Ba no kuuki wo yomu
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A common phrase “Ba no Kuuki wo Yomu”(場の空気を読む), “understanding the situation without words” or “sensing someone’s feelings”, is a very important concept for understanding Japanese culture. The literal meaning is “reading air”. Because of this cultural trait, many foreign visitors feel that Japanese are very kind and thoughtful towards them during their short stay in Japan. But at the same time, understanding “reading air” and practicing it in daily life is very difficult, especially for those who were not raised in Japanese society.
Sensing and practicing “Ba no Kuuki wo Yomu” is considered social manners or social intelligence in Japan. Unlike the individualistic and expressive cultures in Western countries, people in Japan are expected to think collectively, understand situations without need for explanation and behave based on their position accordingly. If you do not “read air” in business, you are not only unable to become a successful business person, but you will also find it hard to function as an employee in an organization.
Collective team work in rice farming and the islands’ geographical location may have developed “Ba no kuukio wo Yomu” culture in Japan. The ability of “Sensing someone’s feelings” generates thoughtfulness in Japanese culture and “understanding the situation without words” can contribute to build strong organizations in business. On the other hand, however, “Ba no Kuuki wo Yomu” may quell unique individual ideas, promote authoritarianism and reject those who do not follow the practice.