I’ve been working on this blog, Ascension of Luna, for over two years and over 100 entries. Most of my entries exceed 1,000 words, which isn’t difficult to do when I’m really passionate or excited to talk about a subject or even to tell a story from my life. You could say I’m driven by emotion, that I pour out my heart into each entry.
However, the Japanese have a saying: “words are the root of all evil.” Yeah, I know, in the Bible, money is the root of all evil. But to the Japanese, it’s words and communication. I suppose the phrase isn’t wrong. How many times have people said, “I’m going to kill him,” when they’re angry and frustrated, though they have no actual intention of committing murder? Or my last entry, about uchi and soto, could be misinterpreted as me being against my country because I brought up some negative aspects about it (but let’s face it, you can change things any way you want, and someone would still want things to be different).
Maybe I should quit this entry while I’m ahead? After all, I’m just starting the third paragraph and I may have already bothered someone. But perhaps I should practice haragei instead.
Hara translates to “belly,” while gei means “art.” Hold on, that can’t be right. How would the words for “belly” and “art” refer to communication? Let me check the book… it literally means, “art of the stomach,” and it’s how the Japanese convey what they’re thinking or feeling without actually saying it.
“Hey, we do this too!” you say, enthusiastically. “Why, just the other day, I took my roommate’s clothes out of the washing machine and left them in a laundry basket, soaking wet, because I’ve been waiting 3 days to do my laundry and I needed to get my point across.” No, you’re confusing haragei for being passive-aggressive, and it’s completely different. Think of a group of people wanting to do something fun and adventurous, five of them want to do a haunted house attraction, but the sixth person wants to ride the roller coasters at an amusement park. The sixth person isn’t likely to give her suggestion, but she will probably hesitate and not be emphatic when she agrees to do what the rest of the group has decided.
“Why didn’t she just speak up? Maybe someone else in the group would think that going to the amusement park is just as good as going to the haunted house.” That’s the thing; if she spoke her mind, she would be outside the group, which would bring us back to uchi/soto. The idea is to keep the rest of the group satisfied, even if it means giving up what you want. Also, it’s possible that a differing opinion can be viewed as an attack on the person directly and not just their opinion, so in the end, it’s best to not “rock the boat” and cause a conflict.
It sounds like the perfect way of communicating, right? You can never say you opposed a plan or an idea, because you never said those words directly. You avoid countless arguments with friends and family this way as well. And yet, maybe you’re seeing some of the potential issues. After all, if you’re getting bored of Starbucks all the time, and your friends interpret your response to going as if something else is bothering you, then they’re not likely to change where they go to get a coffee. Or if that dress really does make your wife look fat, and she wears it anyway because you held your tongue and didn’t want to start an argument, it could backfire when she looks at any pictures taken of her when you both are out for the evening together.
I was reading CultureShock! Japan recently, which said that Japanese people often “ghost” not only the people they’re dating but also their friends. “Ghosting” is the term used to describe the act of ceasing all further contact with another person without telling the other person that you’re going to stop talking to them. Being someone from the West, where ghosting is also a common practice, it seems infuriating to be ghosted, as you want some kind of closure, you want an explanation of why the person isn’t talking to you anymore. But in Japan, it’s a matter of using as few words as possible to express what you want while trying to avoid conflict.
And then there’s me. I never feel as if I’ve expressed myself clearly, so I say more than I should at times. Or if someone stops talking to me, I send a message and ask if I said or did something wrong or if they’re dealing with something in their own life (usually I figure I did something wrong). I’m also someone who has been told that my mouth will get me in trouble; you would think I’ve learned something, but I guess I haven’t had the right lessons. Well, if I’m going to Japan, I suppose this should be my lesson, otherwise I’m not likely to make too many friends while I’m there.