Japanese Listening Culture
The Japanese are said to have inscrutable grins and silence unbearable to foreigners. Someone told me uneasily that “I am sick of talking to Japanese! You have absolutely no idea of what’s going on in their mind”.
In Chinese there is a term for eloquence—kou cai hao (have a talent for speaking), but no such thing as ting cai hao (have a talent for listening), however this is the case in Japanese (zen chou). During conversation, a Japanese constantly nods and says “hai, hai” (yes, yes), which may not mean he agrees with everything you’ve just said, but merely indicates, “I am listening to you”.
Perhaps we may put it in this way, Chinese culture is best presented as a speaking culture, whereas Japanese culture may be described as a listening culture. On the Japanese television screen, you rarely see a lively scene of people engaged in a battle of words, as often appears in China and in Western countries. It’s perhaps due to their national characteristic that Japanese are good at quietly listening and efficiently taking in for their own sake.
A tenet in modern Chinese history is “rooted in Chineseness while taking in Western techniques as a means”. Similarly, in Japan there was a creed in ancient times, “taking Japaneseness as the soul while learning Chinese skills”, which in modern times shifted to “taking Japaneseness as the soul while learning Western civilization”.
There is a popular passage: while British write poems, French compose, Germans perform and Italians sing, Americans pay for listening, and the only thing the Japanese can do is to shout out “one more!” while clapping. A good listener and a good learner are surely mutually beneficial.