The Myth of Japanese Indirectness and “Subtlety”

The Myth of Japanese Indirectness and “Subtlety”

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Two people bowing (business)
Picture: TM Photo album / PIXTA(ピクスタ)
Stereotypes of Japan as a land of vague meaning and blunted expression are just straight up Orientalism that obscure a complex reality.

It has a bad reputation (mainly because it’s…bad), but I like Japanese drama. As I’ve said before, it’s a great way to gauge cultural trends and what’s weighing on people’s minds.

It’s also a raucous display of bad behavior.

Japanese workaday life can be stressful. And that comes out (admittedly, in an exaggerated format) in drama. Hardly a season passes without a tale of a monster boss from hell.

These bosses are anything but polite and subtle. They’re nasty and vicious. They don’t mince words. And they do everything in their power to make those under them feel small, lesser, and insignificant.

Like I said, it’s drama, so it’s exaggerated. You can’t grab your subordinate by their testicles and expect that HR won’t have a word.

But it’s based on real-life experiences of power harassment in Japan. Japan’s Ministry of Health, Welfare and Labor receives consultations on some 1.3 million cases of workplace abuse yearly. Of those cases, the majority involve power harassment or bullying[1].

Which brings me to the myth of Japanese indirectness and “subtlety”. I brought this up in a tweet on my personal Twitter recently because it’s a myth that really needs to die.

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Jay Allen

Jay is a resident of Tokyo where he works as a reporter for Unseen Japan and as a technial writer. A lifelong geek, wordsmith, and language fanatic, he has level N1 certification in the Japanese Language Proficiency Test (JLPT) and is fervently working on his Kanji Kentei Level 2 certification.

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