Japanese Resting in Silence

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Japanese Resting in Silence

Japanese Resting in Silence

In Japanese culture, a strong emphasis on silence permeates throughout society. The concept of Chinmoku, or silence, has great cultural value in day to day Japanese life. One of the first distinctions a visitor to Japan will notice in comparison with most places in the world will be that Japanese people are generally very careful about how they communicate verbally. This often gives the appearance of low levels of verbal communication wherever people are gathered. Why? Chinmoku can be attributed to the substantial Zen Buddhist emphasis which teaches that silence in communication tends to lend one to truthfulness. Japanese society, therefore, views silence as a highly favorable trait to the point where almost every traditional art has a period of quiet reflection included therein. Knowing how as well as when to be silent is key to Japanese life.

In America, a popular saying about talking too much is quoted as follows,

“Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak and remove all doubt.”

The Japanese people take this to a serious level by carefully applying it to the group setting. By limiting verbal communication it is thought that group harmony is increased with fewer chances of conflict with other people occurring. Also, it is important in Japanese culture to be aware of who is around you in the realm of social hierarchy and thereby limiting what is said so as to show respect to those in a ‘higher’ social rank.

How can Chinmoku impact missionary work within the Japanese culture? On the positive side, Chinmoku can be of great importance when trying to understand people because ideally they will say only what is most important or will use more time to communicate in the best possible way. However, on the negative side, Chinmoku can be used to hide true intentions, feelings, or be used to be particularly vague so as to not cause offence. Since silence can be used to avoid conflicts in Japan, there can be great pressure to avoid talking about or even preaching about certain topics in the Bible. Also, such is the extent of Chinmoku in society, that if crime or bullying occurs in public many times Japanese people will simply ignore it or remain silent about what goes on. Silence can also be used to end relationships or show disdain. Because Westerners place more emphasis on direct communication they can be frustrated by the Japanese emphasis on silence! Please pray for us as we navigate this Chinmoku culture!

japanese culture series part 9 resting in silence



Read the Japanese Culture Series from the beginning.


12 Comments so far:

  1. We could stand to learn a lot from the Japanese in this area of silence. I’m convinced we often miss the Spirit’s still small voice because we don’t know how to silence ourselves. For some time, I have felt God calling me to a quieter lifestyle overall. This post is so important, and thank you for the research you put in to write it.

    • javon says:

      You are so on top of it, Traci! Learning how to live in quietness is hard for all of us. This is a definite characteristic of the Japanese culture I appreciate. The Quiet Revolution is a great inspiration to me and I’d recommend it to anyone wanting to strive toward peace in life, as long as it’s rooted in our one true God. Too much silence can also be hard for ministries to properly communicate with the community. We are always growing and changing for which I am so thankful.

  2. Inge says:

    Japanese culture speaks to the imagination and being silent seems like a great thing to do at many times. I could it enjoy it if more people would try this activity back home 🙂 In Western countries, people tend to be extremely loud and your fantastic quote is so true! Great post!

  3. Bianca says:

    I just got back from Japan and noticed this the minute I got on the train to Tokyo. You see signs and there are announcements about talking on your cell phone etc. You really only heard the tourists talking on the trains unless it was 11 or so on a Friday. I definitely liked the peace and quiet in the public places, even when people were talking it was easy to hear the people you were with because the volume level is manageable.

  4. Wow, what a difference this is from my culture. I would do well to incorporate a bit more ‘silence’ in my life and I’m sure the Japanese are seeing many benefits from this. I can see how this could pose some challenges for those not aware of the cultural nuances so I’m glad you’re doing your part to educate others on this, Javon. Thank you!
    Blessings to you,
    Marva | SunSparkleShine

    • javon says:

      Thanks, Marva! I do really have a heart for sharing what I have learned to help others better navigate this culture for the sake of the gospel and a love for others. Seeing uneducated Americans acting disrespectful reminds me of how important it is to share we’ve learned. Since often they have no idea how they are being perceived by the locals. And maybe they don’t care, but if they do care this is a way I have chosen to help.

      And yes, I think we could all do with a larger dose of silence or quietness every day.

  5. This is interesting. It explains why, “So noisy!” is often used in a negative connotation in manga, even when the character is being nosy rather than loud. I will definitely be praying for you.

  6. This is very interesting to me. We lived in Singapore for about 3.5 years where the Chinese custom of “face” permeated the culture. Similar in the fact that people avoided conflict using this custom. So much so though that it was difficult to communicate because basically they used “face” to avoid saying “no” in any situation. So, if I had an appointment and they needed to change it, they would not cancel or tell me that they could not come, but would rephrase themselves and say, “so we will be coming on Monday, yes?” I would then know, after much trial and error, that they couldn’t come and needed to reschedule. I like the idea of silence in many aspects because we are such a noisy society, and non reflective in many circumstances, but I completely understand that it runs much deeper than that. My husband traveled to Japan a lot, and told me a lot about it, but I don’t think he was there enough to pick up on this. I love sites like yours that bring other cultures to life. Travel and living abroad is amazing! Thank you!!!

    • javon says:

      Thanks so much for sharing your experiences with Asian culture, Stephanie. I love hearing about what others have seen and experienced during their moments overseas. Just like your struggles with appointments, it took me awhile before I learned that when you are asked to “come in” or “join us” it’s almost an obligation and they are rarely actually wanting you to do those things. After some time, I’ve learned to express my confusion and to ask for clear responses which has helped a lot. But I have learned the general rule of thumb is to decline an invitation 2-3 times before accepting, which is the societal norm.

  7. Zoe H says:

    This was interesting to find out. I wasn’t aware that they even had the term ‘chinmoku’ to describe this silence culture. I was aware that Japanese people are more controlled over their volume of speech, and how much they speak, but was unaware that they took it to such a level as to practice silence in a public environment. No wonder foreigners are seen as loud!
    I am looking forward to experiencing a quieter culture when I visit Japan this year for the first time. Noise can prohibit you from having a mental break from a life of hustle and bustle, and is why meditation is so important. Hopefully I will find that I become and feel much calmer during my trip.
    I will have to show this to my friends who are planning to visit Japan this year… they definitely won’t be able to control their excitement and volume levels while in Japan, oops.

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