April 1, 2013
Faculty: Gilbert Noel, SR.
If there was ever a country that had miscommunication issues, it is Japan. Throughout the many years of their political relationship Japan and United States have found themselves in the midst of many instances of miscommunication. This is to be expected when a collectivistic and high-context culture, such as the Japanese, finds themselves constantly communicating with an individualistic and low-context culture, such as Americans. These are the two countries that this paper will be addressing in terms of intercultural communication and their differences that may lead to miscommunication.
The first example is miscommunication between Japan’s former prime minister, Mori Yoshiro, and former United States president, Bill Clinton. In 2000 Mori was hosting the summit of the G8 leaders in Okinawa, but spoke limited English. In order to try and prepare for the summit Mori learned every day English greetings; however when greeting Clinton instead of hearing “How are you?” from Mori, he heard, “Who are you?” Clinton replied, “I’m Hilary’s wife,” to which Mori did not understand but continued to reply with, “Me too” (Kowner, 2003).
Another example is with former prime minister of Japan, Miyazawa Kiichi. Prime Minister Miyazawa spoke fluent English and was comfortable with foreigners. However, Miyazawa’s fluency in English was a major source of criticism from the Japanese public, and they felt as though a translator should have been hired to limit any chance of miscommunication between the two counties (Japan and the United States). Saito Akira (1993), a commentator of Yomiuri Shinbun, a Japanese publication commented, “A country’s leader should try to respect its language as well as its culture and tradition” (Kowner, 2003).
The Japanese are a culture that is considered rather shy by nature, and it is at the core of their cultural pattern in regards to social practices. “Since the forced opening of Japan to the West in 1854, numerous Japanese have noted their difficulties when communicating with foreigners” (Kowner, 2003, p. 3). Not only do they have a timid international conduct (Kowner, 2003), but they have a high levels of communication apprehension within their own culture, making them poor communicators in general. According to a Japanese scholar, Ishihara Shintaro, “Except for the young and especially qualified, most Japanese diplomats suffer from a peculiar inferiority complex [and] as a result are spreading the seeds of misunderstanding throughout the world.”
When dealing with United States Americans and European Americans, Japan is dealing with a culture quite different than their own. Americans are generally more direct in their social practices, and more willing to take on confrontations. The American culture is trained to admire achievement, practicality, material comfort, freedom, and individuality (Lustig & Koester, 2010). There is a belief within the culture that individuals should depend solely on themselves to accomplish their goals, making their self-orientation very independent.
When looking at the Japanese and American cultures there is practically nothing similar about them in regards to communication. Japanese are high-context communicators and Americans are low-context. The Japanese are very collectivistic, Americans are very individualistic. Japanese have high uncertainty-avoidance, whereas Americans have low uncertainty-avoidance. It is easy to see where even the most basic communication mishaps, such as Mori’s greeting blunders, could happen between the two countries.
“Members of a culture generally have a preferred set of responses to the world” (Lustig & Koester, 2010). The majority of Japanese are uncomfortable with foreigners and do not approve of them very often. “If a Japanese can really relax only in his home and only with his family, he ‘can never truly be a cosmopolitan’”...