When we compare Japan and other Western countries, there lies a significant difference between them. Japan is island nation and hadn’t experienced colonization nor invasion from another country in the history. Therefore, those who born and live in Japan belong to same ethnic and share common belief. On the contrary, countries such as the United States and Canada have been welcoming a large number of immigrants from the world and they consist of many ethnic groups and its culture is mixture of many countries. The anthropologist, E.T. Hall categorized these two difference countries as High-Context and Low-Context. High and Low describes the amount of information people share in their country. This category shows us the difference in communication style and method. These differences can be seen in the way people utter, how much they rely on nonverbal communication and how they establish relationship with others.
First of all, I will talk about the difference in how they talk. Since Japan is a homogeneous country and it’s society has been around from the very long time ago, Japanese people share common sense and context. When speaker talks to the audience or listeners, speaker expects them to know these things and takes it for granted. This mutual understanding is called unspoken agreement. This understanding exists only in High-context culture and it makes it harder for people who do not get used to Japanese culture to grasp what speaker intends to inform. This causes many problems not only for foreigners live in Japan but also for Japanese who work overseas. Even though their English is decent and quite understandable, if their content of speech is based on unspoken agreement, his speech becomes vague and the listeners will hard time understanding speaker’s idea. On the other hand, American talk more expressly and put every information needed in that speech. This is because, there are many ethnic groups( Asian, African American, Caucasian and etc..) in one country and each of the groups have their own background.
In order to communicate across the ethnic, they need to make things clear and tell the information clearly to prevent confliction. That’s one of the reasons why people from the outside of country can communicate with local people without making obstacles and they find their selves settle in America. The second major difference is how much they rely on nonverbal communication and how the communication style differs. In high context cultures, information is provided through gestures, the use of space and silence. As an indicator of this tendency to use nonverbal communication you can see how the Korean language contains the word ‘nunchi’, which means being able to communicate with eyes. Also, in Japan people are suppose to sense the mood, aka ‘Kuki wo yomu’. The competence to sense the mood of the place is thought to be highly important in making relation with people. To sense the mood, they have to listen to the speaker carefully and at the same time they have to understand the atmosphere of the place. So much information is available in the environment that it is unnecessary to verbalize everything. That’s why Asian communication is known as vague, indirect and implicit. In low context cultures, however, they depend more on spoken words than on monverbal behavior to convey messages.
In a multi-culture country, the population is less homogeneous and tends to compartmentalize interpersonal contacts. Everytime they interact with others, they need detailed background information. Therefore, Unlike high context culture, the verbal message contains most of the information they need. Although both two cultures use nonverbal communication, the meaning of facial,body and concepts of space and distance sometime quite differ from each other. For instance, silence is regarded as a virtue in Japanese culture, but in another country it is though to be rude. In a country like America, you are expected to speak freely and express your opinion, whereas in Japan you have to show people respect by giving them time to think and give a feedback. Whatever country you go, there’s always difference in nonverbal communication. Once we go outside of our own country, it’s much better and safer to obtain information from verbal communication.
Thirdly, the way people establish relationship with people is also different depending on high or low context culture. In high context culture, they put emphasis on assosiation with others and tend to build strong relationship. They trust other people and build up slowly and stable. This is because they believe that strong relationship would make things smooth and help them get things done. We can see this characteristic in Japanese society. Japanese always behave with proper decorum when dealing with the boss or high rank people at the office. Even when they are not working, they might have to attend drinking party with other colleagues and their bosses to maintain relationship. In low context culture these things won’t happen so much, because relationships begin and end quickly.
As those people live in low context culture are not homogenous, their identity is not rooted in the society, but in oneself and one’s accomplishments. So, rather than having good relationship to make things better, they focus on following procedures and paying attention to the goal. I found that their communication style is individualistic. These three differences are the important things to remember when meeting people from another background. Whether you live in low context or high context culture, you will always face the culture difference and you may misunderstand the culture. In order to prevent misunderstanding and trouble between people, you have to fully understand the concepts of low and high context culture and try to be open to the new culture.