One of my Senpais (Senpai [先輩]: Senior), just out of the blue the other day showed me this image and asked me what would be my explanation. My answer is as below. I’ll try to be unbiased in explaining this.

Examples of two different emails, one from Japan and one from Singapore (Link to the original post)

Mock comparison of emails between Singapore & Japan
Examples of two different emails, one from Japan and one from Singapore

The short answer

There is a social template that the Japanese cannot defy due to some cultural and mental restrictions. Whilst the Singaporean email is free from the template, and value the output more than the form.

The long answer

Singaporian

I’ll explain the Singaporean mentality (western mentality) first.  

On a communication level
When communicating something, the value is mostly weighed on the most compact, logical reasoning, and the one that gives the facts straight, clear, and unbiased.  

On a cultural level
The time spent working is considered a limited asset for both sides. Each minute spent doing something that is not to the benefit of that time is considered not good. Hence both sides have a silent agreement to not interfere with each other’s time. Hence, such short emails have nothing to do with rudeness or any cultural restrictions, but with utmost respect.  

On a technical level
Email is considered as a “new tool” for communicating, in opposition to letters and oral communication. It is understandable that it has its own rules, its own freedom, and its own limitation.

Japanese

Japanese has been living alone in an isolated island for as long as history remembers, forming a very special structure and culture for communicating.  

On a communication level
Unlike the western counterpart, the weight is put on the “feelings” of the other party and finding the best way to give information without hurting them. So the way information is presented depends on who is presenting it and to who.  

On a cultural level
There are consequences for being received as rude or too direct. It’s a cultural norm to be indirect and overly polite when delivering information. Hence, having a lot of “unnecessary noise” is a part that cannot be removed. Time is also an important factor but it is one-sided, and the standard is different. By one-sided, I mean that the person receiving the email is the only person that is cared about. The sender should craft the email as much as possible to make it overly polite and easy to understand and follow (by Japanese standards).  

On a technical level
Email is considered as a substitute for letters and not an evolution. Meaning that the same rules apply, and the form has been slightly modified to suit the email.  

Conclusion

Email is an output of a deeper cultural complexity that makes it the way it is. If you are non-Japanese and receiving long email from Japan, don’t get angry, but try to explain to the Japanese counterpart that they can just be blunt and direct and you’ll be ok.


Cover photo by Volodymyr Hryshchenko on Unsplash


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