Japanese Culture and Traditions: We Still Use Ninjutsu, the Art of Ninja


Languages create cultures

I have a 12 year younger sister. When she was very small, I asked “What is your brother like?” She lisped “You like to eat tofu.” I know she was not wrong at all. Indeed, I like tofu even now, but her answer was far from what I expected at that time. Feeling disappointed, I thought by myself who I was, and realized it was very difficult to define myself. For the same reason, most people can’t see their own countries and cultures, but I think multi-lingual speakers are better at it. It’s because language creates culture, and vice versa. Today, let me share cultural differences and Japanese uniqueness found especially through the viewpoint of a Japanese-English speaker.

Uniqueness in hearing ability

When I worked as a translator, onomatopée was always a headache. Japanese language is said to have the largest number of onomatopée in the world. Making matters worse, there’s onomatopée to express even silence. I know the sentence is logically inconsistent, but it seems we Japanese can hear the sound of silence.

There’s another example to show our uniqueness in a sense of sound. A Japanese professor visited Cuba for a medical conference. When someone threw a presentation, he couldn’t focus because the sound of insects was too loud. In the meanwhile, he got interested and asked a man sitting next to him about the insects. Surprisingly, the man answered he didn’t hear anything.

Our craftsperson is working on something on the working table. It's by the window, and the light of a sunset is shedding on his back.

The professor became more curious, started studying his experience once coming back from Cuba. Finally, he found only Japanese and Polynesian people perceived the sound of insects as a language in the left hemisphere. On the other hand, the sound of insects is perceived as a sound in the right hemisphere by the other people. They hear such a continuous sound as noise and subconsciously cut it off. This is the reason why the man sitting next to the professor didn’t even notice the sound of insects.

The art of Ninja

His further study revealed that the difference was caused not by race but by language, and that this unique ability inheres in anyone grown up in Japanese-speaking environments as a mother tongue. The article didn’t explain how Japanese language worked, but I hit upon the idea that we, Japanese furniture manufacturers, may be able to hear better the voice of trees as well.

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://kokoro-jp.com/culture/1293/