The Japanese people may not be cold. They just have a different way of expressing themselves than people from other countries. In the west, we are taught to come right out and say what we think, but . The Japanese have been trained from birth not to say what they think. They may have very warm thoughts inside of them, but they are taught not to express those thoughts. In Japan, there is a public self and a private self. You may never really know what is inside of a Japanese person.
From the time a Japanese is born, their mother takes their head and makes them bow when the father walks into the room. They are taught from birth to respect their fathers. Do they really respect their fathers? Perhaps, but perhaps not. You will never really know because they have been conditioned to show respect to their fathers. They are not allowed to say what is actually inside of them.
Our way in the west of coming right out and saying what we are thinking can be really shocking to them. They are taught to beat around the bush. If you come right out and say what you think in Japan, it is considered rude. That Japanese person you think is cold may only being doing what is expected of them. They may not feel cold toward you at all, but they are doing what they have been taught is right.
We are taught in the west to state what we want to say in a nutshell up front, and then explain, but they are not taught that. The way we communicate is shocking to a Japanese person. I had a group of American students who came to me once because I was teaching both the Americans and the Japanese, and the Americans asked me why the Japanese don’t just come out and say what they mean, why they never seem to get to the point. It was actually driving the American students crazy because we are taught to come out and say what we feel. When we go to school, we are taught about thesis and topic sentences. We are taught Aristotle’s logic. The Japanese are taught circular logic.
With circular logic, they don’t come right out and say what they think. They just begin talking and slowly unfold what they want to say like a story, and eventually, we understand what they are talking about. It is a difference between cultures. In the west, we are taught the shortest distance between two points is a line and we are taught to take that line. In America, our cities are laid out in city blocks. We have names for every street. In Japan, their roads meander and they have names for areas of town, not for streets. The Japanese are not thinking about that straight line like we are. They are thinking about the best way that causes the least trouble.
When they speak, they think saying what they think will shake things up, and they are taught not to shake things up. They are not going to come right out and say what they think. We may eventually figure out what they think if we understand their cultural cues. What would you do if a Japanese handed you an origami paper bird, and then just walked on by. You would be surprised and not understand what they were doing. However, another Japanese would take it as, “I want to be friends.” You might say, if they want to be friends, why didn’t they stay to talk? They are waiting for your response before they stay to talk. If you give them a small gift back, it means that you also want to be friends. Even when they talk to you, you may not quite understand everything they say even if they were speaking to you in English. They are never going to come right out and say exactly what they think.
When a Japanese speaks, you often hear a couple of phrases, “I think,” and “I suppose.” They are just prefacing it. They may actually know, but it is not considered humble to say exactly what you think as “that is the way it is.” When they hear us speaking so straight forward, it is hard for them to hear. If they speak English, they may still use a translator because they may think they are being too bold by actually speaking English and showing their knowledge of English off. In English, we are trained to take things like “I think,” “I supposed,” and “mabe” out of our essays. We are taught to speak confidently. They are taught it is rude to speak that way. You may think they are distant when they speak, but they have been trained to be that way. They may not actually feel cold toward you, but that is the way they have been taught to express themselves. However, in Japan, there is a right way and a wrong way, and if you are doing things the wrong way, you may actually feel coldness from them. They are going to do things the right way whether they feel like doing it or not and expect you to do the same.