Saturday, September 25, 2010

Are the Japanese Double-Faced?

When one lives overseas for a long time, he experiences what he would not, otherwise. In first several weeks, he would be busy adjusting himself to the new environment. After a while, he starts to think about his home country. If he is an ex-patriot from Japan, he starts to be aware about Japan, maybe for the first time in his life. He could suffer from home sick around this time. As time goes by, in my experience, a Japanese like me started to realize that how he was ignorant about his own country. He would surprise to learn how well his American Friends know about Japan. He might have regretted that he should have studied about Japan more seriously than he did.

He will also learn that he was wrong on his   presumption how the people in the world view Japan. A Japanese tends to believe that people in the world are knowledgeable about Japan. They respect Japan and Japanese, as the country with courtesy, politeness, neatness, long-term visionary. It might have been true once upon a time. After so many years in foreign countries, non-Japanese are well aware of the truth and reality about Japanese and Japan, now.

This is an article based on an experience of an Asian woman who once was working in Japan. She could speak English, Japanese, and her own language. She was so talented that she could work in a Japanese IT related company as an executive secretary. She worked primarily with the president of this company. The president liked her skilled in business. He invited her to attend his meeting with customers and visitors.

What surprised her was that this president, despite that he is polite and courteous to the visitor during the meeting, while the visitor is with them, says so terrible about the visitor after the visitor left. This president says nastily about the visitor to her or his employees usually. She remembered he said about the visitor such as "This person visits us whenever we were busy." "His conversation goes on forever. It never ends. It is too long. He should have gone three hours ago." In this case, the visitor came two hours before. He meant that the visitor should not have come at all. "He has never come with useful deals." Since she was the one who arranged the meetings, she felt that her president was blaming her. She, as a non-Japanese, thought that he should not have accepted the visit from the beginning, if the president did not like the visitor come.

For this lady, if the president were "busy", he should not have scheduled the meeting. If he felt the meeting was too long, he should have told the visitor and end the meeting. If he believed that the visitor's deal was not of the company's interest, he should have told so directly to the visitor during the meeting. The president did not do any of the above. He finished meetings, smiled to the visitor and sent him to the elevator. Then, he started to complain about the visitor and the meeting. She could not believe that at all. Any of these did not make sense for her.

According to this lady, her president did not have any single case that he did not speak badly about the visitor after he or she had gone, his case might be unusually extreme. Japanese have this tendency, still. A Japanese growing up might have heard his mother, politely showed gratitude to the visitor who brought a souvenir, after the visitor left, complained about the visitor and souvenir. I heard my mother said "She should have learned that our family do not like anything sweet by now." It is the miss-communication by "Hon-Ne (True Feeling)" and Tate-Mae (Words in Public)". It is the crucial part of Japanese culture that showing "Hon-Ne" in public is not polite. This cultural behavior has built for a long time in Japanese history. It is not good or bad. It is a fact. When they are discussing the critical point of a business, Japanese business people agree to negotiate in "Hon-Ne", to avoid misunderstanding. They say: "Hon-Ne Only talk and deal, okay?" Then they ignore politeness or courteousness and go directly to the point. They have a hard time to deal with this cultural issue some times.

There are a lot of Japanese who deals with all cards open on the table from the beginning. It may be useful, however, that non-Japanese should be aware that Japanese may use "Hon-Ne" and "Tate-Mae" from their cultural background. In that way, one may be able to comprehend the true meaning and feeling of what they say. They might not have meant what they have said.

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