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Why Japanese never say no? 2013/12/31 05:54
There is a trend among Japanese people that many people on this forum have enlightened, with multiple topics. Japanese people are used to never say "no", or, at least, always appear to agree. Then they do the contrary. Moreover there is also some kind of trend to prefer to stop contacting and "disappear" instead of replying frankly.

I don't write this topic to judge if this behaviour is good or not. Each behaviour has advantages and shortcomings. A country where people use to say "no" frankly can also be considered at an unpolite country. But I would like to have your opinion about this: where does this trend come from?

Sometimes I can read "that is because Japan is an island so people use to live together and be a strong community so they avoid conflicts". Well actually there are a huge number of island countries in the world, and I haven't heard someone like this for other countries (UK, Taiwan, New Zealand, ...)
It seems that the true explanation is more complex.

Moreover I have read there some topics about western people who moved to Japan and they cannot make friends in Japan because they are ignored soon after they meet new Japanese friends. So maybe that trend to never say "no" happens only when it is a Japanese-Westerner exchange. Or am I wrong??

By the way, I met a few Japanese friends on internet thanks to this website, and also a few Japanese friends face-to-face in my home country. It is true that some Japanese penpals will stop contacting although their mails seem to be full of enthusiasm. But I guess it's just because they have a lot of penpals at the same time so the most boring ones will be forgotten. And it's not exclusively Japanese because many penpals from other countries do the same.

Thanks for your replies. If you have any explanation about all this, that is always welcome !
by izquierda  

Re: Why Japanese never say no? 2013/12/31 10:32
There are non-verbal ways to express "no." Not replying, or ignoring, is one of them. It is clearly perceived as "ignoring" in e-mail/electronic messaging world. But if you are talking face to face with someone, and when you ask a question, if the other person cocked his/her head to one side, looked a bit in thought, and did not say anything, that's a "sign" of no, right?
by ... (guest) rate this post as useful

Re: Why Japanese never say no? 2013/12/31 16:29
There are good reasons:
1. The people don't want to lose face, especially respect for seniors.
2. Yes, no at the beginning of a conversation does not give room to change one's mind midway, if needed, especially looking at the reaction of one's opponent's face. Japanese language is constructed such that the verb comes last so you can change the sentence to positive or negative the very last min.
4. If you talk to Japanese, you often get frustrated because they go around & around or repeat the same over & over and takes a long time to make a point.
5. I know an ESL(English as Second Language) class text book used by one of the top US universities showed a typical Japanese mind works like a spiral so that the teaching of English to them needs to be adjusted accordingly(more straight logical thought process).
Good enough reasons?
by amazinga (guest) rate this post as useful

Re: Why Japanese never say no? 2014/1/1 03:49
OMG, I am so happy I found your posting on this forum. I agree with you 100% last year I made a posting somewhat to what you said after losing a little temper on here and stop coming on for a few month. I was looking to make friends from Japan so when I travel out there we can get together and hangout and talk and learn each other culture but now honestly I just don’t care I come on here to mess around or reply to some post about traveling. I posted, posted, and posted and no reply or little reply but are very nice but pointless. So I wrote a nice but rude letter under the friends’ category and post it and I got some nice reply but nice “fake” reply.

I think I know how you feel and it is very annoying, lucky I made one good friend on here and we e-mail each other and text each other over the phone using Viber but this person is my age I’m 34 they are 35. I stay away from the younger people because I know Japanese young adults in life are far too busy with their life goal. I seen it first hand when I was in Japan when I made a friend he was 24 college student. At first I thought I did something wrong and he stop talking to me but he contact me back and he was busy with his family his family own a bath house.

I have seen YouTube clips about what you’re talking about when you said “I have read there some topics about western people who moved to Japan and they cannot make friends in Japan because they are ignored soon after they meet new Japanese friends.” I’m pretty good at picking up stuff and pattern (I think that why I went into business), I just think they need to stop being shy with people and just say no or no thank you. Lucky I am able to pick key words and read their face and body language after looking at that I would just kill the conversation from the start before continuing to something that not going to work out. Just going into the friend forum on here can tell you a lot

I’m a black male, when I was in Japan for a month I found it very funny and interesting, I notice people wanted to talk to be but they could not, but when I was with Japanese person going out to eat and drink people would look at me but once my friend talk to them and introduce them to me they all would talk to me. But the first thing I did even when I was traveling alone was to let it know I was not from Africa (do to Africans history in Japan from what I read). But the school kids came up to me and talk or a few would look and pointed at me and only said hello I kept to myself, stay to myself, and went sightseeing by myself. Next year 2014 when I return to Japan (I hope for business) I will do the same besides going to meet some businesses people making “cold calls.”

But in my personal opinion when it come to “hanging out” it’s kind of like a business meeting, they go out, hang out, when it’s over within that time frame they go home. Unlike us, we hangout until the night or day is over or late enough for us. [Here some of us: hanging out all night look at our watch its 4am we have to be at work in 3 to 5 hours and still hanging out until the last person leave. Or on the weekend we are out all night before the sun rise than depart to go home.] But with the older, older people in Japan they hangout relax and make conversation. This is from what I pick up and guess just by watching them.

When it comes to making “friends,” I don’t think the Japanese people don’t know what they are really getting their self into when dealing with foreigner. We are direct when they are I think indirect and other things too. When they see how open and expressive we are without rules. I know all foreigners who travel or live in Japan have somewhat an understanding of japans culture but travel to Japan and live there with good attention, unlike some others.

But all this is just from my observation when traveling to Japan by myself and watching them while eating, going out to a bar/restaurant and hanging at the train station waiting for the train to arrive or just being on the train watching them. I do not mean to by rude or anything or to disrespect anyone. I maybe 100% wrong and just talking crazy.

I hope I was somewhat of a help. I will continue to read stuff on here.
by Seiko (guest) rate this post as useful

Re: Why Japanese never say no? 2014/1/1 14:01
A couple of more points:
Inside corporations, there are saying that if you are stationed overseas too long, you will pick up bad habits: meaning you might lose some interpersonal skills to live/work in harmony by saying decisive yes or no.
Also, to make a friend(s), you may want to join a club/group of the same interest as yours, i.e. sailing, mountain climbing, sports, music, even an English speaking/debate club.
by ay (guest) rate this post as useful

Re: Why Japanese never say no? 2014/1/1 23:18
yes question.
1.it is mainly translation problem. はい(HAI) in Japanese is translated into YES in English. HAI has many usage in Japanese. one is an interlude in conversation, just to induce your speaking keep going.
another similar problem is "sorry". すみません(sumimasen) is translated into "sorry" in English. sumimasen has many meaning, and is often used as "excuse me" "hello", or "hi".
all these come from word-to-word direct translation between Japanese and English.

2. I show you real Japanese conversations, as an example.
"Do you like an apple ?" "Yes, I do." "No, I don't."
"ringo ga suki desuka ? sukidesu. kirai-desu.
"Do you like an apple ?" "I like it." "I don't like it".
real conversation does not have YES or NO. and do not use the verb "do". I think this Japanese expression is clearer than your English expression.
in Japanese culture, it is not polite to say "NO" directly. the word "NO" always carries negative emotion in Japanese language. showing anger, sadness, or something like that.
we may use other words and phrases to express our NO intension indirectly in conversation.
by ken (guest) rate this post as useful

Re: Why Japanese never say no? 2014/1/2 01:18
Thanks for the explanation Ken. Makes sense, but as a foreigner it's frustrating. I prefer one to be direct. I do agree that directly saying no can be negative, which is why we have direct polite ways of saying it, like "No, thank you" or "I'm sorry, but...."
by SSJ Jup81 rate this post as useful

Re: Why Japanese never say no? 2014/1/2 02:44
I too understand the frustration, but "when in Rome..." applies here.

I just wonder how Japanese people feel about our "honesty" and "directness" and if they feel uncomfortable when dealing with "honest" foreigners. If they understand it's a trait of gaijin to be honest and direct and they're okay with it, then fine. You can't change how Japanese people interact with others simply because you find it frustrating and "dishonest". If you really don't like it, then Japan isn't for you.
by John B digs Japan rate this post as useful

Re: Why Japanese never say no? 2014/1/2 11:39
japanese language is difficult. we change conversation in ages, gender, social positions, intimacy, and so on. Actually, we judge intelligence and educational levels of others by conversation.
by ken (guest) rate this post as useful

Re: Why Japanese never say no? 2014/1/2 14:11
John B: I don't think anyone is saying the Japanese should change that. I was just pointing out that it's frustrating.

That aside you do pose an interesting question regarding honesty. We're very honest with our feelings and thoughts, as well as direct. At this point, I just can't tell, when it comes to some Japanese, whether their intentions are honest and genuine or if they're being polite because of the social norm or obligation.

I'm curious as to how Japanese feel about us foreigners as we are very open and honest. Usually if we say something, we genuinely mean it. If we say, "Let's hang out! Let's be friends!" we mean it. There's no other way to interpret that. So, Ken, what are your thoughts?
by SSJ Jup81 rate this post as useful

Re: Why Japanese never say no? 2014/1/2 14:22
Ken: That's not really unique to Japanese language. All languages have some degree of that, granted Japanese may be a bit more extensive.

The way you speak with a friend won't be the same way you would speak to a superior or your boss, for example. The way you speak to a child will differ from how you speak to a fellow adult. I can only say this for me given where I grew up, but with the elderly we speak a certain way towards and with them. Like using "sir" and "ma'am".

Also, gauging a person's intelligence level by the way he or she speaks is also done in other cultures and languages.
by SSJ Jup81 rate this post as useful

Re: Why Japanese never say no? 2014/1/2 17:05
I googled and found some websites which are interesting for me.

http://youoffendmeyouoffendmyfamily.com/are-japanese-unable-to-say-“no”/

"So I have pondered this question and I have decided that this is definitely not a unique trait to the Japanese."

Iris (the writer) concluded that not only Japanese are the people who are not able to say no.

http://etiquette-social-situations.knoji.com/16-ways-to-graciously-and...

Many people seem to take efforts to say "no" graciously.

There might be some tendencies that Japanese people do not say "no" directly, refuse without saying no is universal, I think.

by frog1954 rate this post as useful

Re: Why Japanese never say no? 2014/1/2 17:42
Just about the island thing, the reason that is used to explain the attitude in books like Japanese Mind, is that Japan was much harder to live on than countries like New Zealand. New Zealand was mostly inhabitable where the percentage of livable land in ancient times of Japan was much smaller. Access to water and places to grow food was vital and exclusion from a community was a death sentence. In New Zealand you could survive as an outcast because of plentiful places to fish/live.
by guest (guest) rate this post as useful

Re: Why Japanese never say no? 2014/1/2 21:53
I like this dissection and I am learning something here and I hope there are more people who can join this dissection.

I want to try to keep my comment short this time. John B, I agree with you when you said “I just wonder how Japanese people feel about our "honesty" and "directness" and if they feel uncomfortable when dealing with "honest" foreigners. If they understand it's a trait of gaijin to be honest and direct and they're okay with it, then fine. You can't change how Japanese people interact with others simply because you find it frustrating and "dishonest".” I would like to know that answer myself. I disagree with you where you said “If you really don't like it, then Japan isn't for you.” I don’t think the problem is trying to make the people change or we “don’t like it”; we just want to understand why they don’t say “no” as an answer. I think that why we don’t want them to say yes to something that they don’t want to or feel uncomfortable with than to stand us up when it time to meet or whatever they/we both plan to do that day. I think we just do not want them to say yes to something than like izquierda said “stop contacting and disappear” and we feel like we did something wrong when we did not mean to do anything wrong.

Izquierda I agree with you when you said “I guess it's just because they have a lot of penpals at the same time so the most boring ones will be forgotten.”

I now have an understanding why they don’t say “no” after Ken and amazing example (thank you amazing and Ken) I did not know the word “No” directly carries negative emotion in Japanese language showing anger, sadness or something like that.

As a foreigner it is frustrating to meet someone in another country and you would like to learn more about the culture or like to do something with that person but that person cannot say NO directly or indirectly but in a polite way saying “no thank you” or I’m sorry I cannot because.,.

I notice Japanese using the word Sorry a lot as away to say No but I think they misunderstand the word meaning or use it the wrong way. When they should be saying I’m sorry I cannot because… or I’m sorry I’m unable to… we use the word Sorry when we make mistakes or when we are rejecting an offer, but we use a key words like I cannot or I am unable to, or (I had another word) which I find some do use it the correct way to say “no” in a indirect polite way.

But at the end of the day I have to agree with SSJ Jup81 and izquierda. As foreigners it is frustrating for us to get a simple answer. But you got to understand when they travel to other countries they are going to hear the word “no” but not in a rude or disrespectful way,

I think that a lot of travelers and foreigner who visit Japan or live in Japan are good honest people and we want to be able to communicate well with them and have a small understanding of Japanese culture. English is the second language in Japan and

I know they were taught the word “no” and the meaning of the word, I hope so or think so. Feel free to correct me anyone or all me out of line if I am wrong anywhere
Here a question; should the “Direct No” rule only apply only in the big city because of the foreigners visiting and living the city than outside the city where the small towns where there less present of foreigners where foreigners should learn Japanese culture and custom?

Come to think of it… I have never seen the word “no” in a manga book or in an anime that Japanese dub with sub. Is that weird? Has anyone seen the word no in manga or anime?
by Seiko (guest) rate this post as useful

Re: Why Japanese never say no? 2014/1/2 23:29
@ken:

I speak with Japanese persons sometimes (in Japanese) and actually they use "No" (いいえ/ ううん). Well maybe they use it a little bit less than Western using No, but Japanese people have conversations like us.
I mean if you ask them a question like "Have you ever been in this country?" of course they will say "No" if they dont.
When you ask things like "Let's try to meet next week!" and when they cannot, they will not use No, but actually a Western TOO will never say No directly. we would say something like "Uhh I'm sorry, next week I can't...[…]".

actually my topic is named "Why Japanese never say no" but the main issue is more like "Why Japanese will always appear enthusiast even if they are not interested in you?"
by izquierda rate this post as useful

Re: Why Japanese never say no? 2014/1/3 00:48
Sorry, the post I posted was already type up but from yesterday and I posted it today.

Frog, thanks for the porting, I started reading it and its very interesting. I will read more when I have the time.

Here is something that might make you think differently about this dissection. When I was in Japan traveling in and out the big cities, in and out the smaller cities and in and out the small towns/villages I notice something odd within the big city that I did not see too much of in the small cities and town/villages. A clash between new and old, modern tradition vs. old tradition and that where the problem may lie. Because of technology and internet forcing changes on everyone in the world but Japanese family are keeping their kids rooted to the old ways. There nothing wrong with that; it’s likes that all over the world even in America if you visit the town and small cities.

That why I said in my last posting I said, in the big city they should understand and be direct with dealing with foreigners than when your outside the city foreigners have to(no question ask) respect, understand and
learn Japanese custom and culture. Before traveling to Japan, I learn from travelers and what you should and should not do and one major thing what you shouldn’t do when you’re outside the big city. but this is from my experience. if I'm wrong feel free to correct me =.
by Seiko (guest) rate this post as useful

Re: Why Japanese never say no? 2014/1/3 05:00
"it's a trait of gaijin to be honest and direct"
This is a generalization that is just not true. Lots of people in Europe, North America etc. are not direct..simply because being direct and honest can hurt people.

I embarrassed my parents a lot in my youth. They told me to always tell the truth,so I would say to people I didn't even know that they were ugly, fat, wore wrong clothes for they build etc.

There is a region in my country where, traditionally,they never say yes or no (it is a stereotype of course..many do say yes or no).
Their conversation is full of maybe, it depends,could be..

According to my dad, my very first word as a baby was a strong NO... I fund later that it was better to say no first, then think about it for a while, then change my mind and agree to do.. or go to ..that saying yes then being annoyed and not doing whatever I said yest to
by Red frog (guest) rate this post as useful

Re: Why Japanese never say no? 2014/1/3 08:56
I think we're saying that in comparison we may come across as more honest or direct with our intentions. If we want to do something we'll generally say so, if we don't we'll say so in some way.

Of course how you say these things depends on the actual person you're with. For example, if talking with my best friend, I expect direct, honest answers from him and it's expected of me as well. If with someone new, maybe you'll be a bit more cautious with your responses.

That aside, usually, if we say we want to be friends or to meet again or to keep in touch, I'd say we generally mean it, otherwise we wouldn't say it. Seems for some Japanese, they may say "Yes" to those types of situations, but mean "no" and vanish leaving us to wonder, "Did I offend him/her? What did I do?"
by SSJ Jup81 rate this post as useful

Re: Why Japanese never say no? 2014/1/3 13:01
Hi everyone,

I do not intend to hurt any of you. I just want to say Japanese people are not so different from people from other countries. As for the "leaving without any word" behavior, it is also universal, I think.

http://friendship.about.com/od/Conflicts_With_Friends/a/When-Your-Frie...

Seems for some Japanese, they may say "Yes" to those types of situations, but mean "no" and vanish leaving us to wonder, "Did I offend him/her? What did I do?"

I am sorry for you. I do not know you or your Japanese acquaintance personally so that this is just my guess, but I think this comes from some kind of language barrier. You do not specify what language both of you were using. If it was English, it should be very frustrating for average Japanese. English is very difficult language for Japanese. Particularly hearing NATIVE English is painful. Most Japanese can not understand usual conversation (such as in the movie). Then in the end of conversation if you say "Meet you again!" which can be barely understandable to your acquaintance, they have no choice except for saying, "Sure!" :). Note that in Japanese education, the variation of conversation is so limited: If you are asked "How are you?", you must answer "I'm fine!" even if you are sick. OK, it is a joke in part, but it is also true, I did not learn other answer in my school.

On the other hand, if your conversation was in Japanese, it is also painful. I have heard many foreigners speaking in Japanese, but honestly, there Japanese is worse than spoken English of Japanese people. This is inevitable since most of foreigners do not learn Japanese for a long time (most Japanese learn English more than 6 years). Honestly I have never heard native-level Japanese from native-English person.

Then what is the solution? I think we (Japanese and foreigners) should observe each other carefully. If you are from English-speaking country and your Japanese is not so fluent, you can use English. But speak slowly and clearly.

OK, thank you for reading my lengthy and poor English. But you might as well think of my effort to write this in a foreign language :).
by frog1954 rate this post as useful

Re: Why Japanese never say no? 2014/1/3 14:08
Hm, I've never encountered that back home....since it's rude. Cutting off contact altogether is rude, unless it happens naturally, especially if you said you want to be friends or if both parties involved agreed to. Of course, every situation is different, like they could be very busy, but still talk occasionally.

To be honest, I've never fully been in the situation here. I was just talking in a general sense based on what others here and elsewhere have said. Usually, if in the situation I always get a rescheduled time, even here in Japan.

I think my biggest issue still is if people are being friendly because they are honestly doing so or if they're doing so out of obligation because it's the Japanese social norm. I hate not being able to tell if a person really wants to be my friend or if they're doing so because it is expected. It's the whole Honne and Tatamae thing.
by SSJ Jup81 rate this post as useful

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