Why don’t Japanese People say their opinions aloud?

Many non-Japanese people think it is difficult to get along with Japanese people. One of the reasons is because most Japanese people do not say their feelings and opinions aloud. A Japanese person said he would love to visit your place for dinner, but every time you ask him to do that, he just says he is busy and never visits your place. You had a date with a Japanese woman, and you ask her if she is ok with Thai food and she said yes, but she looked disappointed when you brought her the Thai restaurant. In this case, it seems just easier to say the truth. Maybe the former Japanese man was on diet or has diabetes and cannot eat most of the food.  Maybe the Japanese woman cannot eat spicy food. But on many occasions they do not say their true feelings. Why is that?

These are some opinions from the mouths of Japanese people;

  • It is not necessary to say something which upsets my friends.
  • By saying my opinion aloud, the harmonized atmosphere is ruined in the conversation.
  • To build a good relationship, it is better not to be against my friends. 

You may have something to say against these opinions. And if so, it means you are not like the Japanese. And if you are going to say it aloud to me, you are definitely not a Japanese person. But please be patient a little bit more, and listen to the voice of Japanese people.

Japanese people do not say their feelings aloud, and in Japan this is the way to make the harmonized atmosphere, and it is something Japanese people value conventionally. It is considered rude to speak your opinions in Japan. And most Japanese people do not do so, therefore if one person does, it stands out, which also Japanese people have mixed feelings about because of the same reason; harmony.

When a Japanese person is not saying their opinions, just nodding uncertainly, it comes from kindness. He just does not want to hurt your feelings.  Yet, of course, you notice that he does not completely agree with you. If you are a Japanese person, instead of asking why directly, you think about the reason which is bothering him. You may come up with a conclusion. If the conclusion is not something upbeat you, you may not feel good, but you are not offended because the Japanese person has not actually said the words. In this way, from the Japanese person’s perspective, he does not need to make his friend mad, and the harmonized atmosphere continues. It is win-win. Japanese people do not need to say their opinions because there is always an expectation that the other person is going to guess their opinions.

However, it can be a trigger of problems even for Japanese people. Sometimes it is difficult to guess the reason why the person is quiet. It is hard to tell the truth if it is their true feelings or not. Especially when the Japanese people are facing a foreigner, he may not be accustomed to the unspoken guessing convention, so there might be some misunderstandings. In Japan the percentage of foreigners is only two per cent, so there are not many opportunities to talk to them. Therefore, many Japanese people are also not accustomed to recognizing that foreigners are from different cultures and they may not be able to guess their opinions.

The problem also occurs among the Japanese people. For instance, one of my female friends says she never says to her boyfriend that she had dinner with her male friends, even though they are just friends and there is nothing romantic going on. She says it is because it is not necessary to talk about it.  If she says it, it may upset her boyfriend. And she does not want to end a friendship just because she has a boyfriend who is insecure and does not like her hanging out with them.

And when her Japanese boyfriend noticed the fact that his girlfriend has not been saying everything to him,  what do you think he is going to do? He is mad at her and presses her for the answer? Maybe. But normally Japanese boyfriends do not. First, he guesses why she did not tell him about it. Because she is cheating on him? Because it was nothing special? Because she has some complaints about him as a boyfriend and is finding someone right? If it is something he can understand, he does not question her. If it is bothering him too much, he may question her, or he will be suspicious as long as they are in a relationship.

As for my problems, I have a few close friends who are from abroad and speak English, and with them I have got used to saying my opinions straightforward. If I had done the same with my Japanese friends, they would have been offended by what I said. When my friend is wearing a lame dress, it is not good to say; “It does not look good on you.”  So I will not mention it at all, or instead I may say something like “The dress you wore the last time we met suits you more.” That is why my Japanese friends and my foreigner friends have different impressions of my characteristics.

Although now I’m able to have good relationships with foreigners as well as Japanese people, it is true that I can be more open in English. But I was born and raised in Japan and truly think I am Japanese, so I cannot be ignorant of the Japanese aspect of myself. It means I have multiple identities, and I think it is one of the wonderful things when you speak more than two languages. Both are me, even though it seems different. Still, sometimes problems and misunderstandings occur. But most of the time they end without a hitch. Because they are my friends, and they understand me and I understand them. Or what kind of friend does it?

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