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Valar Qringaomis

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Monday, December 02, 2013

Japan - where everything is unspoken

From Lang-8:

The roots of the high context culture of Japan

I visited Bishamondo Temple in Kyoto yesterday and learned something interesting about the cultural heritage of Japan.

A Buddhist monk at Bishamondo showed us tourists around the rooms divided by fusuma, sliding doors, which have paintings of nature themes on them. At the end of the walk-through tour viewing some reverse perspective paintings from the 17th century, he took us to a room that used to be one of the waiting rooms for guests who came to visit the Imperial prince who retreated and lived at the temple. One fusuma painting there has a kiji, a pheasant, on an ume tree, and another one has a hiyodori, a bulbul, on a bamboo tree. Since the common combinations are actually an uguisu, a bush warbler, and an ume tree, or a sparrow and a bamboo tree, the guests who are guided to this room should find these paintings awkward and realize "the birds don't match the trees", which puns on "you're disregarded" in Japanese. Therefore, if you are shown to this room, you are supposed to leave the temple without being told to do so.

This is a great example of how high-context the Japanese societies were back in the history. If you don't get subtle messages written on fusuma or implied between the lines, you would be regarded as an utter fool and probably become an outcast. Although this example from the Edo period was mind-blowing even to a Japanese mind, this type of communication rules still exist in the modern Japanese culture to some extent.
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