‘We Japanese are more polite than others’: Intercultural Communication and Stereotypes


Like many others in the academic community and beyond, I have been enjoying being able to attend a range of seminars (see for example, my posts on An Insight into the Mechanism of the Roles of Antiheros in Manga and Anime under the Context of Japanese Society, Remembering the Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami and Remembering and Brief Encounters in Research) and giving some too. One of the most recent ones I attended was unusual compared to the others as the speaker is also based at Cardiff University. However, while the topic – the title of this post also – was about Japan, the speaker, Professor Michael Handford, is not based on the School of Modern Languages, where the Japanese teaching programme is based. Prof Handford is a Chair of Applied Linguistics, based on the School of English, Communication, and Philosophy (‘ENCAP’).

The seminar helped to remind me just how many people there are working on areas that relate to Japan, or who have an interest in Japan, around Cardiff University. This is particularly relevant to me as one of the things I have been keen to do while I am President of the British Association for Japanese Studies, is to ensure that our association (and other Japan-related activities in the UK) reach those who are not at the main Japanese centres in Universities. The seminar was a further reminder of how much further we need to go in achieving this – even at universities that do have Japanese programmes, let alone those which do not.

But it wasn’t just this aspect of the seminar that was relevant to me. The topic itself was of particular interest to me with its focus on stereotypes (and symbolism) and how this relates to Japan. This is something that I not only discuss in my classes, but is one of the key themes in my book Japan: The Basics. The seminar gave me lots of things to think about, particularly when considering what changes to make as I work on the second edition of the book.

Overall, it was an excellent webinar is available to see on YouTube. I look forward to having an opportunity to discuss our common research interests with the speaker at some point – hopefully as COVID-19 lockdown restrictions ease this may even be possible in person since I still find that Zoom calls limit some of the natural flow of discussions (and associated thinking that go with them).

The cover photo (full image below) for this post is taken from the YouTube recording of the seminar and was a video that clearly exposed some of the issues that were discussing during the seminar.

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