About the merits and demerits of Japanese virtue “humbleness”


“A-un-no-kokyu”  is being able to sense the needs or ideas of others from the situation, etc, even if not everything is explained. We know what to do without exchanging words.

A unique aspect of Japanese society is that most things can be communicated through various gestures, the exchange of partial sentences, such as those without explanations of the background.


Among Japanese people, when that communication doesn’t go well, we say “That guy can’t read the mood,” and judge him or her as being thickheaded.

However, that “mood” can’t be understood at all by foreigners who don’t understand Japanese society. In particular, in countries like America, it is possible to reach a mutual understanding with someone you have just met by explaining your thoughts clearly and logically. 


There are many traps waiting in conversations between people from Japan, where people seek “A-un-no-kokyu”, and countries where people seek to explain things clearly.


How do Japanese people let others know what they need?

When Japanese people ask other people about things we want to do, we have a custom of doing it euphemistically. This is uniquely Japanese style of communication.

Say the room is hot. If someone feels it’s hot, the person will say “ Isn’t it hot?” to the people around him or her. Then, the other people infer his or her needs, and say “Yes, shall we turn on the air conditioner?”



When a Japanese person asks someone “Are you hungry?” it is often the case that the person who asked is hungry. If the other person is Japanese, the least confusing answer is to say, “I see. I’m not hungry, but shall we eat something light?”

However, when foreigners who are not used to such exchanges are asked that, they may just say how they are feeling.Therefore, they’ll say, “Not really,” to the other person. We Japanese will think it is uncaring and be a little disappointed.





“Enryo” means to not express your needs, dealing with the other person in a reserved way. It is similar to the English word “hesitate,”  but in Japan, it is a very common way of having good social communication with people.

It also has many things in common with the concepts of “Kenson” (modesty) and “Kenkyo” (humble). For example, Japanese people regard interrupting someone as spoiling the person’s story, and dislike it.



We also don’t do things like interjecting our opinions or checking points we don’t understand while someone is talking. Our idea of “Enryo” never stops working.

The worst thing is when people from abroad have conversations in English in front of Japanese people. Japanese people think it’s wrong to interrupt the flow of the story, so even if there is something we don’t understand, we continue echoing the person’s speech to show we are listening, without asking questions.


On the other hand, in English-speaking societies, if there is something you don’t understand, there is a tacit understanding that you should interrupt the other person to confirm things.

It follows that if a Japanese person echoes the other person’s English without interrupting, he or she will think the Japanese person understands what is being said.




The Japanese who is apt to sacrifice oneself

Westerners think that business is a part of their life, but that it is not everything. Recently, there have been a lot of people from the younger generation in Japan who think the same thing.

However, in Japan, even today, most people work overtime late into the night. At businesses such as foreign-owned companies, you can still see Japanese people working overtime, while Westerners go home without hesitation.



Japanese people are becoming more and more able to take days off, but from the Japanese point of view, Westerners take holidays with no hesitation and without thinking of the needs of their coworkers. 

The difference between Westerners, who put the same priority on their private plans as they put on business, and Japanese people, who sacrifice our personal time, putting business ahead of it, is still very large.


However, Japanese people want to go home early to spend time with families and friends the same way foreigners do. We want to put  priority on our own needs regarding holidays.

The thing that holds Japanese people back is our sense of “Enryo”, which causes us to exercise self-restraint, thinking of the needs of our coworkers and superiors.





There are actual cases of homestay students being told to ” Open up the fridge and get a drink whenever you want” by the host, but not being able to do it because of “Enryo”, and spending days of misery.

What do you think about this?