When I thought about my time back in the States I wondered how I would experience reverse culture shock. I expected to find things too loud – both in volume and volubility – but I wasn’t sure what to expect beyond that. Now, after several months back, I’ve discovered another, more persistent example.
In America, we say “The squeaky wheel gets the grease.” In Japan, they say “The nail that sticks up gets hammered down.”
In Japan, subtlety is prized in both cuisine and communication. They talk of “reading the air”. Thus, in Japan, if you want to get something done, it’s best approached with quietness, patience, humility, and indirectness.
At least, that’s how I’m describing it as I find myself struggling to return to the way I approached support raising before leaving for Japan. It’s not surprising, perhaps, that I have to unlearn the Japanese way of ‘getting things done’ in order to step back into the American way of ‘getting things done’. But somehow it’s surprising me.
I was with some Japanese friends in Cincinnatti recently and mentioned to them that I was wondering about ways to try Taiko (traditional Japanese drumming) when I get back to Nagoya. As we were talking about it one friend said, “As long as you have good rhythm you should be able to do it” and my other friend amended, “In Taiko, you listen to the silence.”
You could modify that sentence to accurately say, “In Japan, you listen to the silence.” I’ve spent almost 2.5 years learning to listen to the silence. Now I’m struggling to learn, for a while at least, to be the noise again.
Written January 2020