Japanese Ambiguity


S/he once sharply criticized the government, but after becoming a politician, s/he comes to repeat ambiguous remarks and looks like losing her/his former self. I’m sure you’ve seen this kind of change of mind. You may feel betrayed and think “I could always achieve social justice.” I didn’t mean to defend all the politicians, but believe most of them are not faithless. First of all, there’s no such thing as absolute justice or evil. Indeed, it is right to pursue the greatest happiness for the greatest number in utilitarianism, but the tyranny of the majority sometimes hurts the minority so deep that people can’t coexist after confrontation. In a sense, decent politicians are meant to be ambiguous.

In terms of ambiguity, I believe Japanese people are second to none in the world. Majority vote is rarely adopted in a company meeting, and even company representatives don’t like to be seen as imposing their opinions. A consensus, decision, etc. are made ambiguously. This national character may be related to the uniqueness of the Japanese language that can complete sentences without a subject. I was so irritated by this ambiguity when younger, condemning such people as irresponsible, but now come to think Japanese ambiguity seen especially at work place may be ancient wisdom to keep working in harmony as an organization.

You may wonder how the quality of work is maintained under such conditions as people don’t know clearly where responsibility lies. We don’t need other people’s eyes to pursue responsibility because of a genetic factor. Japanese people have more S-alleles of the serotonin transporter, and we are genetically more anxious (self-tortured). It is said to be the result of natural selection unique to the island country prone to a lot of natural disasters such as tsunamis, earthquakes, etc. In other words, we can’t work without ambiguity because we’re too anxious and scared. I think it’s similar to backlash for furniture. The joint parts of some furniture must have backlash to absorb the expansion and contraction of wood. The modern age of digitalization allows less and less room for ambiguity, but I think physical things like us, furniture, etc. still need it.


Shungo Ijima

He is travelling around the world. His passion is to explain Japan to the world, from the unique viewpoint accumulated through his career: overseas posting, MBA holder, former official of the Ministry of Finance.


Photo Credit: https://blog.gaijinpot.com/7-things-know-japanese-politics/