Bebe Taian: Mannered Mondays: Higengo Komyunikeishon

January 30, 2012

Mannered Mondays: Higengo Komyunikeishon

Higengo Komyunikeishon (Nonverbal Communication)

This post is typed verbatim from Keys to the Japanese Heart + Soul, an excerpt from Japan: An Illustrated Encyclopedia with authors' notes at the bottom.


In the highly homogenous society of Japan, consciously learned and unconsciously absorbed etiquette and gestures account for a significant portion of the communication between individuals. Functioning as nonverbal cues, they set the context for verbal communication. Across a broad range of human relationships, beginning with that implied by the shared culture of Japan and extending to that of members of a profession, workplace, or family, essential information for the interpretation of a conversation is supplied by the silences and ellipses that link individual utterances.

Inculcation of silence as a means of communication begins with the relationship of mother and child. Japanese mothers place great importance on nonverbal communication with their children and foster the virtue of sunao*1 (uprightness; compliance). In the larger social framework, complex and interacting behavioural patterns such as the concepts of on*2 (favour; indebtedness) and giri*3 (obligation to act according to the principles of society in relation to other persons) condition communication between individuals. The social convention of avoiding of confrontation, manifested in the radical bifurcation of public and personal opinion, encourages silence or even concurrence in opinions contrary to one's true feelings. Silence concerning a matter may even convey concern about it, and apparently blithe remarks, deep feeling. Silences during a conversation are often felt to be a pleasant interval during which a shared atmosphere is savoured.

In Japan, the bow (ojigi), serves the same purpose as a handshake, but it can also, depending on its depth, signify a hierarchy between two or more persons. The smile, besides displaying pleasure, is also used to hide feelings of antagonism or deep unhappiness. Eye contact during a conversation is much less frequent than in Western countries, and if excessive, may be construed as threatening.



*1, sunao (defined according to pg. 109, Keys to the Japanese Heart + Soul.)
*2, on (pg. 65, "")
*3, giri (pg. 89, "")

Previously: Honne to Tatemae
Next: On, A Sense of Indebtedness

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