High-context Culture: Do You Know the Meaning of Silence in Japan?

Three stone statues of see no evil, say no evil, and hear no evil

Arrival: Cognitive difference between humans and aliens

Have you watched the Hollywood movie titled “Arrival” (2016)? Simply put, it’s a science fiction depicting the contact with aliens. I know it may sound same old. Indeed, there have been many similar movies, but it’s completely different. The movie depicts the close encounters from the view point of linguistics. Among other things, what is most interesting to me is the design of the letters the aliens use. It is 3D! The scriptwriter of the movie must be a genius. I just imagine he would have set the story like this. The aliens live in a four-dimensional world because they’re depicted to see time as reversible, and so, their letters are expressed in 3D. I’ve never even imagined to design letters in 3D, even a little. Can you believe it? The letters can be read from three directions! This was a fresh reminder of the fact that we can’t transcend our cognitive frames so easily.

Gattaca: Cognitive difference between the talented and the untalented

In this connection, let me introduce another Hollywood movie. It’s “Gattaca” (1997). Wow, I can clearly remember some scenes, but it has been more than 20 years already. Time really flies. Anyway, it’s also a science fiction. I think the theme of the movie is “whether or not work hard beats talent.” The most memorable scene was the conversation between the two main characters (Vincent and Irene) after a piano performance.

Vincent is a work-hard person, while Irene is talented. The piano player also has a talent (12 fingers). Vincent said “Twelve fingers or one, it’s how you play.” Irene replied “That piece can only be played with twelve.” He believed in the value of hard work and didn’t even notice it was a structurally impossible challenge (for 10-finger people). He is like me who can’t understand and even imagine the 3D letters that the aliens use. Their views are completely different because of their different cognitive frames. This dialogue confronted me with the simple and harsh reality. We can see the world only through our own cognition not someone else’s.

The shot focusing the armrest of a dining chair newly launched by CondeHouse. There's a space in the center of the armrest frame.

Our new chair: Cognitive difference by culture

The above chair is one of our new items launched next month. According to the designer of the chair, Gwenael Nicolas, the concept of empty in the Japanese culture inspired him to design the space in between the armrest. It’s difficult to explain the concept of empty. I personally feel like it’s similar to the concept of zero. Let me give you a simple example. Many of you may take silence for agreement or nothing-in-particular in a meeting. In Japan, we subconsciously try to figure out something meant by the silence. The designer was born in France and has lived in Japan for more than 30 years. This background may enable him to go beyond his established cognition and see the world through the cognition particular to the Japanese culture.

A corporate logo, the letters of C and H are combined to look like a tree in a circle

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.