Z What is "sincerity"?  by YAMAGISHI, K.

   Edward Sapir, the famous American linguist, writes in the beginning of the tenth chapter of his Language (Harcourt, 1921) as follows:

   Language has a setting. The people that speak it belong to a race (or a number of races), that is, to a group which is set off by physical characteristics from other groups. Again language does not exist apart from culture, that is, from the spocially inherited assemblage of practices and beliefs that determines the texture of our lives.

   This passage, especially the underlined part, best describes the "inseparableness" between language and culture. For example, Japanese often use such expressions as, Karewa [Kanojowa] nandemo hakkiri iisugirukara dooryookara kirawarerunda. A direct translation of this sentence would be, He [She] is disliked by the people he [she] works with, because he [she] says everything too clearly. The Japanese sentence suggests that in the Japanese culture things like "outspokenness," "straightfowardness," and "unreservedness" aren't well received. It also suggests that in the Japanese culture people are expected to guess how another person feels or to have the power or ability to share, understand and feel another person's feelings; this may be best called "empathy."

Different Culture, Different Connotations

   Since the Japanese word seijitsu is usually translated to "sincerity," there is sometimes misunderstanding between Japanese and English-speaking people. Ruth Benedict, in the eighth chapter of the Chrysanthemum and the Sword ('46), explains the difference with a good example. She cites a passage from Yoshio Makino's autobiography, which goes as follows:

   I visited upon one of the missionaries to whom I had more confidence than any other.I told him my intention to go to America in hope that he might be able to give me some useful information. To my great disappointment he exclaimed, 'What, you are intending to go to America?' His wife was in the same room, and they both sneered at me! I stood on the same point for a few seconds in silence, then came back to my room without saying 'goodbye.' I said to myself, 'Everything is quite finished.' On the next morning I ran away. Now I want to write the reason. I always believe that insincerity is the greatest crime in this world, and nothing could be more insincere than to sneer!

   The Japanese artist, Yoshio Makino, goes on writing that he always forgives the other's anger, because it is human nature to get into bad temper, and he generally forgives if someone tells him a lie, because human nature is very weak and very often a person can't have a steady mind to face the difficulty and tell the truth; that he also forgives if someone makes any groundless rumor or gossip against him, because it is a very easy temptation when some others persuade in that way; that he may forgive even murderers according to their condition. He definitely says, however, that he can't forgive a person who sneers; there's no excuse for sneering, because someone can't sneer at innocent people without intentional insincerity.
   Makino goes on defining the two words murderer and sneerer. To him, a murderer is a person who assassinates some human flesh and sneerer is a person who assassinates others' souls and hearts. To him, also, soul and heart are far more important than the flesh, therefore sneering is the worst crime. He thought that the missionary and his wife tried to assassinate his soul and heart, and he had a great pain in his heart. To Makino's reaction, Benedict, after saying that it is hard for Americans to realize the deadly seriousness that attaches to light remarks in Japan, writes, as follows:

   He had been 'assassinated,' as he felt, by the missionary's incredulity about a penniless provincial boy's going to the United States to become an artist. His name was besmirched until he had cleared it by carrying out this purpose and after the missionary's 'sneer' he had no alternative but to leave the place and prove his ability to get to America. In English it reads curiosity that he charges the missionary with 'insincerity'; the American's exclamation seems to us quite 'sincere' in our sense of the word. But he is using the word in its Japanese meaning and they regularly deny sincerity to anyone who belittles any person whom he does not wish to provoke to aggression. Such a sneer is wanton and proves 'insincerity.'

   This episode vividly describes the connotational difference of the Japanese word seijitsu and its equivalent English word "sincerity." We can say that what's considered sincere to the Americans isn't necessarily so to the Japanese. Benedict points out that the Japanese have no ethic which teaches that a man can't be insulted unless he thinks he is and that it's only 'what comes out of a man' that defiles him, not what is said or done against him. She also points out that the vulnerability of the Japanese to failures and slurs and rejections makes it all too easy for them to harry themselves instead of others. This is true. However, it's also true that even today's young Japanese will be able to understand Makino's feelings pretty well and sympathize with him.
   Foreigners who teach in Japanese colleges, universities, and many other places should know this connotational difference of the word seijitsu and its English equivalent "sincerity." Otherwise, they will be misunderstood by Japanese students, colleagues, or people they work with. And the same thing is true with the Japanese; they should know the real meaning of the word "sincerity." Otherwise, they will be misunderstood by non-Japanese people.