It already seems hard enough when you even think of an interaction with Japanese people. But this text will help you pick your way through this minefield. I wish that after reading the post it could be attempting to contact the Japanese, not venturing into an unknown terrain.
Communication in the Japanese culture is a complicated issue for the representatives of the European cultural area. Getting to know its character, you should be aware of some unique phenomena existing there. Relationships are very much complex, but we can set some basic rules which clarifies the image.
To begin with, Japanese people function differently from us. In Japan, there’s a distinction between “in-groups” (uchi) and “out-groups” (soto), which regulates the way of communicating and the use of specific language. Our society also consists of many different kind of groups, but Japanese really emphasize that. They feel a strong need to belong to a group and that’s due to the collective type of their society.
What’s also very important is the hierarchy. The Japanese feel the need to be dependent, find their place in a group and carry out the actions assigned to it. The concept of hierarchization also aims taking care of that of the lower position in group. There are some methods which allow to establish the place in the social hierarchy. Apart from well known custom of exchanging business cards, associated with the workplace, one of the method is adding suffixes to the names and surnames. To a person, who is not our peer, you should relate by adding “-san”, which means Mr/Mrs. Men relating to their male colleagues, use “-kun” suffix. And women addressing their female colleagues, use “-chan”, which is used also when relating to children. You should avoid addressing Japanese using only their name or surname without suffixes, because it’s concerned very casual and can cause some awkwardness.
The Japanese are very aware of the difficulty which brings others the task of talking in their native language. And that’s why they have an understanding for the Europeans, who undertake this tough task and show admiration for our efforts.
Speaking of communication, the Japanese have a specific custom, which manifests during a conversation, and is called “aizuchi”. It’s a habit of an active confirming that you understand what the interlocutor is saying, for example by repeating the word “hai”, meaning “yes”, or some other short expressions.
Another phenomenon in communication in Japanese is “omoiyari”, which means “sympathy” and it manifests in indirect way of expressing person’s opinion and avoiding to express radical reckonings.
What’s more, the Japanese have a tendency not to show their real emotions or thoughts in order to maintain unity of the group. It’s a phenomenon called “enryo” and it assumes that you ought to behave in a way the others expects from you. It comes from the sense of responsibility, loyalty, gratitude and guilt towards society. The personal needs are less important that the group’s.
And finally, Japanese people rather do not speak English, because their educational system trains them only in the written language. Thus, their ability of speaking English is very low. So if you want to ask somebody on the Japanese street for a simple thing like time or place, won’t be surprised, if they pretend not to hear you. It’s considered better that misleading somebody, so they will probably run away from you. To communicate with common people in Japan, you should learn Japanese.
These are some fundamental rules of communicating with the Japanese, which is an interesting subject because of its distinctness from the European patterns. I wish it made you think that conversation with Japanese is no longer walking in the dark.