Japan in Their Own Words (JITOW)/日本からの意見

Divesting the Image of "Inscrutable Japanese"
AGATA Masahiko  / Vice Chairman, The English-Speaking Union of Japan

October 30, 2012
We, the Japanese, are still carrying a rather not thankful image of "inscrutable Japanese" even today when we are active in business in global stages and carrying an important role in the world politics. As one who spent years working with Japanese and U.S. organizations, I would like to consider this gap in connection with understanding what leadership is all about.

It is often the case in Japan that "leaders" are either those who carry official titles of high position, those who have personally demonstrated the gifts of insight, sensitivity and decency, or those who are recognized to have served with remarkable loyalty to the communities to which they belong, all ex post facto. In contrast, in the west or in the countries where those who studied in the west are playing leading roles, leaders are raised to be equipped with suitable competencies, beyond the capabilities nurtured through their limited individual experiences. Such competencies are demonstrated in systematically and logically analyzing information, effectively delivering the vision, derived from such analyses, to the members, making them highly motivated to work for a higher value of the organization, thus steering it to tide over the ever changing environment. The training in these is considered useful to all members at every level of hierarchy as leadership is expected to be demonstrated by not only the formally chosen leaders but all of them, as GE's Leadership Value typically shows. There, communication is considered as one of the most important competencies, as leadership is considered as a function of having the well defined work objective shared by the members and of energizing their passion to achieve it. In global stages the capability of effective communication requires sensing the "wave lengths" of diverse audience (understanding and accepting their socio- cultural-backgrounds), sending out messages with persuasiveness supported by facts and good logic and in a right style of delivery in addition to simple linguistic capability.

Then, how can we, the Japanese, develop such a competency? Putting aside the arguments of education of English, lingua franca, as they are too often talked about at various forums, let us see first the question of trans-cultural understanding and accepting different cultures. The most effective prescription to it will be to have the environment where people of various cultures live in our close neighborhood and provide us with chances to contact them as a part of daily life. In this context, we should not be merely worrying about the decrease of Japanese students going overseas but seek more proactively a policy that helps invite a drastically increasing number of foreign residents, students and workers, to live in our surrounding.

It is well talked about that training of debate is effective for improving critical thinking, persuasive talks and the style of delivery in speeches. In Japan, however, there still remains a prejudice against debate, viewing it as an indecent act of manipulating communication by untruthful blabbering. With that in mind, the English-Speaking Union of Japan with which this writer serves is promoting parliamentary debate which is styled after debating at the British parliament. In this type of debate one does not win by "talking down" the opponent but by arousing the sympathy in the audience (judges) through appealing and persuasive deliveries of argumentation. It not only helps ducking around the critical eyes in Japan toward debating but enables people to train in debate which is more deployable at work as its impromptu nature of debating, allowing only a short preparation time (20 minutes) after the "motion" given, better fits the real daily needs.

The English-Speaking Union of Japan also has a web-based column "Japan in Their Own Words," on which "opinions" of the Japanese on various topics, like this piece, are publicized in English language for foreign readers. One important criterion in the selection of articles by its editorial committee is "effectiveness of communication" mentioned above. In spring of 2011 in the wake of the nuclear power plant accident after the great earthquake in eastern Japan when so many false, biased or ungrounded reports and rumors were flying outside Japan it transmitted several informative and objective views to the world and won a high regard for their clear, objective and cool-headed contents.

Exercising effective communication with clearer and persuasive messages understandable to anybody, I believe, will help deeper understanding and closer friendship with friends in other parts of the world. And it is not only this writer who wishes to see a new image of the Japanese, divesting the "inscrutability" coming from the long held Japanese style of communication much relying on the sixth sense or tacit knowledge (a'un-no-kokyu) and preferring nice-sounding talks without sharp edges.

Masahiko Agata is also Visiting Professor of Akita International University and External Advisor of GE Japan Corp.
The English-Speaking Union of Japan

縣 正彦 / 日本英語交流連盟副会長

2012年 10月 30日




同時に、この連盟では、小稿のような「意見」をさまざまな分野の事象について対外的に発表する「日本からの意見」(Japan in Their Own Words)というウェブコラムを設けており、そこでの発信にあたっては編集委員会が前記のようなコミュニケーションとしての有効性の点も重視して掲載原稿を選んでいる。2011年3月の東日本大震災に伴う福島第1発電所の原発事故の際には、海外で飛び交った流言、憶測、誤報に対して何本もの有効な発信を行い、その簡潔で客観的、冷静な内容に高い評価が与えられた。


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English Speaking Union of Japan > Japan in Their Own Words (JITOW) > Divesting the Image of "Inscrutable Japanese"