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Values

Japanese culture is deeply rooted in their values and they play a critical role in everyday life.

Here are some of the elements that are essential Japanese values:

Age

Filial piety--respect and care for ones elders--is an important factor for the Japanese.  They have a great deal of respect for their elders and value them as critical members of society.  The elders are also the people who will pass down oral traditions from generation to generation.

Silence

In Japanese culture, those who say very little are considered credible. Their non-verbal cues and communication are more important than verbal communication.

Traditions

The Japanese are a people with deep-rooted traditions that are thousands of years old.  More on Traditions

History

Because the Japanese have endured many hardships throughout the years, their history is considered a principal factor in the basis of their values. More on History

Religion

 
Many Japanese rituals and traditions are based on their deep cultural roots in religion.  The two main religions practiced in Japan are Buddhism and Shintoism. More on Religion 

Family

Family is significantly valued in their societal viewpoint. Family members are always put before others in society. More on Family Communication

Government

Japanese people value the importance of a strong government in order to keep peaceful and harmonious relations among all its people. More on Government

Nature

Nature is greatly valued in Japanese culture. These strong sentiments and beliefs are seen through the meticulous care that they put forth in landscaping and gardening. 

   

     Education             

Education is highly valued in Japanese society.  It will eventually help determine one's social position and status. More on education

*The values information found here was gathered from both Samovar and Porter books.

Proverbs

  • "He who speaks has no knowledge and he who has knowledge does not speak."  This proverb is a prime example of the value that the Japanese place on silence. (Samovar and Porter, Reader, p.8)
  • "The duck that quacks is the first to get shot."  The Japanese have many proverbs, like this one, implying that they find silence to be greatly important.  They are a people who find non-verbal cues more important than verbal ones.  (Samovar and Porter, Reader, p.8)
  • Someone who "hears one and understands ten" is someone who is quick enough to speak before his or her position is revered as intelligent.  This proverb shows that the Japanese value non-verbal cues. (Nihon-no-Kotowaza)
  • "More haste, less speed."  This proverb means that when you are hurried, it is often quicker to take another route.  This shows how the Japanese value time.  They do not believe in rushing to do things, and do not live by demanding schedules that are planned minute by minute. (Nihon-no-Kotowaza)
  • "Seven falls, eight getting up."  This Japanese saying tells one to get up eight times for every seven you fall down.  This saying is one of encouragement to persevere and not give up. (Nihon-no-Kotowaza)
  • "All human affairs are like 'Saiou's' horse" which means that someone's fortune or fate is unpredictable and unchangeable.  This proverb shows the way that the Japanese believe in allowing fate to guide them. (Nihon-no-Kotowaza)
    "Entering the village, obey the village."  The proverb tells one to obey the rules of where you are; it shows the strong value placed on rules in a collective society for the better of all people. (Nihon-no-Kotowaza)
  • "One does not make the wind blow but is blown by it."  This Asian proverb says that Asians believe that fate guides them, not their own actions.  (Samovar and Porter, Reader, p.8, Samovar and Porter, Communication, p.37)
  • "No use shutting the stable door after the horse has bolted." The proverb says exactly that; there is no point in trying to prevent something that has already occurred.  This proverb shows the importance of learning from your mistakes and not allowing them to happen again; the Japanese culture values the past and also learning from it. (Nihon-no-Kotowaza)
  • "Once a fool, always a fool" is very self explanatory.  The only cure for a fool is dying.  The Japanese believe that everyone is guided by his or her fate.  (Nihon-no-Kotowaza)
  • "The mouth is the cause of calamity."  This proverb communicates how the Japanese view the usage of verbal language.  They believe that through the use of indirect language, they will save-face and help others to do the same, which creates social harmony.  This quality shows that they find collectivism to be important to their society. (Nihon-no-Kotowaza)
  • "Those who know do not speak and those who speak do not know."  This proverb stresses the importance of silence over speaking in Japan.  (Samovar and Porter, Communication, p. 38)

Language

The Japanese language follows many of the same Asian culture language rules.  Many Asian cultures have rather ambiguous verbal language; they are more indirect and use fewer words. 
  • Voice quality

    They have more concern with the emotive quality of the conversation than with the actual meaning of the words they are speaking.  Much of this occurs because they are a high-context culture, which means that they put a much higher emphasis on non-verbal communication.   
    Personal pronouns They do not engage in much verbal language due their collective nature.  This means that they care more about the group than the individual.  Along with this, they rarely use personal pronouns because they provide a more individualistic base for communication.
    Formal Language Japanese culture also speak more cautiously due to the fact that they prefer avoiding confrontational language or negative language.  They do this because they do not want to damage the group and to allow others to save face.  Therefore, they are usually a courteous culture with their words making them more formal speakers.  
    Indirectness They use an indirect way of speaking in order to save face.  This indirect approach is used to avoid direct confrontational occurrences.  
    Non-verbal The Japanese use verbal language only when necessary.  They favor silence and the use of non-verbal cues over verbal language because they find talking too much to be chaotic.  They also believe that speech is unnecessary when one can make his point through other means.  The ability to use non-verbal language over verbal shows credibility and intelligence in the Japanese culture.
    Social Relationships Japanese culture mainly uses language to show social status.  They use different vocabularies for different social situations.  They also use different forms of the word "you" depending on whom they are speaking to or about. 
    Gender In Japanese language, gender roles are clearly defined depending on the situation.  Japanese women have certain styles of speech for different conversations.
    Verbal code In the Japanese language, there are three alphabets.  
    • Kanji - These are symbolic characters.  These characters represent meanings rather than sounds.  One must know approximately 3000 characters to finish high school.  Link to Kanji Chart 
    • Hiragana - These are phonetic characters.  There are a total of 46.  They are used for particles and verb endings.  
    • Katakana - These are also phonetic characters and total 46 as well.  They sound the same as hiragana characters when read aloud but katakana characters are used mainly for foreign words into the Japanese language.  These are simplified versions of hiragana characters. 
    Pronunciation The Japanese language is a phonetic language.  It is important to pronounce every character so that one does not lose the meaning of a word.  Also, each character is pronounced with equal emphasis.  
    Common Phrases Here are some commonly used Japanese phrases:
    • Hello = Konnichiwa (kon-nee-che-wa)
    • I am... = Watashi wa ____ desu (wa-tah-chee-wa___des)
    • Thank you = Arigato (a-ree-ga-toe)
    • Good morning = Ohaya gozaimasu (o-hi-o  go-za-i-mas)
    • Good Afternoon = (same as hello)
    • Good Evening = Konbanwa (kon-ban-wa)
    • Yes = Hai (ha-i)
    • No = Iie (ee-eh)
    • Excuse me = Sumimasen (su-mee-ma-sen)
    • Good bye = Sayonara (sa-yo-na-ra)

Correct use of verbal language in the Japanese culture is very important and must be done properly.   

*The information gathered here was found from Samovar and Porter, Communication Between Cultures, chapter 5.  Summarized facts were also found at this site:  http://www.shinnova.com/part/99-japa/abj10-e.htm.   The commonly used phrases were found at http://www.k111.k12.il.us/king/japan18i.htm 

Bibliography & Other Resources

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E-mail questions or comments to mkfinney@depauw.edu
  January 26, 2001