Top Story: 2. November 2009
The Limits of Conversation
By Editor in Chief, Jaakko Saari
Japanese culture and society is built on invisible rules and limits. These rules apply well, especially to conversation.
In Japanese company meeting, for example, it is very rare that one would bring up entirely different view, or opinion that would be contradicting the others.
It seems as if the members would have quietly decided their mind before the meeting. When the actual meeting takes place, they submit their vote silently. It's like the attendees have decided that "this thing is nice, and this thing is not nice". Should one voice too different opinion, he would be shut outside the group. The harmony must be preserved by all means.
For us foreigners, it would certainly be help if we would know what these rules are. What exactly are "the nice things" and "not nice things"? It is very difficult matter, and varies on case by case basis. For instance, nobody likes masskomi. So wouldn't it be OK to criticize it in casual conversation? Japanese group don't like difficult topics like that. Another "difficult topics" are contradictory statements about famous people. Peace. War.
Generally, the conversation is highly based on the context. Such as job, or political opinion, neighborhood (gossiping housewives) or for example, going to dentist. It is surprising how rare the deviation of the context is in Japan.
Season, and especially season's foods are always safe topics to choose with the people you don't know. Other good topics are nature, and seasonal trees such as sakura. With Japanese men you can talk about cameras, or automobiles or other mechanical gadgets.
More or less, predictability is the key word. More predictable the person is, more stable and valuable he appears in the society. People who act unpredictably, must either conform to the group's common atmosphere, or be removed from the group. Foreigners are always unpredictable however, so Japanese people generally don't expect foreigners to understand or follow these rules. Following these rules too much as a foreigner can be even self-destructive, especially if you are an artist.
While this system has supported Japan through the last century, some people think that Japan should change into more open, free conversation allowing country. Japan has been isolated country so long time. Of course, both ways has benefits.
Note: The editor is suffering from H1N1 as he is writing this. Therefore there might be grammatical errors, errors in facts, content, etc.
I want you to read this article;
As it refers,the expression of "Read the atmosphere" is popular word in Japanese conversation. It is used as a light joking,ridiculing. These days comedians have a big influence especially toward to youth. Originally youth used the word"Read the atmosphere"as a just joking,but they may already have been poisoned,ruled by it. Japanese youth have a big stress because of too much homework,too much competition,and this money ruling society. Japanese school have bullying problem,each student doesn't know when he becomes newly target. It takes much care to speak straightly in their classroom,but by using the word "Read the atmosphere",they can do it and express their real voice coating of joke.
To take much care of speaking straightly in the conversation is also the same for other Japanese age. The 4th former prime minister Junichiro Koizumi took terror politic. He purged some politicians who against his policy from his party. Koizumi had a big power,big influence to medias and public opinion in his time,so there occurred a kind of atmosphere that when one against Koizumi,for example against his policy of following Bush,as if he were an anti-patriotic person. In such atmosphere,our freedom talking attitude -though I doubt how much such an attitude we have-has been broken.So we have come to see one who deviate from major opinion negatively.We jealous such a person,dislike such a free mind person.
But the lines of comedians gives us a permission; When we meet such a deviate person,we can say "You read the atmosphere!",in short,"Follow the people around you." The reason why the express come to be used widely is such a oppressive soil. Originally we have a prove of "The nail that sticks out will get a pounding." This country like "solidarity"activity,thought,and intolerant of deviation.
It is very interesting. But I think this is not used for foreigners, because foreigners are not expected to be able to read the atmosphere.
Generally in Japan, more predictable one's comment is, more reliable he is seen in society.
But then, doesn't conforming to group become a kind of banal? Isn't statement that everyone expect entirely obsolete?
Nonetheless, the term "KY" shows the cruelty of a group..
Like Jaakko Saari mentioned, I find it kind of banal too that everyone should conform to other's comments to fit in. They're not even opinions any more b/c what you say doesn't even express your personal feelings. I think that's wrong...