Japan Society of Fairfield County

Culture Watch, Society Watch (7)
by Dr. Ikuko Anjo Jassey

      Recently we expanded our master bathroom and added a small sitting room attached to our bedroom. During the time when this project was progressing, I had a fascinating "first-hand" linguistic and cultural experience. In Japan, to admit a fault bravely is considered a virtue.  We all know anyone can make a mistake; therefore, Japanese people buy the person's honesty when he/she admits a fault and apologizes for his/her words or actions. (Oh, well, the world of politics and diplomacy is a different story.) In the United States, however, honesty is not considered necessarily the best policy.
      One day I noticed that one of the saddles for the bathroom entrances was a wooden saddle, though we had given our carpenter two granite ones.  So I asked him, who was our builder's elder brother, why he did not use the granite one.  "Oh, it's just a temporary one.  I'll place the granite saddle later," he replied.  I didn't question why he did not use it in the first place, because I assumed that he, as a carpenter, must have had a better idea.  During the next two weeks, the frames of the door as well as all the tiles of the bathroom were installed; however, the wooden saddle had not yet been replaced with the granite one, which fact provoked me to question the reason.  This time he said casually, "That one broke."  He said it as if the granite saddle had committed suicide, jumping out from his hands without listening to his desperate call.  Thus, a beveled mirror of the cabinet for our second-floor bathroom also committed suicide with the carpenter's abetment.  In both cases, the carpenter never said even a word about his breaking those materials until we finally asked.  Besides, we never heard him say, "Sorry."  On the other hand, if a Japanese carpenter broke your property, he is expected to say, "Sorry" immediately, and he will do so deferentially.  Furthermore, in order to take the responsibility of his action, he will make clear who broke it by saying, " I broke it by mistake."  I assure you that a Japanese carpenter would not say "it" broke as if the object itself were responsible for the damage.
       I have no intention to judge which cultural value is desirable.  I am fully aware that what our carpenter did was not unusual in American culture. In this lawsuit society, what he could do as an emergency measure was to avoid referring to who did it in order to evade his responsibility. By the way, our builder eventually sent us a bill of two hundred thirty dollars for the new mirror, regardless of being notified that it was his brother who had broken our mirror! 
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