Why do Japanese Love Sugarcoated Expressions? | Guidable - Your Guide to a Sustainable, Wellbeing-centred Life in Japan

Why do Japanese Love Sugarcoated Expressions?

By Yae Dec 8, 2017

This post is also available in: Russian


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 doesn’t happen all the time, but you can notice their sugarcoated expression occasionally. Why do Japanese people talk while sugarcoating everything?
There are certain cases where people avoid using DIRECT expressions, like just “YES” or “NO”, and it comes from a unique part of Japanese culture.

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



1. When did it start? 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 on a small land which is 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 leads people to feel “We’re sharing the same feelings, with the same information” this helped with building up a sense of fellowships, or more similar to family ties.
It all started with everyone creating a unified outlook.


2. Which Meanings are Usually Sugarcoated?



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


1. Reading between the lines



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

Sharing the same feelings made these people pay attention to other people’s feelings.


2. Avoid blaming others



This is something wise about Japanese people, but people use sugarcoated expression when trying not to blame others. There is a possibility to hurt people’s feelings by saying directly “NO!” making them 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 straightforwardness 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’s sometimes lead to the start of the exchange of harsh words, so sugarcoated expressions help to avoid making other people unnecessarily upset.
If the discussion is held 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 keep using direct expressions all the time in Japan?
Unfortunately, whether it’s their intention or their nature, 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 people who can understand people’s true feelings even if it’s using a sugarcoated expressions. It’s considered a virtue for Japanese people.



4. For Instance, What Kind of Expression?



So what kind of conversation involves sugarcoated expressions?
Here are 2 daily examples as follows:


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



For example, if you’re meeting with your friend and ask 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. 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 it irritates you? Well, if she/he repeats this expression all the time, it may be too much, but what if she/he cares about you to go to the restaurant 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 a 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. If you really don’t have any idea and need your friend’s help, you can just say so and she/he will offer something.

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, which they don’t really 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 doesn’t want to attend, they still use this expression. She/he wasn’t truthful with their answer but tried not to let you down immediately. 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 the 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 everyone.
If you ever have a  chance to speak or work 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!