Y Thinking in Their Own Way (2)  by YAMAGISHI, K.
   Last time I wrote that Japanese people are expected to thank the person for what he or she did for them even if there was a long passage of time. So, it is quite natural for Japanese English learners to write and use English sentences such as "Thank you very much for many things you did for me at that time [then]. " / "Thank you very much (about) the other day." These are direct translations from the Japanese expressions "Sonosetsuwa iroiroto osewani nari arigatoo gozaimashita." / "Senjituwa arigatoo gozaimashita." To English-speaking people, sentences such as "Thank you very much for the nice [wonderful] present you gave me the other day." would sound natural, since the writer or speaker is specific about what he or she is thanking for. (However, if you write it as "Thank you very much for the nice [wonderful] thing of the other day," it would be unacceptable.)

Further to Refer to the Past

   In the Japanese language or culture, there are many other exprressions used to refer to the past. When a Japanese businessman meets his American business partner again a week or so later, for example, he may greet the partner, saying something like "Sorry about the other day." These greetings are direct translations from the Japanese greetings "Konoaidawa shitsurei itashimashita."or "Senjitsuwa shitsurei itashimashita." These greetings are "a must" for the Japanese. The Japanese might even say, "I'm afraid I did something awful to you last time [the other day]." Clearly, these sentences are strongly influenced by the Japanese way of thinking. And beyond doubt, these sentences are strange to "native" English speakers. To the Japanese, however, they sound quite natural and make sense; to them, the past is as important as the present. That's why the Japanese often refer to the past and say things like the above.

Apologizing Instead of Thanking

Ruth Benedict writes in The Chrysanthemum and the Sword as follows:

   In English sumimasen is translated 'Thank you,' 'I'm grateful,' or 'I'm sorry,' 'I apologize.' You use the word, for instance, in preference to all other thank-you's if anyone chases the hat you lost on a windy street. When he returns it to you politeness requires that you acknowledge your own internal discomfort in receiving. 'He is offering me an on I feel guilty about it but I feel better if I apologize to him. Sumimasen is probably the commonest word for thank-you in Japan. I tell him that I recognize that I have received on from him and it doesn't end with the act of taking back my hat. But what can i do about it? We are strangers.' (Chap. 5)

   Probably few Japanese today would use the word "sumimasen" being aware of its origin; they would use it, simply because they think it's a verbal practice to be followed. It is a fact, though, that even today the Japanese use the English phrase "I'm sorry," (which must be a mistranslated form of "sumimasen" in the meaning of "thank you very much") where English- speaking people use "thank you very much." For example, when a Japanese businessman (who has not yet had "native" or "near-native" fluency) thanks an American business partner for taking time to go to his office, he might say something like "I'm sorry you had to come all the way to my office." or "I'm sorry for taking a lot of your time." Without doubt, these examples are unnatural in English. "Native" speakers would probably say "Thank you (very much) for taking your time to come here [to my office]."

When Asking Guidance or Advice

   In a business letter or a greeting card, people from English-speaking countries may see Japanese people write: "I hope that you will favor me with your continued guidance and advice," (influenced by the Japanese "Kongotomo goshidoo gobentatsunohodo, yoroshiku onegai itashimasu"). Or, in a letter of self-introduction, they might see him write:"Since I'm still inexperienced, I need that you favor me with your guidance and advice," (influenced by the Japanese "Madamada mijukumonodesunode, goshidoo gobentatsuwo yoroshiku onegai mooshiagemasu.").

When offering Help

   In a business letter or a greeting card, people from English-speaking countries might see Japanese people write: "If the likes of me could be of any assistance to you, I'm always ready to help you," (influenced by the Japanese "Watakushino yoona monode oyakuni tatsunodeshitara, itsudemo yorokonde otetsudai itashimasu"). Or, "Though my efforts may be small [humble], I'm happy I can help you," (influenced by the Japanese "Oyobazunagara otetsudai sasete itadakimasu").

Need the Patience of Job?

   I'm afraid that many people from English-speaking countries must have seen or heard this kind of "Japanese English" many times, and many of them must have gotten sick and tired of it. I hope they won't be offended with us Japanese and Japanese English. I hope that they'd consider it amusing or funny, since it usually reflects the mental and emotional state of the Japanese and they can read the feelings and intentions of the Japanese through it.
   Certainly, we Japanese have to learn how to change our way of looking at the English-speaking world and the way of thinking and interacting of the English-speaking people. What we need today and tomorrow is "cultural flexibility," (from time to time, perhaps "the Patience of Job." Human beings who happened to be on the same boat, named "the Earth," must learn to be flexible towards value differences and appreciate people from different cultures.