Three Historical Reasons Why The Japanese Hesitate to Say What They Think

  • Do you have a Japanese friend? If so, how close are you?
    Generally, Japanese do not like to reveal their “honne”(true feelings) and therefore building close relationships is said to be difficult. One of the suggested reasons is because the Japanese respect cooperation so deeply self-assertion and expressing one’s feelings becomes challenging. We’ll try to reveal why such traits developed by looking at the 3 following cases.

    1. Agricultural communities

    People started living in communities with the beginning of rice farming in Japan around 3rd century BC. As supervision of reclamation and water canals, as well as massive labour force and big population were essential for rice farming, the state of mutual consideration became important over individuals’ self-asserting, and being uncooperative meant nothing but death.

    2. Samurai culture

    As the time passed, the Samurai period began. During that period, the lord’s orders were exercised, and breaking the group rules was a great crime. As Nitobe Inazou has introduced his book “Bushido”, the value of risking one’s life for the master started to be shared among samurai, allowing one to determine whether community’s sense of unity was stable.

    3. Single culture, race and language

    Japan is an island nation surrounded by the sea on all sides. Even though some dialects are present, generally people speak the same language, share the same culture, and are of a single ethnicity. On top of that, 75% of the country is covered in mountains and there is not much flat land suitable for settlement. Because of that, people, forced to lead communal life in a limited space, further developed their sense of cooperation.

    Downsides of excessive cooperativeness

    Coming from such background, the culture of cooperating with others instead of arguing has taken a firm hold. For instance, the Japanese proverb “the nail that sticks out will be hammered” clearly expresses the tendency. However, not expressing true feelings brings certain damage, lack of decisiveness and initiation become frequent problems in global companies.

    The change that is taking place

    This trait is starting to change nowadays as more people want to communicate their true feelings. With such tendencies, web services are becoming extremely popular as tools for sharing one’s true thoughts.


    FRIEND PEDIA, a new web service that helps people who are connected on Twitter to share their innermost feelings in an easy way, is starting to be used by more and more Japanese. Would you like to try sharing your innermost thoughts with those who are close to you, too?