TooBen Creative Writing Column

TooBen Creative Writing Column

TooBen Creative Writing Based on Translation Column (4)

Is Japanese Grey Zone a Sign of Insincerity?

Alternatively named “uncertainty”, “indecisiveness”, “evasiveness”, “in-between area” or “neutralization”, the grey zone is a comfort zone for the Japanese. As I said in Economized Japanese Verbal Expressions, not speaking or being ambiguous keeps people in a relaxed, as-they-are state. The grey zone is similar to that state, in which you can indulge yourself in being wrapped up in a security blanket. The Japanese often use this state both passively and actively.

The Grey Zone As a Social Lubricant

Japanese people are infamous for not saying “No”. Some attribute this inability of explicit denial to the consideration of the other’s feelings when refused. That’s true, seen from the interhuman relation aspect. Namely, they replace a definite “No” with circumlocutions to insinuate how their answer is between “Yes” and “No”, or even their “No” is extremely close to “Yes”.

In other cases, they try to ‘grey’ or ‘airbrush’ their ownership of views and ideas by splurging less-confident-sounding phrases such as “It is said”, “It is natural to think”, or “I would think” (See The Ambiguity of the Japanese Language). Whereas it may aim to downplay their responsibility for presenting, e.g. revolutionary ideas, it sounds modest and helps moderate others’ intense negative feelings such as envy and rivalry. In the same way, they neutralize people’s compliments or praise for them. By doing so, they try to zero out their success or glory, which otherwise would invite others’ unfavourable emotions. As a peace-loving people, it’s not encouraging to be surrounded by a bunch of grumpy, jealous souls.

But Why Only Two Options?

Here, I have to touch upon another aspect of the grey zone. To do that, let’s see, again, the example of Japanese reluctance to say “No” because there’s the second reason: People are not comfortable with binary options: ‘Yes’ or ‘No’, ‘all’ or ‘nothing’.

So they have to stall, hedging and dodging a prompt answer while viewing the issue from all angles and perspectives. Such an attitude may look like a lack of sincerity, depriving precious time of the other party waiting for an answer. But, their intention is far from being insincere. On the contrary, it may be proof of utmost honesty and sincerity, making a perfect decision since it would be carved in stone once they answer. Except it may cause inconvenience on related parties.

But just think. Should all Yes-No answers be binary? Are things in the universe, in this world, so simple? Are your answers always so clearcut that you can reduce to either of the two? Of course, it’s efficient, convenient, simple, and straightforward if everything can be labelled by ‘Yes’ or ‘No’. But if you have to choose between those two options constantly, your world would be such a stressful one, as if you were in court and urged to answer only ‘Yes’ or ‘No’.

You can call it indulgence, laziness, or immaturity, but Japanese society is tolerant of greyness or may even be based on it. So, that’s why people often try to create or return to that sphere, where they can stop defining themselves and be allowed to be ‘grey’.

After all, a third option always lies in the in-between area of the two extremities. In other words, the grey zone is home to infinite possibilities, which you can explore and tap into inspiration once you allow it to exist.

 Since March 2006. Last update July 27, 2021. Copyright (C) Tuben. All rights reserved.