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Japanese Culture - Losing Face

     In my past article on the Japanese culture I briefly described the barriers a foreigner is struggling with when trying to get socially accepted by the Japanese. Exactly what challenges the individual is facing when they try to make friends. I mentioned the risk of running into people who tries to stick around you for the mere purpose of improving their English. With this particular article I would like to explain - or better yet give some tips on how to successfully make connections and friends in Japan.

We westerners, we deviate on more than one level compared to the Japanese. Japanese appear to possess a kind of social switch that westerners do not. In western countries there are no expectations on you regarding how you need to act at any given point of the day. You might claim that businesses within the service industry give instructions to their own personnel regarding how to act when serving their customers. But usually our own personality shines through whatever weak exterior we create. In western cultures "losing face" is not part of the description, but it really is in the Japanese. It's that fear of losing face that truly makes meeting new people a challenge.

Striking up a conversation is something I am usually pretty good at. My move to Japan was not my first move across international borders. From The moment I moved to Los Angeles in 2009 making friends was a laugh. On the starting day of college anybody can pretty much expect to begin as many new friendships as the person has classes. Display a genuine interest in someone else's story in addition to open yourself up to some extent is a very good start, whereas in Japan it's not at all that easy. Here's when the losing face factor comes into play. Most Japanese people (especially the younger generation) have sufficient English to carry a decent conversation, but their own fear of making a mistake will make them hesitate or sometimes refrain from using it. This made me reluctant at first to try to make Japanese friends since my Japanese was not good enough to even hold a decent conversation.

But there are solutions that I would soon become aware of. Corporations that arranges international nights in Japan are very popular amongst both foreigners and Japanese. At these types of events Japanese party-goers leave their tentativeness at home. They allow themselves to be who they really are and socialize without any boundaries. This made me aware that picking your time and place is everything. Formalities play no importance at these kind of happenings and contact information gets thrown at you from every angle.

As soon as I made this major breakthrough I would immediately become aware of yet another difference in our ways of communication. Japanese prefer to keep the focus on you. Being a braggart is not in their nature. Fortunately, Japanese people are also aware of this difference and do not really mind if you happen to be. Instead, the occasional pat on the back is thrown your way and you come out of the conversation feeling proud as a peacock. But be aware, these are generally the instances where Japanese can easily sort out if you have adjusted to their culture or not. Bragging is deemed as arrogant, being a foreigner you will be given a temporary pass. But if you actually want to blend in with them and be accepted as something else but a temporary visitor, you should know that it is taboo.

Getting used to a culture wherein individuals feels shyness anytime you approach them is simply not an easy task. The barrier might make you feel hopeless at times since it differentiates much with our ways. But as soon as I realized that picking your time and place is essential, I could breathe a sigh of relief. Starting a conversation on the street with a foreigner in the middle of the day is not something the Japanese is going to do, their fear of failing in their way of communicating with you is far too great. For this reason international nights are very popular as they will work as an ideal forum in which the Japanese may drop their mask and don't feel a need to master something that for us is actually unimportant.

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Posted on 2013-04-13, By: *

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