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Review of  Different Games, Different Rules

Reviewer: Sufumi So
Book Title: Different Games, Different Rules
Book Author: Haru Yamada
Publisher: Oxford University Press
Linguistic Field(s): Sociolinguistics
Anthropological Linguistics
Subject Language(s): English
Issue Number: 14.1891

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Date: Mon, 07 Jul 2003 13:57:56 -0400
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.

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 business.

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

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 subconsciously.

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.

ABOUT THE REVIEWER 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 writing.