Japanese Culture and Traditions: What You Should Be Careful About in Kyoto


Kyoto language is too difficult even for the Japanese people

As you know, most Japanese people can’t speak English very well. Looking on the bright side, Japan is basically a monolingual country, and you can communicate only in Japanese anywhere in Japan. Mind you, there’s one exception: It’s Kyoto. As you know, it’s the ancient capital of Japan and one of the popular tourist destinations in Japan. No offense if you are a big fan of Kyoto, but Kyoto people are often said to be snobbish and behave like still believing Kyoto is the center of Japan.

It’s just an aside, but I think it’s funny (interesting) that Kyoto and Hokkaido are always competing for the first place in the popularity ranking of Japan 47 prefectures, though their characters are completely different. Kyoto is oldest; Hokkaido is newest. For your information, Hokkaido has always defeated Kyoto and maintained the first place in the popularity ranking for these 14 years.

What I wrote above about Kyoto people’s characters is a stereotypical idea many Japanese people outside Kyoto have in their minds, and I’m personally sure it’s generally truthful. Making matters worse, their language is too difficult even for most Japanese people outside Kyoto. It’s not about their accent or dialect, though I admit their accent and dialect are most beautiful. In Kyoto, we’re always and strictly required to understand the implication of their words. Let me give you some examples for your easier understanding.

Concealing true intentions is ancient wisdom for Kyoto people to survive

If your kids are shouting for joy and running around in a restaurant in Kyoto, the restaurant staff might smile at you and say “They are so cheerful.” Don’t you ever reply like “Yeah, they’re so excited about coming here in Kyoto.” In fact, the staff tries to mean “Shut them up!” Here is another example: even if you wear a cheesy shirt, Kyoto people would smile gently and say “You look good no matter what you wear.” The real intention is “Aren’t you ashamed of yourself?” It’s a kinda scary, isn’t it?

I’m not blaming Kyoto people here but respect their culture on the contrary, though I don’t think at all I can survive there. The long history of Kyoto has created such a profound culture. According to a theory of historical science, concealing true intentions is ancient wisdom for Kyoto people to survive through many struggles that had repeated over time in the power center of Japan.

It's a scene of our final product inspection. An inspector is seriously checking a dining chair.

The high context communication supports the artisan culture

Kyoto language is an extreme example, but it’s true we are always required to read between the lines in communication in any place in Japan. For example, “I’ll go if I can” means “I’ll never go.” “Let’s go for a drink sometime soon” is a way of just saying goodbye. This kind of implication in Japanese language may be difficult for people in many other countries and cultures, but this is what we always do here in Japan, an almost mono-cultural country. Don’t take it nasty. I believe we do that mainly for courtesy. The good point of this high-context communication is we can convey detailed nuances more easily. That also contributes to a technique transmission in the furniture making industry, I’m guessing.

2020/09/02 By Shungo Ijima

Source: https://www.neverendingvoyage.com/things-to-do-in-kyoto-japan/