The Gaijin Gleaner Online Issue 43 - July 1996

Short Story Competition

The Japanese Smile

By Chie Iryo

(Entrant: Non-native speaker category)

Recently I read some books that treat the differences between English Culture and Japanese. The books treat the mystery of the Japanese smile. They say foreigners think it is very strange.

Once I talked with an American. I could not understand what he said. I smiled unconsciously. So - I know the reason for the Japanese smile. Now, I will explain to you about it.

When do you think a person smiles? I think when he is happy, he does. When he is sad, he doesn't. Anyway when a person is happy he smiles. But Japanese have some exceptions. If you made a mistake, what do you do? Do you change color or make an excuse and tremble? In general, we Japanese smile. But we are not happy but very shameful. Then we smile bitterly. Why? For Japanese don't like to express their feelings. We tend to think to express our feelings is shameful. If foreigners know our weak points, we think as if we are weaker than they. So we smile to cover our shame.

Another case, someone asks you something, but you don't know about it.

What do you do? I suppose you will explain the reasons why you don't know. But some Japanese smile. Why do they do so? It is because we Japanese think feelings are very important. Always we think other's feeling. We tend to think foreigners do the same as we do. So, to smile for us mean "I don't know" Japanese scarcely explain about the reason.

This is why the Japanese smile has various meanings. Japanese culture is Silent Culture. In Japan, however many complaints we have, we don't express them.

It is a virtue not to complain about anything. Japanese have been taught perseverance since they were children. I don't know if it is good for us not to say. I think Japanese have become 'men of few words' to restrain themselves. Moreover, In Japan there is a bad tendency. There is a proverb, "A tall tree catches much wind." As the proverb says, people envy a man who says what he wants to do. Japanese don't like a conflict. They avoid it as long as possible. So, they need perseverance, that is, they continue to be silent. I think these factors make the Japanese people of few words and make Japanese culture a silent one.

I would like to close my story by saying this. When they are embarrassed, Japanese smile. Remember this story please. Please understand us: Japanese culture.

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