Thursday, February 03, 2011

Wa and you, a guide to not rocking the boat.

     An aspect of Japanese culture that is both wonderful and annoying is the emphasis on group harmony. Criticism is always veiled, and nobody ever says no. They will instead say "maybe" or, "hmm it is a little difficult..." In the dating realm, rather than face a confrontation with someone they may not be interested in, they will simply not respond to messages. This goes for boys and girls, of all age ranges.
     This embracing of at least the appearance of consensus and harmony is called "wa" 和, and it permeates life here. I was reminded about wa today when I had a conversation with my company about a leave request. I had wanted to go home for a spell to take a badly needed break, and had found an excellent airfare for early February. It was all a little last minute, but I figured at best I could see friends and family and grab a few quick bites of Mexican food and at worst they'd just say no.
     But of course, they can't say no. Rather, they let it sit for two weeks, long enough for airfare to go up, and then said "well it is a little difficult..." I noted that the airfare had risen and that it didn't really matter anymore. My supervisors voice brightened at that, and she said, "Oh, so you will cancel the leave request, that is wonderful." They don't have to say no, and the group harmony is maintained. Or it would have been, if I was Japanese. My more western sensibilities were a bit knocked out of joint by the passive aggressive maneuvering that led to me "not needing to take a vacation anymore." I would have much preferred a straight yes or no answer two weeks ago, but that is simply not the Japanese way, a lesson to be remembered. After all, you don't need time off, if you have wa!

2 comments:

Jaimie Foster said...

Oh, Grant. :( Kawaisou!

victoriasart said...

I loved your description of "wa." That would be very hard on us as Westerner's and I do feel your pain.