LINGUIST List 14.1891

Tue Jul 8 2003

Review: Anthropological Ling/Socioling: Yamada (2002)

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  1. Sufumi So, Different Games Different Rules: Why Americans and Japanese Misunderstand Each Other

Message 1: Different Games Different Rules: Why Americans and Japanese Misunderstand Each Other

Date: Mon, 07 Jul 2003 20:20:59 +0000
From: Sufumi So <>
Subject: Different Games Different Rules: Why Americans and Japanese Misunderstand Each Other

Yamada, Haru (2002) Different Games Different Rules: Why
Americans and Japanese Misunderstand Each Other, Oxford
University Press.

Announced at

Sufumi So, Carnegie Mellon University

The 2002 volume of Haru Yamada's ''Different Games Different Rules:
Why Americans and Japanese Misunderstand Each Other'' is a paperback
edition of its hardcover original published in 1997 also by Oxford
University Press. Since its first publication the book has received
various reviews, mostly positive but occasionally disapproving. The
book has been recommended to American and Japanese businesspeople as
well as American students of Japanese studies, cultural studies,
anthropology, and sociolinguistics.

The book is about communication and miscommunication between American
and Japanese businesspeople. Unlike the author's first book on the
same topic, ''American and Japanese Business Discourse: A Comparison
of Interactional Styles'' (Ablex, 1992), it is written in the kind of
language easily comprehensible to general readers. The author, a
fully- balanced bilingual and bicultural of Japanese and American
English, brings in many of her personal experiences as well as her
private observations and insights as a foreign resident in the U.S.,
an office worker, and a researcher of business communication to make a
case for each of the key aspects of American and Japanese oral
communication discussed in the book's chapters. The fact that
arguments are presented with the support of anecdotal, rather than
scientific, evidence is often a reason for both positive and negative
comments about the book. The author introduces the book as ''an
insider's guide to American and Japanese communication'' (p. vi). Her
goal of writing this book is clear: To help Americans and Japanese
understand cross-cultural differences better so as to achieve higher
levels of competition and communication between them. However, what
specific readership she had in mind is not stated explicitly. A brief
remark made in one of the favorable reviews available on the Internet
characterizes the nature of the book very well: ''Granted, it's not
perfect, but if you had time to read only one book on the Japanese
before jumping on a plane to negotiate your company's deal, [this is
it]. I would hope this might be one of the books on the Airport
bookstore's shelf.''

The book consists of 10 chapters cast in the metaphor that derived
from the 1869 football games between Rutgers and Princeton, in which
Rutgers won when Rutgers's rules were in place and vice versa
(p. v). The central message is that there are different rules at work
in different places even for the ''same'' activity, be it football or
business. To present the anatomy of miscommunication between Americans
and Japanese in the business context, the author starts with an
argument that different communication rules are used in these two
places, reflecting different modes of thinking. The author draws on
familiar examples such as English and Japanese versions of Aesop's
Fable, the American sitcom ''Blossom,'' and the movies ''The
Magnificent Seven'' and ''The Seven Samurai'' to show how Americans
and Japanese react to similar situations very differently. In this
first chapter that sets the ground for the rest of the book, two key
concepts are introduced to characterize American and Japanese modes of
communication, ''Equal Opportunity Independence'' for Americans and
''Others-Centered Interdependence'' for Japanese (both are the
author's own terms).

In chapter 2 the author seeks examples of Equal Opportunity
Independence and Others-Centered Interdependence manifested in the
linguistic systems of English and Japanese. These examples include the
use of pronouns, tenses, negation, and word order. In chapter 3 the
author moves beyond the sentence-level analysis and examines
pragmatics of naming, agreeing, disagreeing, thanking, and apologizing
comparing American and Japanese conventions. In this chapter the
concepts of Equal Opportunity Independence and Others- Centered
Interdependence are linked to a speaker-based American strategy
(Speaker Talk) and a listener-based Japanese strategy (Listener Talk)
of communication respectively. The author describes these different
modes of communication not just as facts of life but as sources of
misunderstanding between Americans and Japanese.

Starting with Chapter 4, a discussion centers more specifically on the
business context. First, the author examines typical patterns of
business practice in the U.S. and Japan in chapter 4. Once again, the
concepts of Equal Opportunity Independence and Others-Centered
Interdependence are mapped onto various contrasting aspects of
American and Japanese business practices. The whole point of this
chapter is that individualism is the centerpiece of American business
practice while relationships matter more than individuals in Japanese

Chapters 5 through 8 each present a number of contrastive strategies
of American and Japanese business communication that reflect
differences between Equal Opportunity Independence and Others-Centered
Interdependence, between Speaker Talk and Listener Talk, and between
individual- and team-oriented business practices. Chapter 5 discusses
the ''talk about talk'' (i.e., a prelude to a main topic)
communication strategy and the use of silence that are played out
differently in American and Japanese business conversations. Chapter 6
is about American and Japanese strategies of communicating their
points. The American strategy is, according to the author, more
straightforward and does not have to take into consideration what the
audience may be thinking. In contrast, the Japanese strategy is a more
subtle and roundabout one, shifting gears according to the listener's
reactions. Chapter 7 examines back-channel cues and turn-taking in
conversations and chapter 8 looks at the notions and practices of
teasing, praising, and repeating. The contrastive communication
strategies discussed in these chapters can create frustration and
conflict in cross-cultural communication without understanding the
rules of the game in the other field. The author sends a message
consistently that just knowing the other party's communicative
conventions makes a big difference in doing international business.

In chapter 9 the author steps away from a descriptive account of
various communication strategies and attempts to explain the sources
of American Speaker Talk and Japanese Listener Talk. The author argues
that behind these different styles of communication are different role
models cherished in the U.S. and Japan, that is, the American working
man who earns money for living versus the Japanese nurturing mother
who controls a household budget. According to the author, the ways
American and Japanese businesspeople--men or women-- communicate
reflect the images of their respective role models.

In chapter 10, the concluding chapter of the book, the author zooms
out from the scenes of American and Japanese behavior and
communication and touches on the more broader issue of identity and
its psychological implications that are manifested in the use of
language. Lastly, the author encourages readers ''to try to understand
American and Japanese communication and relationships in their own
right'' or ''to see the Americans and the Japanese for who they really
are'' (p. 147) which, according to the author, is the key to resolving
cross-cultural communication problems.


The book is highly readable, devoid of technical terms and full of
illustrative stories. As a native speaker of Japanese living in North
America for some time, I have observed many similar situations to the
ones included in the book. However, there are stories that have never
been my experiences such as the Japanese version of ''The Grasshopper
and the Ants'' that the author uses. Anecdotes are always based on
one's personal experiences and they are true in their own
right. However, how representative those personal experiences are is a
question that is not answered in the book but the critical reader may
wish to be answered.

Further, the quote (p. 62) from Chambers and Cummings's book on
Japanese-style recruiting that is deeply linked to the name values of
prestigious universities in the 1980s seems outdated. The economic
recession that began plaguing Japan since the early 1990s and the
reform movement of Japanese universities that also started in the
1990s have changed the attitude of Japanese companies and affected
their recruitment practice, placing more emphasis on what the
applicant can contribute rather than his or her educational
backgrounds. This prompts me to ponder which elements of
communication strategies in each culture are the variable and which
are the invariable in the dynamics of social changes (e.g., Japanese
children today receive instruction in debate skills at school and they
are encouraged to speak their minds; American-style law schools will
start in Japan in 2004, the result of which may lead to the spread of
the notion of protecting the individual's rights).

A problem of essentialism is inherent in any kind of comparative
work. ''Different Games Different Rules'' is no exception. The binary
articulation of American and Japanese communication strategies, which
is summarized usefully in the table or short prose at the end of each
chapter, can also be restrictive in that it allows the reader to
ignore or deny differences within the same culture. The author may
have wished at least to give a word of warning against this potential
pitfall that accompanies the process of essentializing.

To tell stories about Americans and Japanese, the author is generally
careful in supplying indicators that make it clear which is referred
to (e.g., using typical American and Japanese names; adding
''American'' and ''Japanese'' before such words as ''man'' and
''woman''). However, occasionally such indicators are missing, which
causes the reader to make a guess at the referent's identity. For
instance, there is a sentence on page 64, ''For example, a university
professor once told me about a Japanese student who came to him one
day and said, ''You will be my advisor.'' It is not difficult to infer
that this university professor is American. However, such explicitness
seems a requirement in English writing and I personally looked in vain
for a word identifying ''a university professor'' quite

The text is filled with Japanese words which the author apparently
believes are worth using in the original. The general practice is that
a Japanese word is given in italics with its English equivalent in
parentheses at its first appearance. After the first appearance, the
Japanese word is integrated in the English sentence in the regular
font style as if it were in the English vocabulary. This practice of
code-mixing could be frustrating for readers who have little knowledge
of the Japanese language.


Sufumi So teaches Japanese language courses and seminar courses on
second language acquisition in Department of Modern Languages at
Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, PA, USA. Her research
interests include the process and context of
Japanese-as-a-foreign-language writing and Japanese scientific
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