Readers in Council,
The JapanTimes, 5-4, Shibaura 4-chome,
Minato-ku, Tokyo 108-0023
I am unsurprised that despite my many years in Japan I am still Mr. Western Man in my reactions to Takeshi Suzuki's October 6, 2004 response ("Straightforward handicaps") to my September 12, 2004 letter "Vagueness hinders communication." While I fully understand his critique of my position on the merits/demerits of vagueness in language, I totally disagree with almost everything he said.
Despite Suzuki's claim that the structural vagueness of the Japanese language "is not an evil thing that prevents Japanese people from communicating smoothly with each other," I maintain my position that it is exactly that, that Japanese do not and never have experienced smooth communication, and that linguistic ambiguity contributes to their reputation in the world for moral depravity. One of the trademarks of Japanese culture is the comic insistence that there is harmony and consensus here despite the profound paucity of exactly these qualities.
As to his comments about the litigiousness of Western societies - and American society in particular - I suggest that people there are litigious not because they do not understand each other so much as because they do not agree with each other which, I repeat, are not the same. I agree with him that "profound disharmony is everywhere in those [Western] countries." But so what?
People who do not say what they mean and mean what they say are not to be trusted. I disagree with Suzuki's idea that the best possible communication requires a mix of verbal clarity and ambiguity. If one feels the need for deliberate obfuscation, then simple silence might be a more efficient strategy, achieving the same result with greater economy.