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  • Juju Kurihara

Japanese saying - Uso mo Houben

Updated: May 10, 2023

This morning I was reading The Japan Times and an article caught my eyes. "Are Japanese just more honest about lying?" Japanese people are known for hard workers, being serious and kind but apparently they lie a lot, ranked the fourth in the world. Very interesting.

When I was small, I had a classmate who lived relatively close to my house and my parents were friends of her parents. We often came home together. One day, she told me to come over to her house directly from school. I phoned home to ask permission. My father told me to tell her that I had a swimming class and couldn´t come to her house. I thought it was strange because I didn´t go to any swimming club back then. But my father insisted. So I did. In the same afternoon, her mother rang my father and told him that she didn´t know I started a swimming lesson and asked him which club I went. My father sort of blamed me for not having convinced my friend about the swimming class. At 6 years old, I faced to a dilemma.

uso 3

Smoothing the situation is somehow very important in the Japanese society. Japanese people constantly care about other people´s feeling and even the language is structured in that way. For example, Yes and No. In many European languages, yes and no are according to the fact. Your friend says, "it won´t rain today". You have seen a weather forecast or even you haven´t, if you think it won´t, you say to your friend, "No, it won´t rain today" and if you think it will, "Yes, it will rain today".

But in Japanese, it´s not according to the fact but according to what the other person says. If you think it won´t rain, it means what your friend says is correct, therefore you say, "Yes, it won´t rain today" then if it will, "No (you are wrong), it will rain today".

Perhaps this too much consideration for others makes Japanese people justify lying. People are more worried about making people upset or hurting them than thinking that lying is bad. And to avoid that tension, they lie.

uso 4

As soon as I moved to London, I worked in a primary school. There I learned the different concept toward "lying". Children would be really upset when other called them a liar. In Japan, it´s so common saying, "uso!" when you hear something that you can´t believe. Once at the beginning of learning English, I said, "that´s a lie" to an English friend. She got angry and told me that she wasn´t a liar. I didn´t know why she was so angry at first but then I had learned that the word "lie" in the western world is much heavier than in Japan.

Another example. A German friend and her husband invited their Japanese friend for dinner. They made some German dish. German cuisine can be a little heavy comparing to the Japanese food. The Japanese guest seemed to be struggling. My frined asked the guest if she liked the food. She answered, "Possible eat". My friend and her husband got frozen. They looked at each other and tried to understand the meaning of this answer. Luckily they had been in Japan and had more understanding towards Japanese culture. They weren´t offended. But she said, "if she was a westerner, it´d be a quite rude response".

Despite of her poor English, she was trying to be polite. Although it wasn´t her taste, she appreciated the effort of this German couple to prepare dinner for her. I assume that this Japanese girl didn´t like the food but it´s rude to say in Japan, so she only said, "possible eat" in a sense of "I can eat it". Now this story makes the German couple laugh and they even use this phrase as a joke. But my friend also said that she wondered why the Japanese girl couldn´t just be honest.

Uso mo Houben, was this Japanese guest used in order to avoid hurting the German couple. But as a result, people think Japanese people are not honest. True, they are not honest to their own feelings either. This isn´t something they learn at school but this is how Japanese people tend to live. Maybe they don´t even feel they are lying and being ranked fourth to be liar is quite a surprise for them.

You can read the article in The Japan Times from HERE.

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