- Laughter: When communicating bad news, a Japanese person may smile and laugh to diffuse the uncomfortable situation. People also cover their mouth when they giggle. It is rare to see big bursts of laughter with corresponding gestures.
- Indirect Communication: The Japanese communication pattern is far less direct and verbose than what Australians are used to. They rely less on words and are more attentive to the posture, expression and tone of voice of the speaker in order to draw meaning from a conversation. In order to maintain harmony throughout conversation and prevent a loss of face on either end, they use ambiguous speech and understatements to convey their message. The best way of navigating around this rhetoric to find the underlying meaning is to check for clarification several times using open-ended questions.
- Refusals: A Japanese person’s preoccupation with saving face and being polite means that they will seldom give a flat “no” or negative response—even when they don’t agree with you. Therefore, focus on hints of hesitation. Listen closely to what they say, but also pay careful attention to what they don’t say and implicitly mean. It’s a good idea to clarify and double check your understanding.
- Physical Contact: Younger women often hold hands while walking together, however generally people are not very tactile with each other. You can expect them to immediately apologise if they bump into or brush against you by accident.
- Body Language: The Japanese do not gesture very much while speaking as their body language is largely restrained. Instead, they often hold their hands together as they speak which prevents them from gesturing throughout conversation.
- Eye Contact: The Japanese avoid eye contact with strangers as it is considered rude to stare.
- Facial Expressions: Most Japanese maintain a placid expression or nod and smile during an interaction. Note that this does not necessarily reflect their thoughts about what you are saying as it is the default, polite way to interact.
- Frowning: To frown while someone speaks indicates disagreement with his or her words.
- Feet: Displaying the soles of your feet is considered rude.
- Inhaling: When a Japanese person inhales air through their teeth it usually implies disagreement.
- Silence: Silence is an important and purposeful tool used in Asian communication. Pausing before giving a response indicates that someone has applied appropriate thought and consideration to the question. This reflects politeness and respect.
- Beckoning: It is impolite to beckon people who you are not close friends with. Beckoning is done by facing the palm of the hand to the ground and waving one’s fingers towards oneself. Individual fingers should not be used.
- Pointing: Pointing is done using the entire hand unless referring to oneself, in which case they place their index finger on their nose.
- Waving: Shaking the hand with the palm facing forward from side to side means “no”.
- Gestures: A Japanese person may clasp their hands together in front of their chest when apologising or accepting something, which expresses gratitude.
- Bowing: See ‘Greetings’ for guidelines on how to bow.