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Be Friends with the Toughest Audience in the World

How to Communicate with Japanese Audience

“Even a well-known seasoned public speaker can fail.”

Writer, mr Kazumasa Umemoto has specialized in medicine in speech pathology and audiology. He also is a seasoned toastmaster. In Japan there are 170 toastmaster clubs, so the art of speech is highly appreciated.

Writer, mr Kazumasa Umemoto has specialized in medicine in speech pathology and audiology. He also is a seasoned toastmaster and has visited finnish toastmaster clubs. In Japan there are 170 toastmaster clubs, so the art of speech is highly valued.

Some professional public speakers are afraid of losing their confidence by coming to Japan. Japanese communication culture seems to be very tough and different from the western one. Today let me tell you how to overcome the fear.

The origin of fear is that Japanese culture is unknown. It is believed that Japanese culture is totally different from western culture. Even a very seasoned public speaker can fail even when they have studied a lot about Japanese culture in advance. Some of them learn “Do’s and Don’ts in communication with Japanese.” And others try to learn from success and failure of others. Sometimes it works, but sometimes not. Why?

Let me tell you the secret: There is no absolute Do’s and Don’ts. In Japan, “KUUKI”, the air, mood or atmosphere, is the most important thing. What is amazing, is that the air changes very drastically from red to blue or yellow. You need to be able to read the air. Now let me explain how to be able to read the air: The air can change quickly. The first step for your really successful preparation is not memorizing do’s and don’ts but learning them as a mental picture, a mental movie, a story or a dramatic episode.

The closed society has modified people

Now please imagine the country of Japan like this: Japan is an island country. It is surrounded by Pacific Ocean and by Japan Sea. The wave is very high. You can’t get out the country easily. The mountains are also high. So, most of us start our lives in a village and end our lives there. It is a highly closed society where you can’t make a mistake. A mistake can be a fatal, so nobody wants to try first.

Traditional industry in Japan is agriculture, not hunting. We harvest rice, which makes it necessary for us to do the same thing together in line. We plant the rice seedlings in a line with the same pace, interval, and distance side by side. Then the plant will grow equally with equal sun light, equal amount of water and fertilizer. Equality is the most important thing. So we always watch right and left and make sure we are proceeding with the same pace.

Ancient samurai arts are still valued.

Ancient samurai arts are still valued.

Then in autumn, the harvest is over and crops are accumulated. Like other agricultural country, we have festivals where people drink, dance and sing like crazy. And sometimes we invade another village trying to double our harvest. We hire professional soldiers called Samurai to invade or to protect villages.

Now did you get the picture? The characteristic of Japanese is equality and harmony, also festival and war. If you are recognized as a coworker, you are protected. If you are recognized as an enemy, you are attacked.

Mental rehearsal drills

Once you have the mental picture, you get ready to make your presentation in Japan. Here are some mental rehearsal drills, some situations for your imagination.

1. The audience seems very reservedly, no reaction at all.

Firstly, you just do speak and expect audience just listen. You speak the outline of your speech logically and make their mental picture from planting to harvesting. Then you move to festival and war. Ask the audience stand up and shake hands and giving five to each other or make a fist with a fighting pose. When they are well aroused, you make the same speech with full emotion. “Let’s have a party.” or “Beat the enemy!”

2. The audience is shy and nobody ask questions.

Please recall that they are not shy among their neighbors. So make a small groups of four to eight people and have them decide their leaders for discussion and asking questions. Make sure that all the groups have to ask questions.

3. I have prepared some humor and jokes, but I’m not sure what kind of humor works for them.

If your humor is dry and modest like British one, you need to use it in logical mode of your speech. Then at first the audience just smiles or giggles silently. Your next step is to give them permission to laugh aloud. You show the example by laughing aloud to your joke. And tell them thank you for laughing. Then they will laugh just like you laughed. They are very good at imitation.

If your humor is bold and loud like Americans, please make sure that the audience is in festival mode. You need to give them enough worming ups.


Please remember that Japanese audience is always planting rice seedlings with their peers. You can adjust your speech by watching their eyes. If their eyes are moving sideways, right and left. They are adjusting their position. It is the warning sign. You need to apologize. “I’m sorry it was difficult. Let me explain in another way.” Once you show the attitude of surrendering they will not attack you. In Japan, an apology is not mean being defeated. It is just a polite expression of respect. Use it promptly without hesitation.

Your imagination is the key to success. Good luck. Be friend with the toughest audience in the world. Then you will be the greatest speaker on the earth.

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