Nonverbal language is prevalent in all societies. The way people carry themselves, their body language, and the social cues they give are mere nuances and are not overt. This noverbal language, or paralanguage as it is also called, is different among cultures and especially so in the Japanese culture. What is a nonthreatening gesture in one culture may be seen as an inappropriate gesture in another culture. It is only through the examination of the culture that one can gain a better sense of what that culture’s values are and how they convey they values through nonverbal gestures. The difference between the Japanese and American culture shows itself in those society members’ nonverbal language. The paralanguage of the Japanese is decidedly different from the paralanguage of Americans. There are many examples of paralanguage. Chief among them is facial expression. It is what we first see when we look at a person, so its countenance conveys a lot of meaning. In Japanese culture, as in most Asian cultures, they are not overly expressive with their facial expressions, and, in fact, even “suppress” them (Reed). The eyes are an important part of conveying emotion and thought, and Americans value eye contact, also called orculesics, when talking with someone (Klatka). However, the Japanese will not make eye contact when talking as they see this as a sign of respect, and they may elect to glance sideways at the person while Posture is an important indicator of rank in Japan. The Japanese bow to each other to show respect and to delineate between classes (Reed). In the United States, however, the act of bowing is nonexistent and is even met with ridicule or criticism (Reed).
Gestures such as pointing have different meaning for the Japanese and Americans. Most Americans point with one finger, something which the Japanese would consider to be rude (Reed). Instead, the Japanese use their whole hand to point (Reed). Touching is a paralanguage that has many nuances and meanings, but in the Japanese culture it is very specific. For example, in the United States it is common for people to shake hands, and for those who are more close in a relationship, hugging and kissing in public is often seen (Klatka). However, in Japan and other Asian countries, they view touch as inappropriate-even between parents and children (Reed).
Other aspects of paralanguage include “vocal characterizers” such as belching, yawning, crying, laughing, etc (Reed). In America, it is considered rude to belch or yawn in public. In America, laughing and giggling indicates a positive emotion whereas in Japan, giggling signals embarrassment (Reed). Vocal qualifiers such as “volume, pitch, rhythm, tempo, and tone” has significance in the Japanese culture (Reed). If someone shouts in Japan, it means that he has lost control, so the Japanese hardly ever yell for fear of making others think that they are out of control (Reed). In America, shouting can indicate a number of things: fear, disgust, joy, etc.
Paralanguage encompasses any and all nonverbal cues including the voice and how we use it. It can lend itself to misinterpretation or it can serve to underscore a point we are trying to make in conversation. The thing to remain cognizant of is the fact that these non verbal cues are sometime so imperceptible that they may go unnoticed on the conscious level but will still register on the subconscious level. We must also remain aware of the differences in cultures when trying to interpret these nonverbal cues. The Japanese and Americans tend to interpret these clues in a vastly different manner. In order to bolster global relationships, it is important to understand paralanguage.

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  • Klatka, Stan. “Cross-Cultural Communications: Paralanguage and Body Language-Part 1.”  Cross-Cultural Communications: Paralanguage and Body Language-Part 1. Intermart, Inc., 2016. Web. 13 Apr. 2016. .
  • Reed, Marilyn. “Nonverbal Communication Modes.” Washington State University, 2016. Web. 13 Apr. 2016. .