Working for the Queen: A Reaction to Edwin R. McDaniel’s “Japanese Nonverbal Communication”: (I cannot correct the minor bug in the indentation)

As a clue to understand cultural motivation which is peculiar to Japanese society, McDaniel directs our attention to nonverbal interactions among Japanese people. Since every form of intercultural intercourses are taking place with a greater frequency in today’s world, individuals are asked to realize a level of awareness toward “cultural antecedents and motivations” which stipulate communicational conventions of each country. Employing a method established by M.E.Opler and J.K.Burgoon and J.L.Hale, McDaniel identifies and isolates “consistent themes” (1) such as Confucian-based collectivism, harmony, hierarchy, humility, and/or formality which he consider is conducive to thoroughly demonstrate what underlies Japanese relational communications. McDaniel introduces eleven propositions based on various past studies ranging from 1966 to 1998 (those tentative propositions deal respectively with “body language”, “eye contact”, “facial expression”, “space expectation”, and so on), through which several consistent cultural themes are directly rendered. In conclusion, McDaniel elaborates a couple of difficulties pertain to a wider application of his approach.

In order to explore and appreciate the formation of value system of a particular culture, McDaniel’s affirmative propositions are by no means discrediting. He lends his hands to encourage straightforward understanding of behavioural codes unique to Japan. However, his thematic study often skips essential information which, quite unreasonably are not likely to be fully appreciated by those who have no experience of visiting Japan or other East Asian countries. In other words, McDaniel’s propositional approach has a given number of imperfections that are resulted from his well-qualified design itself, which potentially provide openings for long been established inter-cultural misunderstandings and miscommunications.
For example, under proposition No.10 McDaniel explains; Instances of “ma” (silence) in Japanese discourse can impart a variety of messages, with the context supplying the actual meaning. He attributes this aspect of nonverbal interaction in part to “a general mistrust of spoken words.” (McDaniel 9) The argument should be more prim and neat provided that he is not addressing exclusively ones who are living in Japan. Since any other given cultures may collectively or not have some of “a general mistrust of spoken words”, representation of specific instances is needed; in this case, he could either give example or provide felt reliability of the source should one accept the above attribution.
For one, language teachers from foreign countries (especially from the “West”) often face uncomfortable silence or hardly determinable vocalics—one such interpretable into “um, uh…mmm…” It takes just two steps for an English Language Program in Japan to fall into the characteristic silence. 1) He or she begins the class with “hello, how are you?” The reply comes as a group. Scarcely the class begins to speak up how the last weekend was like. 2) The instructor asks whether they had finished assignments. ”Um, uh…mmm…” It is not unimaginable that a foreigner who is going to pay a first-time visit to Japan may well be unable to discern that this exactly is where [the] Japanese [students] are “drawing on” the “situational context”, and the protracted silence means that they/we are trying to “empathetically determine the needs of another person” (McDaniel 9). This type of wall of silence is rarely due to “a general mistrust of spoken words.”
McDaniel’s dynamic affirmations provide us with an entrance—through his succinct identification of themes—for a subtler appreciation of our own culture and positive alternate perspective for favorite view of shyness and lack of spontaneity among Japanese people. In comparison to the entire quality of his study, potency of the over-implications could possibly be ignoble. Still defects would only be construable to “defects” and unpardonable in the academic enclave; prerogative of the academy may lie in the process of the inquiry and its legitimacy, and not such that defendable without explication and sufficient communication of that process. Any scholar ought not take charge of this kind of hasty misconception. To strike a fair balanced intercourse, we must press forward with our investigation into the “difference” and its validity.


1. ”over-implications”: e.g. under Proposition No.3 McDaniel asserts; “A smile can indicate happiness or serve as a friendly acknowledgment.” “Alternatively, it may be worn to mask negative emotions, especially displeasure, anger, or grief.” Rather, I am angry about this because it is completely inaccurate. In my understanding, the smile could have meant “helplessness” or “dismay” or just because of “embarrassment” that is worn to avoid discord, and it is by no means “anger” nor “grief”. Such a usage does not exist in Japan.
2. Again, some more minor moderations would be desirable in order that keep away with potential inter-cultural preconceptions. E.g. under the “olfactices” we can see the following lines: “Although there is no supporting evidence, the near ritual tradition of frequent baths and the desire to refrain from personal offense corroborates this contention.” (JNC: A Review and Critique of Literature p.18) The “the” may have a less necessity today.
3. It can be inferred from his Conclusion that McDaniel may readily admit that weakness and strength of his work reside in the same place—that is, because of his assertive [propositional] style, wherein a possibility, I think, lie for a society or culture to become more open. The design like it or not assumes complementary role with the naiveté of Japanese psyche.


Edwin R. McDaniel Japanese Nonverbal Communication: A Reflection of Cultural Themes. 2006 Thomson Learning.