The Art of the Japanese Argument
Written by Jeff

How do Japanese argue?

Learn how to spot a Japanese mad at you!

Explicit expressions of anger is frowned upon in Japan (just like every other emotion?).

Any open palmed slapping or fist fights are out of the question in Japan, and even openly shouting in public is a rare occurrence. As a result, many expressions of negative emotions tend to come out as extremely minor, passive-aggressive or just downright petty. It may be hard to catch on to some of these straight away, so let’s have a look at the list, shall we?

1 - The Plain Bento

This first one to come up is quite the internet sensation. Various Japanese men have uploaded photos of the packed lunches their wives have given them during a fight.

This tiny retaliation is so petty that you really can’t help but find it cute that they tried it at all.

The fact that they got a packed lunch at all is proof of the mediocrity of their quarrel, and is sure to bring a good laugh in later years rather than be remembered as a part of a tiny lovers quarrel rather than a full out fight.

Now, that one is just a lot of effort for someone you’re supposedly angry at:

2 -The False Acceptance

This one is more for an argument in the boardroom, as it is not so much an expression of anger, but a denial of an idea during an ‘argument’. Seeing as people feel a need to maintain their image within a company, no matter how stupid they find a comment or idea, they would very rarely flat-out reject it, or address it as so. 

Rather, what they would say is “that’s a great idea”, and then follow up with “but if we did that , there may be a risk of <insert reason here>.” or “We could even build on that and do <put completely different idea here>”. If this happens, don’t try to keep pushing your idea, as it is clear that they are not seriously considering it.

Flat out acceptance or denial of a person’s ideas or comments is considered taboo in Japan, and any boardroom meetings tend to go around in circles with people never explicitly voicing complete support or denial for ideas. But beware, as if you piss off a superior, they too may not choose to voice their concern with your behaviour, but rather slowly give you less work and opportunities, and try to make you leave the company of your own volition.

3 - The Pronoun Change

If your boss or wife/ girlfriend suddenly stops calling you whatever they’re used to, and suddenly begins with ‘Omae sa…’ or ‘Anta sa….’, there’s a 90% chance that you f*cked up somehow.

Simply changing the pronoun for ‘you’ from ‘Kimi’ etc. to ‘anta’ or ‘omae’ is usually seen as a bad sign, and is a prelude to the mountain of complaints headed your way.

4 - The Tongue Rolling

This is the game ender. If someone near you starts rolling their ‘r’ sounds, they are imitating (or in some cases reverting back to) the gangsters and thugs from the Kansai Region.

If done out loud, then yes it is easy to spot, but sometimes this can be done under their breath, which arguably makes it even more intimidating. Most of the time, when this is done, it’s to express a point or done in jest, so it can be misleading. However, if their facial expression seems serious, then I suggest you take a quick but hard look at what you may have done to piss them off. 

Similar to this, is if they suddenly start talking in their own native dialect. Most people in Tokyo would try to hide their dialect as they don’t want to be seen from the countryside, but get them riled up enough and they may just forget the pretense and let you have it with nothing held back.


Now that you know, so what?

As foreigners, no.2 and 3 can easily go unnoticed by us, which leave us vulnerable to any fuses we may continue to light further down the road. Once you see any of these actions being played out, be on your guard, and don’t do anything stupid.

Living in Japan can be difficult, but at least you won’t get physically b*tch slapped like in some other countries...or at least in public anyways.