Stories that began with “once upon a time” were born out of time when Japan still had no written characters. Letters were introduced to Japan from between the 4th to 6th century, therefore if we think about it, stories were told from parents to a child to grandchildren since the before any characters existed during the historic Yayoi and Jomon periods.
Humans are clearly creatures that love stories since ancient times. Evidence of that can be seen in how despite letters not existing in many ancient traditions, there is not a single ethnic group anywhere in the world that does not have stories that were passed down from their ancestors. Even if the climate, topography, food, culture and even ethnicity of the tribes were different, stories would always exist.
Information to be passed on to the younger generation needs only to be a simple drawing or even something in bullet point writing like a memo. However, information was still handed down in the form of stories despite this because our forefathers knew that this was the best way to communicate with people.
Humans have the ability to remember stories for the longest time. There is no one who is not able to recall stories like Goldilocks, The Three Little Pigs as well as the Little Red Riding Hood and more. Novelist Haruki Murakami puts it this way:
“In the history of humankind, the genealogy of the story has never been interrupted. I have never seen it as far as I know. No matter how much you burn a book, even if you bury a writer, even if you send anyone who reads books to prison, people will still mingle in the depths of the forest and tell stories.”
In a place of business, the ability to communicate is 14 times more important than one's language ability.
Perhaps stories hold a strong power thus far because it functions as a dialogue between logic and emotions.
For example, no matter how perfect the data you have prepared for to persuade your client, if they hold a strong guard against it, no matter how sound your argument is, the other party would probably not accept it. However, on the contrary, no matter how much you grab the opponents’ heart, there is no way for you can convince them without accurate data or logic.
In that sense, human beings are logical animals and at the same time emotional animals. True logic is established only when there is a receiver called emotion that accepts it, so if either is lost on the on hand, communication will not be established, and a dialogue with elements of both facts and emotion is indispensable to get a message across.
Therefore the way of communicating based on a debate that decides who is right does not reciprocate a connection with the partner but instead, measures the difference between each other therefore blocking the creation of harmony and ties while giving birth to conflict and division.
There are so many ways to find contradictions in logic. Hence when we think about communication in this way, there is absolutely no reason to refute the opponent. If you are not able to cross over the differences that were born out of different generations and values, if you are unable to sympathise, you will not be able to explain what you have to say no matter how good it is.
Instead of finding the faults in what your partner is saying, is it not better to search for what they are trying to communicate across?
Mr Ichiro Furutate, famously known as the former main caster of a news station, believes that the era of winning debates based on one's financial standing, academic ability and appearances is long gone. According to him, if the current generation does not apply a special technique when communicating, their perceived differences would not matter in the first place.
In fact, according to a survey conducted on corporate personnel on the most important thing a company looks for when hiring, the ability to “communicate with others” is at the top at 83% while language ability, which is what most people seem to be most concerned about recently, is only given about 6% importance and is not included in the criteria of selection.
Looking at these numbers, it is no exaggeration to say that communication skills are 14 times more demanding than language skills. Therefore, if English classes are taught at school for one hour a week, communication classes should be held for 14 hours a week!
There are wonderful respectful terms in the Japanese language, however, words to express praise towards someone else are almost non-existent
These days, communication is being neglected in school education. Through the course of Japan’s modernisation, words for conversations have not been created.
Every country speaks of politics and philosophy in their own native language. In order to carry out modern court cases and university education, that country needs to flourish in its own language. Japan is no exception from that.
For example, words that the Japanese usually use these days like, “individuality” “statistics” and “absoluteness” are words that did not exist before the Meiji period. As these words were created by predecessors like Natsume Soseki and Fukuzawa Yukichi, famous novelists in Japan, it is said that this influenced the rapid modernisation of the Japanese language.
It was said that 17th century France was unable to speak philosophy. While French and English was modernised in the span of about 200 years, Japan spent only 30 years doing so.
However, due also to the short time span perhaps, some things were left behind throughout this modernisation process, and conversations are one of them
Again, it could be said that the reason why Japanese people are bad at making conversations is because the Japanese culture was born out of a people that rarely left their small communal villages.
In ancient Nara, a large percentage of the population was a migrant in those days, and it is almost difficult to imagine now how Japan was once a multi-racial society. In the year 894, the abolishment the Japanese mission to China took place and for nearly a thousand years after that until the start of the 19th century, Japanese developed on their own without being influenced by other countries.
In the 300 years following the Azuchi-Momoyama period, roughly after 1574, the society formed had poor mobility where farmers never left their villages from birth till death. There were no opportunities to be in touch with a different culture even within the same country.
Firstly, interaction is necessary in order to communicate with people who hold completely different values from ourselves. Therefore if one lives in an extremely small community, a complete lack of interaction with others is not impossible.
As interaction was not properly nurtured in Japan, there are plenty of words in the current Japanese language that shows respect for someone in a superior position and words that praises a subordinate, however, despite the abundance in these choices of words, there seem to be no words to praise someone of an equal position.
Despite the large selection of words that can be found in English to praise someone of an equal position like “wonderful”, “amazing” and “great” there are not much in Japanese. Therefore the Japanese cannot help but rely on English loan words like “nice shot” or “nice pitch” when praising someone in sports for example.
However, it is not only words of praise that were not created but also words that could be used for interactions between men and women. The Japanese language tends to be gendered and as a result, a woman in a managerial position when ordering a man in a subordinate position is usually accused of being ‘manly’ of which is a quite an intense way of putting it. Words that can be used for Japanese women in these situations have yet to be established in the Japanese language.
Why do children these days prefer “Crayon Shinchan” over “Sazae-san?”
Recently, in order to be recognized as a global or gender equal society, new relationships that did not exist before are born and the values that they possess naturally vary widely. Therefore, facing interaction with conflicting values is something one cannot run away from.
As a matter of fact, if you made a chat room on an instant messaging application, such as LINE, consisting of only the group of people you like, it is akin to creating a much narrower community than the ones during the Azuchi-Momoyama period.
Modern social media has allowed us to recreate narrow communities, resulting in us voluntarily reducing opportunities to come in contact with people who hold a completely different value from ourselves as we can easily block anyone who does not agree with our own ideas to avoid the trouble of talking to them.
In an era where you can naturally come across a person completely different from yourself, putting away the chance to create an interaction with that person only causes the gap between the society and yourself to grow and this poses a challenge to everyday life.
In normal conversations, our sentences are usually long as we include the conjunctions “so” or “but” when we converse. However, on LINE these conjunctions are rarely used therefore making the sentences short. There is no exaggeration then, to say that it mostly feels like exchanging only words rather than having conversations.
This affects the society at large as it is children these days that are speaking in words. For example, if you ask some children if they like school they would answer with only, “Maybe” or if you threw them another question like “What is your favourite subject in school?” in which they would answer with a simple “Nothing”. Their “conversations” tend to be non-conversations in the end.
In Japan, there has been an increasing number of people labelled as “comm-deficit” (or communication deficit) and this can be because of their limited interactions in increasingly narrow communities.
There is a certainty that this influence affects the sensitivity of the child. For example, when we ask children if they prefer the animations “Crayon Shinchan” or “Sazae-san” it turns out that most children prefer Crayon Shinchan.
The probable reason for this is that the family of Nohara Shinnosuke, or Crayon Shinchan, is that of a typical nuclear family in the modern day era whereby interaction with relatives or neighbours is limited – and hence no need to take others’ needs into consideration – which are similar to modern children nowadays.
On the other hand, Isono Katsuo, the child in Sazae-san, has a relationship with characters such as Happohei, Masuo, Norisuke and Tara-chan who are very different from himself. The way he interacts with his family and society is also different to what modern-day children can relate to, thus creating a sense of distance as opposed to familiarity.
However, there are a few things we can learn from the way Isono Katsuo cross-interacts with society.
The 21st century is filled with people of different values and understandings, making things easy to be “misunderstood.” From there, we need to start reaching a mutual understanding and learn to live harmoniously with people despite the differences.
In order to do that, it is absolutely necessary not to be confined to a small community but to try to face the reality of ‘misunderstandings’ in the outside world. As Natsume Soseki puts it, people need to communicate as living beings.
These days, as it gets easier to block people we do not like, we should increasingly value the way we understand the people around us. It is exactly that person you wish to block that will be the cornerstone of our interactions.
Taken from the original article in Japanese by Housecom.
Read the original here.
If you want to subscribe to our monthly newsletter, please submit the form below.
Also published on Medium.