japanese weddings are similar to traditions in American weddings and why do you think this is?
What core values do the Japanese obtain from their childhood education that influences how they communicate?
What differences in communication tendencies would you expect when communicating with a member of the Japanese culture in contrast to dealing with members of cultures which you encounter everyday?
What would be your best adivise to someone from Japan about our western eating customs?
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