Thursday, 11 May 2017

Recognizing the Cultural Differences that Hinder Cross Cultural Communication

Heading into the final Months of preparation for your trip to Japan, what should you be doing? Of course, you are focusing on stepping up your training. But, have you been able to step up your linguistic and cultural learning?

I have recommended before in multiple posts that learning important cultural aspects of Asian beliefs and specifically Japanese social structure can make all the difference in your depth of linguistic understanding. To be honest, getting around in Japan with any amount of fluency demands of us more than just knowing where the toilet is. This statement reminds me of something my Sensei, Micheal Delaney once said to us shortly after we were promoted in rank. He said, that "when you attain your shodan level you are told where the metaphorical toilet is. But, when you attain nidan you are given the key to the toilet." After living in Japan for almost half of my life, I think that I can now add to his statement in the following way. The more time you spend in the martial arts the deeper your understanding of how and when to use the keys your are given develops. In this post I would like to help you with your final Months of Linguistic and especially cultural development leading up to your August travels to Japan.

Possibly one of the most important things to understand for this endeavour is the difference between "high context culture" and "low context culture"(popularised by Edward Hall) because this will totally change the way you use the language and improve your communicative competence!

High context refers to societies or groups where people have close connections over a long period of time. Many aspects of cultural behaviour are not made explicit because most members know what to do and what to think from years of interaction with each other. Your family is probably an example of a high context environment.
Low context refers to societies where people tend to have many connections but of shorter duration or for some specific reason. In these societies, cultural behaviour and beliefs may need to be spelled out explicitly so that those coming into the cultural environment know how to behave.
(1997-2003 Jennifer E. Beer )
( on January 26, 2015)

Here are some interesting links to websites focusing on this subject. The first link is especially interesting because it offers a lot of information specifically about Japanese and North American social patterns in the context of high and low context culture commonalities. Follow the links at the bottom of the page by clicking on Japan for more information.

Another interesting website that presents this concept in an easy to understand way, however with a more general application of high and low context culture is:

The interesting thing about this page is that it offers us the opportunity to take a quick questionnaire to assess our level of cultural context. I took it and scored 4 points higher leaning toward high context.
(Retreived from,, 2017, 05, 12)

I have not travelled to North America for a number of years so I have not been in a Low Context Cultural environment for a long time. However, I will be going to New York tomorrow and while I am there I will be paying careful attention to this. I intend to write another post after I get back which goes into more specific detail regarding these differences. Please familiarise yourself with this concept and I will get back to you as soon as I can.

1 comment:

  1. Very interesting article Marc. I've experienced this 'dissonance' anecdotally but this gives a clear outline of the factors. I admitted defeat in bridging that communications gap many years ago :) Is there a middle ground, like a trade pidgin language, that might help both sides communicate better?