Sunday, July 30, 2006

Wa: Do not disturb

Sometimes, when I see a particularly wonderful sign, I make out with it.

For example, here is a sign that discourages litter in a truly Japanese manner.

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I like to make out with signs that use this much subtlety. It shows my subtle appreciation of their subtle subtlety.

This sign is a great example of the Japanese phenomenon of "wa." Wa means "harmony" (EDIT: The character for "WA" is "和". BIG thanks to Mr. or Ms. "Ouch!" for that!). Simply, keeping the "harmony" means that people go to great lengths not to rock the boat or cause any conflict that would disturb this "wa".

The "Wa" is not only a big part of Japanese signage, it is also a huge part of Japanese working culture. In practice, keeping this "harmony" means that when I have a problem with someone (eg, "Bob wears too much pink, and I can't work because he is too sexy")), I should definitely NOT tell Bob that I have this problem. Rather, I should go to Bob's superior officer, who will in turn go to their superior officer, who will then go to THEIR superior officer, who will then move up the chain of command until we contact God and/or the offending person's parents. That entity (ie. God and/or the person's parents) will then go back down through a different chain of command, until we manage to reach a DIFFERENT superior officer, who will contact the person with whom I have a problem. The officer will then inform the offending person of the problem in a round-about, non-specific manner (eg, "Bob, your shirt is very nice, but it is a bit too pink. *Some people* are having a problem with the amount of sexiness that you are bringing to the workplace.... can you please wear somewhat less pink?) This, of course, avoids any direct co-worker to co-worker complaints, and helps everyone theoretically work together because no one ever has a specific problem with anyone, and everyone will tell everyone else that they love their work. Random complaints from *Some people* will just appear every now and again.

This is all well and good, but it takes fucking forever to pass the complaint along. The problem may be a month or more old before anyone says shit. The problem may also be a very simple one to resolve (eg, "please speak more slowly"), which could be solved within a few seconds of hearing said complaint.

Here is a relatively short example with a very short "wa - train", as I have decided to call the chain of people who must ALL find out about the issue before you do. My school manager is a relatively astute young lady who is quite delightful. She realizes that western people tend to appreciate slightly more direct feedback:

Mg: "Brent Sensei, how do I say in English.... "Sensei, can you not get dressed out of your suit before the end of day???"

Me: "um..... That was pretty good."

Mg: "Really?"

Me: "Yes."

Mg: "Ok... um... can you tell (the other) Sensei?"

So, as you can see, my school manager has realized that we crazy foreigners appreciate direct feedback. Admittedly, she sometimes tries to give said direct feedback, but it often comes out slightly more blunt than the spirit in which it is intended. For example, this gem which my dear new co-worker received the other day...

"Sensei... lesson was a good job. But next time... please try more fun."


Serious wa disturbance.


Anonymous said...

Hi, I don't like Japanese "wa" your Mg is doing very good job!! I think...

Character for "wa" is 和, which means Japanes like(?).和風???
輪 is a ring.


.H said...

Okay -- I sent this one to my co-workers who laughed out loud. Very funny pic hon. I'm glad you and the sign are getting along despite your linguistic differences. :)

Merry Man In Japan said...


I'm glad that my humpnanigans can provide the amusement that I always aim for.


Yeah, I can see the idea behind "wa", but I tend to believe in learning from my mistakes, so I want to find out about them as soon as possible. I agree with you that my Mg is doing a great job - I really like working with her because she *does* break the wa sometimes.

Still, thanks for the tip! I've updated the post with the correct character (和)for "wa"