The Dark Side of Japanese Customer Service

The post below contains several wonderful insights about Japanese 気配り(Kikubari), which is sometimes translated as ‘sensitivity’ and made up of two component parts: ‘気(ki), energy’ and ‘配り(kubari), distribute/deliver.  Tying the two concepts together, you can imagine the strength of one’s sensitivity coming from them spreading their energy around to all the folks in their social network. Having said that, don’t get too caught up in the etymology of the words— one of my Japanese profs once cautioned me that “we don’t think like that” when I enthusiastically presented my analysis of a particular word.

Back to the article—getting these two words straight in my head helped me to see the positive side of kikubari, which is a common intercultural tripping point for foreigners working with Japanese folks.  To understand why, and to benefit from the insights of an American who lived in Japan for a long time, give the article a read. (bonus: the author starts the story with a wonderful anecdote on the occasional role of private English teachers as therapist).

Intercultural Twilight Zone

Back in my Japan university days I eked out a living teaching English conversation part time. Made just enough money to support a weekend gallivanting habit too. It was a hand-to-mouth bachelor existence, and I was having the time of my life.

But no gallivanting for me on Thursday evenings, when I’d rush off campus in Mitaka Tokyo, jump on the bus to Kichijoji Station where I’d take the Inokashira line to Shimokitazawa, then ride the Odakyu Express out to the Japanese boonies on the outskirts of Atsugi City. In all it took me two hours door to door.

My Thursday student was a Japanese doctor. Unlike my other doctor students whom I taught at the local hospital, Dr. Thursday wanted private lessons at his home, where we conspired every week to fake our way through an English lesson, sessions in which I mostly listened to his troubles and regrets…

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