Low and High Context Cultures ~Why does it matter in Japan? 『ハイコンテクスト文化とローコンテクスト文化 ~何故日本で重要なのか?』

Before I came to Japan, I lived in America. One of the first things I noticed is that there was a major difference in the styles of communication between Japanese and American people. Today, I would like to think about these difference through the concept of  ‘Low-Context Culture’ and ‘High-context culture’.


What is “Low and High Context Cultures?” ~『ローコンテクスト・ハイコンテクスト文化とは?』

“A high-context culture relies on implicit communication and nonverbal cues. In high-context communication, a message cannot be understood without a great deal of background information. ~A low-context culture relies on explicit communication. In low-context communication, more of the information in a message is spelled out and defined.”  – Neese, Brian, Southeastern University, 17 Aug. 2016



The concept of High and Low Context cultures was first discussed by an American Anthropologist Edward T. Hall in 1976, in his book ‘Beyond Culture’. The term ‘context’ refers to fundamental elements of communication, such as language, value, ideology and logic.

『ハイコンテクスト文化・ローコンテクスト文化』の概念は、アメリカの人類学者エドワード・T・ホール氏による1976年の著作Beyond Culture』で初めて議論されました。ここでいう『コンテクスト』とは、ある文化のコミュニケーションの基礎となる言語・価値観・イデオロギーや論理のことを指します。

In a high-context culture, one’s message is not necessarily spoken by words; they are implied through nonverbal elements such as gestures, facial expression or tone of voice. If one wants to fully understand the nuances of a conversation, he/she must have a thorough understanding of the non-verbal communication style. Therefore, this type of communication is based on trust and close relationship. On the other hand, in a low context culture, all the messages are conveyed in the verbal cues, and nonverbal cues are much less relevant compared to that of high-context culture.


Why Does It Matter in Japan?


As a tendency, Japan is referred to as a high-context culture, whereas America is referred to as a low-context culture. When one move from one culture to another, it may be challenging for them to establish a meaningful communication, because different skills are required depending on the culture. For instance, in a high-context culture, the listener must be aware of the body language and the facial expression of the speaker, and must make an effort to understand the real intention. In a low-context culture, in contrary, the speaker must structure their verbal cue clearly and logically, so that the message doesn’t need to rely on nonverbal means.

This difference in the communication culture can become an obstacle when it comes to intercultural communication. As a foreigner living in Japan, I find it quite challenging to adapt to the ‘high-context’ element of this country’s communication custom; from time to time, I fail to understand what people really intend, or even misunderstand them. It seems quite vital for us to be aware of this concept when it comes to interacting with people with different backgrounds.








・Neese, Brian. “Intercultural Communication: High and Low Context Cultures.” Southeastern University, 17 Aug. 2016, online.seu.edu/high-and-low-context-cultures/.




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