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Pet Sins May 2006

American and Japanese cultural misunderstandings in communication

I lived and worked in Japan during the 1990s. I noticed that people were uncomfortable talking to me and I thought maybe they didn't want to talk to me because I am a white American.

Later, I returned to the US and spent a few more years studying Japanese. When I visited Japan again, I found that my perception changed. My Japanese was more fluent now and I did not get the same feeling of rejection when interacting with Japanese people. What I misunderstood as a racial barrier was actually a language barrier.

The Japanese place a lot of emphasis on smooth communication, and if confronted with someone they can't communicate smoothly with, they somehow feel that it is their fault for not maintaining a smooth flow of conversation, even though the problem was with my limited Japanese. So they try to avoid interacting with people like me who did not speak Japanese well.

American expat