Roger J. Daies – Osamu Ikeno: The Japanese Mind (Tuttle Publishing 2002)
Many thanks to Pallas Athéné Könyvkiadó for sending me the book!
Japan has always seemed mystical and exotic to European people or even other places of the world. Due to its status as an island and its historical characteristics, a unique culture and society developed in its territory. In this book, we can read 28 essays, which were written over several years by the graduate students at Ehime University in the city of Matsuyama during their intercultural communication course. Each chapter discusses key concepts defining Japanese culture and ends with discussions that examine the changing nature of Japanese society from the perspective of intercultural communication.
The essays follow each other in alphabetical order from aimai, the obscure or ambiguous Japanese expression, to zoutou, the Japanese gift-giving customs. Among them we find familiar ones such as wabi-sabi, the Japanese ideal of beauty found in simplicity and elegance, or bushido, the moral code of Japanese warriors, the samurais, but there are also customs that seem extraneous to us, such as soushiki, the complicated ceremonial order of Japanese funerals.
For me, the most interesting part was the chapter on chinmoku, which presents the function of silence in Japanese communication. Silence also plays an important role in the creation of personal space, since we are talking about a densely populated country, it is important to preserve the private sphere. In Japanese families, for example, mutual trust is not built through conversations, but by simply being together. Although they are in the same room, everyone can do what they want they don’t need to know what the other is thinking even if they know what they are doing.
The essays are written with scholarly sophistication, each of them has a bibliography, but they are so understandable and followable that they can be understood by anyone. The most complicated aspects of Japanese culture are explained with examples taken from today’s everyday life. It can be an interesting read for those who are interested in Japanese culture, travelers, tourists, foreigners living in Japan, and even Japanese readers.