Why do Japanese Love Sugarcoated Expressions?

Dec 8, 2017


If you’re a foreigner who lives in Japan or came to Japan as a tourist, have you ever noticed “Japanese Modesty” when speaking with Japanese people?
It’s not all the time, but you can see their sugarcoating expression occasionally. Why do Japanese people talk while sugarcoating everything?
There are certain cases where people avoid using DIRECT expression, like just “YES” or “NO”, and it comes from a unique part of Japanese culture.

This article will explain the reason and examples of which situations Japanese people use this humble way of speaking.



1. What was the Start of Japanese Modesty?



Originally Japanese sugarcoating came from the fact that Japan is an isolated island.
Japanese people spend their lives with little land which was densely populated, and this influenced people to develop a very fast information network.
Because of this situation, people started to share a common view which lead people to feel “We’re sharing the same feelings, with the same information” helped for building up a sense of fellowships, or more similar to family ties.
It all started from everyone creating a unified outlook.


2. Which Meanings are Usually Sugarcoated?



Japanese people don’t just use sugarcoating expressions blindly, there are some reasons and have specific meanings as follows:


1. Read between the lines



As a feature of Japanese peoples’ expression, they care a lot about “Read between the lines” in regards to other people.
In other words, Japanese people try to read what other people really think from their attitudes, moods or few words.

Sharing the same feelings made this mind, paying attention to other people feelings.


2. Avoid blaming other people



This is something wise about Japanese people, but people use sugarcoating expression when trying not to blame other people. There is a possibility to hurt people feelings by saying directly “NO!” to make other people feel they are wrong or denied.
Japanese people try not to blame even one person, even if the cause was due to a lack of straight-forwardness in the first place.



3. Avoid arguments



This may seem similar to blaming other people, but more like “Verbal fight”. Japanese people love to simply keep peaceful relationships.
Direct expression sometimes leads to the start of the exchanging of harsh words, so sugarcoated expressions help to avoid making other people unnecessarily upset.
If the discussion is made in company business meetings, it’s fine, but if it’s in public, the quarrel may bother other people.

Trying to use vague expressions purposely helps make peaceful relationships.



3.What if People Can’t Read Between Lines?



So, what if people just show direct expressions all the time in Japan?
Unfortunately, whether it’s their intention or not, people mostly see this kind of person as the following character:


1. Selfish
2. Not thoughtful
3. Not well-mannered


That’s surprising right?
Somehow reading between lines or being vague makes people think one is well-mannered, and respect the people who can understand people’s true feelings even if using sugarcoating expression. It’s considered a virtue for Japanese people.



4. For Instance, What Kind of Expression?



So what kind of conversation shows sugarcoating expression?
Here are 2 daily examples as follows:


Example 1.
When people ask your opinion any ideas for eating out



For example, if you’re meeting with your friend and asked your friend what or where she/he wants to eat.


You: Hey, it’s dinner time soon so shall we eat out somewhere? Do you have any suggestions or any restaurants you want to go to?

Friend: Well, I don’t mind where we go so I’m okay with whatever you’d like.


In this situation, your friend didn’t say her/his wish in the above expression. Do you feel she/he doesn’t have assertiveness and irritates you? Well, if she/he repeats like this expression all the time, it maybe too much, but what if she/he cares about you to go the restaurants which you really want to go? Or if you have something you really want to eat at that time, don’t you think it’s the good chance to eat what you want to eat?

In this situation, maybe your friend caught the mood that you have some idea to eat out and she/he was holding back a bit. If you really don’t have any idea and needs your friend’s help, you can just say so and she/he will go on to step forward.

This is the situation where people care about others’ wishes.



Example 2.
When people ask you about your schedule



Here is an example of the phrase when you invite someone you know(A) to come with you to some event, they they don’t want to attend.


You: There’s a baseball match next month on the ●●(date), are you interested in going together?

(A) : Oh really? Sounds interesting, but I’ll check my schedule and get back to you after I’ve looked at it.


Even though that person dooesn’t want to attend, they still used this expression. She/he wasn’t truthful with their answer, but tried not to let you down immediately by sugarcoating. She/he thought if she/he just refused your invitation immediately, she/he cared about if you would feel rejected, even if they did actually feel that way.



Do you see why Japanese people instead of using direct expressions, prefer sugarcoating in certain situations?
Compared to your country, some of you may feel it’s too much of a hassle to use ambiguous expressions, but please think this way; it’s one of Japanese people’s virtues, and the biggest point is that they care about you and don’t want to hurt your feelings.
Maybe Japanese people are a little sensitive from a different point of view, but they just have generous thoughts in their mind and just want to have peaceful relationships with people.
If you ever have a relationships with Japanese people, perhaps you’ll gradually see their sugarcoating is one of the thoughtful things they do.


Let’s have a positive view about Japanese modesty!



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