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Tuesday, September 26, 2023

Some tips on Japanese culture

By Jessica RiveraSpecial to CSMS Magazine I live in a culturally diverse area in Florida where I get to experience working with a numerous amount of people from many different backgrounds and cultures.  Some cultures that I have become very familiar with within my area are the Hispanic cultures such as Cuban, Columbian, Guatemalan, Ecuadorian, and Dominican.  Other cultures that are also familiar within my area are the Haitian culture, the African American culture, and the Middle Eastern culture.  The one culture that has also been highly represented in Florida recently, that I was not familiar with until this research, is the Japanese culture.  I assume because of this recent elevating Japanese cultural representation in Florida, all elementary schools will have several students of the Japanese culture within there ESOL classrooms, and therefore I believe all Florida teachers should be well aware of this particular culture, and their many different elements that can help them to better understand and communicate with their Japanese students.            I think the most important element in the Japanese culture for a teacher to be aware of is their nonverbal communication.  Nonverbal communication is a powerful way to communicate through body language or signals called gestures.  Nonverbal communication can also consist of certain cultural values and what is expected of a person within their culture.  There are many gestures within the Japanese culture that are the same as American gestures, yet they have different meanings.  This can become a huge communication barrier between the teacher and his or her Japanese student if he or she is not familiar with the Japanese gestures.             Some examples of some confusing gestures that may be used in a classroom are the gestures used for “come” and “go away”. The hand gesture used in America to tell someone to go away means to come in Japan and the gesture we use in America to tell someone to come is considered rude in Japan (Imai).  Another similar gesture that may be used in the classroom is the handshake.  Both Americans and Japanese use the hand shake gesture however Americans use the hand shake only as an expected greeting gesture and in the Japanese culture the hand shake means they do not have any weapons implying that they are friends (Imai).  This gesture may be used when first meeting the parents and it could be very important to be familiar with this gesture because it is good for the child to know that their parents have respect for their teacher.  Another gesture in the Japanese culture that could be confusing for the teacher is the gesture that shows concentration and attentiveness.  This is shown when a person closes their eyes in contemplation and nods the head slightly up and down (Imai).             If a teacher is not aware of this gesture, one would suggest the student was asleep or not paying attention.  Another Japanese gesture a teacher should know is that instead of saying no. A Japanese boy may tip his head backward and audibly suck air in through his teeth (Imai).  This gesture would not be acceptable in an America classroom, but it is taught in the Japanese culture as a nonverbal way of communicating “no”.  One last gesture that would be helpful to understanding his or her Japanese students is the gesture for “I do not know,” or “I don’t understand” or “No, I am undeserving” is waving the hand back and forth in front of one’s own face (Imai).  If a student does this, the teacher can know what is wrong and tend to his or her needs right away.  As one can see, being familiar with the gestures within the Japanese culture can make things easier for everyone, but if a teacher is not familiar with the nonverbal communication of the cultures within his or her class things can become complicated and confusing for the student, teacher, and parents.As a teacher one has to get to know each one of their children and how they react to certain situations and settings within the classroom.  One can do this by becoming familiar with the interpersonal communication style within each culture. Within the Japanese culture, Japanese people place high value on non-assertiveness when speaking or writing (Miyahara).  This may have an effect on the child’s willingness to read out loud or express his or her opinion.  Even though success is very important in the Japanese culture they believe a person should be humble and not accept recognition for ones successes (Miyahara).  They also think that silence is a sign of politeness and therefore a child that is taught these things may be reluctant to a good grade being hung up on the wall or may be unusually upset if one interrupts him or her in a conversation or while asking the teacher a question.  Another communication style that the Japanese culture has is having no eye contact while in conversation.  To them, direct eye contact is considered impolite or even intimidating (Miyahara).  In this case, if a teacher is aware of this and he or she asks a Japanese student to look at them and the student tends to look away occasionally, they will know that it is not in disobedience, but in respect for the teacher.Public emotions are forbidden in the Japanese culture. It is even considered rude to display an open mouth when giggling or laughing and are expected to cover their mouths when doing so (Miyahara). With this uncommon cultural communication style, a teacher may get the idea that his or her student is shy, suffers from lack of confidence, or is unhappy at home.  Another very important thing for a teacher to be aware of is that the Japanese are not touch-oriented people. So as a teacher, one should avoid open displays of affection, touching or any prolonged form of body contact (Miyahara).  Because of the high regard for politeness and restraint of emotions set on them, a teacher should also be aware of how she portrays his or her emotions to a Japanese student (Miyahara). He or she should try not to shout or raise their voice in anger, or exhibit any excessively demonstrative behavior because this may scare them and they will tend to withdrawal. Another important element in the Japanese culture is the child/parent communication.  As a teacher it is very important to know how a child relates and communicates with his or her parents within their culture so that we know how the child will react to certain situations in the classroom. In the Japanese culture, the parents define the law and the children are expected to abide by their request and demands (Bassani).  This may cause a child to be very obedient and may even be afraid to get in trouble.  The father is generally the authority figure in the home, yet distant and reserved meaning the mother raises the children and the father disciplines them.  A father/son relationship is important in the Japanese culture because carrying the name down from generation to generation is very important (Bassani).This may cause the Japanese boys to be hard on themselves academically and may tend to get easily frustrated.  The Japanese are very group oriented, there is a high tendency to have extended family structures, and they refer to each other as group members rather than individuals (Bassani).  Within this culture family interdependence and family reliance are highly encouraged and expected.  They seem to believe that any kind of independent behavior may disrupt the family harmony, so it is highly discouraged (Bassani).    Education is also highly valued in the Japanese culture, and therefore Japanese children are expected to obey at home and at school.  They are expected to follow all the rules, respect authority and to spend all their time studying to obtain high grades (Bassani).  This means that while at school they may not want to join in special games that are academically oriented because of the fear of their parents. Within the Japanese culture fun is encouraged, but only with the family groups.  This may show in a Japanese child’s social skills or peer relationships within the classroom.All in all I think no matter what culture it is that one may be working with or learning about, there are three very important things to remember as an ESOL teacher.  The first thing to remember is to recognize that each person sees the world from his or her own way.  Even if one has three students of the same culture they will all be different in other aspects of their personality. The second thing to remember is not to  be judgmental until all information is accumulated.  This is sometimes hard to do when one is not familiar with different cultures, but very important because culture plays a huge role in the child’s character.  A child may seem disobedient or unintelligent, yet these signs could be gestures taught in their culture.  The third thing to remember is to be patient because as a teacher there will be times when cultural differences can challenge the day and put tension on the students and ones classroom, but the teacher is the glue that holds the class together and its very important to be in tuned with all of ones students.ReferencesBassani, C, University of Calgary, Social Capital Theory in the Context of Japanese Children, understanding of the children, www.japanesestudies.org.uk/articles/Bassani.htmlImai, S, October 8, 2002, Nonverbal communication, Adobe Acrobat, Japanese gestures,www.odu.edu/ao/oip/els/s  Miyahara, A, Seinan Gakun University, MIYAHARA- toward Theorizing Japanese Interpersonal Communication, www.acjournal.org/holdings/vol3/lss3/spec1/Miyahara.html

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