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Journal: Directness

Note: This Journal entry was written on October 4, 2001, as I walked on the Old Tokaido. Take a look at that day's Logbook for more.


My students used to say, "Americans are so honest," meaning willing to speak their minds, express their feelings, etc.

No, I cautioned them, we are direct, but not necessarily honest.

The difference, as I see it, is simple. An American may look you in the eye, and clearly and with no vagueness whatsoever--lie to you. He's being direct, but not honest.

Why is this such an issue? Because the Japanese form of communication is often not direct. Circumlocution is the name of the game, especially in polite conversation. This studied vagueness may even lead to uncompleted sentences. Someone is in your way. You say, "Would you mind...?"

Today I heard one of my favorite indirect phrases. While I was talking with the "temple wife" at Ishiyakushi, she asked what my goal was for the day. Kameyama, I said. Hmmmm...she thought, calculating the time of day, etc. Then she looked at me and said, "Chotto muri..." A little impossible! How polite.

Posted October 3, 2019

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