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Understanding Cultural Nuances:Navigating Indonesian and Japanese Communication in Learning Japanese

In order for the Japanese language learning process to be more directed and to reduce communication misunderstandings between speakers of Indonesian and Japanese, Indonesian speakers need to understand the cultural differences between Indonesia and Japan in the process of learning Japanese.


According to Erin Meyer, a Professor in Business Management Organization and a cross-cultural expert at INSEAD, in her book titled 'The Culture Map', miscommunication between people from different countries with similar goals is not only caused by mistranslation issues but also due to cultural differences and societal mindset.


Erin Meyer identified 8 indicators of cultural differences among countries:

1.      Communication: low or high contextual levels.

2.      Evaluation and Criticism: providing criticism directly or indirectly.

3.      Leadership: hierarchical or egalitarian concepts.

4.      Decision-Making: whether it's consensual or taken hierarchically from top to bottom.

5.      Relationships: centered on individual trust or based on professional job orientation.

6.      Expressing Disagreement: doing it directly or indirectly.

7.      Time Concept: linear or flexible time usage.

8.      Influencing Ideas: specific or holistic approaches.


From these eight indicators, Erin Meyer's research mentioned two significant differences between Indonesia and Japan in the fourth and seventh indicators. Additionally, there is a small difference in the fifth concept.


The author, who has been involved in the Japanese language for about 15 years in both work and education, emphasizes the importance of understanding communication styles in decision-making and the concept of time when learning Japanese.


From personal experience, the author also encountered communication problems when communicating with Japanese people using the Japanese language, especially regarding time. For example, the author, as a native Indonesian speaker, says, "I finished it yesterday." The Japanese counterpart hearing this said, "Yesterday, you were with me all day in a meeting; I'm sure you didn't do that yesterday." This is where a misunderstanding of time communication occurs. Contextual time for the author, who comes from an Indonesian language background, doesn't emphasize time persistence when speaking. This is reflected in the word "yesterday" for the author as a native Indonesian speaker, which can mean 2 days ago, 1 week ago, 1 month ago, or even 1 year ago. However, for the Japanese, with a linear time mindset, they emphasize highly persistent time communication.


In another aspect, this difference is also reflected in personal or collective decision-making styles. For example, when the author plans to purchase items online through a Japanese online portal from a Japanese speaker, the author makes the purchase without prior request, causing discomfort for the Japanese speaker due to the lack of prior communication for the purchase request.


By understanding these differences, Indonesian speakers can benefit in the Japanese grammar learning process, especially in polite grammar or indirect speaking styles in Japanese.


Therefore, although grammar and language formulas can be learned through books, the learning process will be smoother if there is a mentor who understands the nuances of the language. With more than 15 years of experience in learning Japanese, Merry Sensei can be the right option to guide in understanding Japanese grammar along with nuances in Japanese grammar.


Data Source:

Erin Meyer. 2014. The Culture Map, United States: Public Affairs.

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