This Question Came to My Inbox: “What little-known details are usually left out when talking about the attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki?”

Everyone knows how devastating the bombs were, but many people don’t realize that the Japanese say the second bomb was only dropped because of a mistranslation. The English speaking cultures and the Japanese culture are so different! The way they express themselves is completely different. When I was a Japanese professor at the university, my American students came to me and asked me, “Why can’t the Japanese get to the point when they speak” because they had been trying to make friends with the Japanese on campus. They had a hard time understanding them even if they were both speaking English. The though processes in a Japanese person’s head are so different from the thought processes of an American or a European. This caused the discrepancy in the translation according to the Japanese, and caused the second bomb to be dropped.

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According to the Japanese, what actually happened was the first bomb was dropped. After that, the American government contacted them and said, “If you don’t stop fighting, we will drop a second bomb.” Of course the Japanese didn’t want a second bomb. It was the first time a bomb like that had been dropped, and it shocked them. They didn’t know they had such a powerful foe. They thought they were destined to take over the world, and they never expected the first bomb at all! When the Americans said, “Stop fighting or we will drop a second bomb on you,” the Japanese translator said, “Wait a minute,” and they planned to get back to them saying, “Okay” in a very round about way. However, the Americans took it as, “No,” The Americans are use to short concise, to the point answers. They are not used to everything having to be prefaced like the Japanese are. In Japan, if they don’t preface answers, they feel like it is impolite. The Japanese were processing what had just happened and were trying to figure out the correct response even though the end of the response would have been, “okay, we’ll stop.” The Americans misunderstood he Japanese response according to the Japanese. The Japanese think the second bomb would never have been dropped had the translator done a better job. As I think about the conversation, it is like when a parent says to a child, “Go do the dishes,” and the child plans on going, but they procrastinate, because they are lazy, and the parent gets mad and yells at them, so they hurry in the kitchen and do the dishes. The Americans thought the Japanese were being like that lazy child, and they put their foot down, but it was across cultures, and no one was really understanding the other.

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