Japanese miscommunication with foreigners: In search for valid accounts and effective remedies

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Numerous personal accounts, anecdotal stories, and surveys suggest that for many Japanese communication with foreigners is a difficult and even unpleasant experience. This intercultural miscommunication, which seems to characterize Japanese more than their foreign counterparts, has attracted the attention of scholars, both in Japan and overseas. In fact, ever since the forced opening of Japan 150 years ago, scholars and laymen have advanced explicit and implicit theories to account for the presumed Japanese “foreigner complex” and its effect on Japanese intercultural communication. These theories focus on Japan's geographical and historical isolation, linguistic barriers, idiosyncratic communication style, and the interpersonal shyness of its people. While there is a certain kernel of truth in many of the hypotheses proposed, they tend to exaggerate cultural differences and stress marginal aspects. This article seeks to review critically the different views of Japanese communication difficulties with foreigners, and to advance complementary hypotheses based on recent studies. it also attempts to examine the implications of this miscommunication and to consider several options to alleviate it.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)113-147
StatePublished - 2004


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