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Haragei (腹芸 or はらげい) is a form of rhetoric that is intended to express real intention and true meaning through implication.[1] This form of implicature is known as Haragei in Japan where it appears as a concept in interpersonal communication and martial arts. Literally translated, the term means "stomach art", and it refers to an exchange of thoughts and feelings that is implied in conversation, rather than explicitly stated.[2] In some societies, it can also denote charisma or strength of personality.[3] In Western literature, the essence of the difference between just talking and really communicating through silence is analyzed in Harold Pinter’s The Dumb Waiter.[4]

Most people use, almost without thought and without question, the processes which have been handed down to them as part of their cultural heritage. This is particularly true in hierarchical, authoritarian societies where approved practices are not challenged, but in any society decision-making processes tend to become a fixed and unthought-of part of the culture.[5] However, many Japanese still consider it difficult for non-Japanese, particularly Westerners, to fully understand so incorrectly see implicature as uniquely Japanese.[2]

In negotiation, haragei is characterised by euphemisms, vague and indirect statements, prolonged silences and careful avoidance of any comment that might potentially give offense.[6] Information is communicated through timing, facial expression and emotional context, rather than through direct speech.[7] Takie Lebra identified four dimensions of Japanese silence - truthfulness, social discretion, embarrassment and defiance.[8] It is sometimes considered a duplicitous tactic in negotiation to obfuscate one's true intentions, and so is often viewed in the West with suspicion;[9] It can also be misconstrued by those with limited experience in the tactic. An often-cited but fallacious example is President Nixon's supposed misinterpretation of Sato Eisaku's comments in 1970. During a dispute over textile imports, Eisaku allegedgly responded to Nixon's request for assistance in limiting Japanese exports by saying, "Zensho itashimasu" (lit. "I will do my best"). To Eisaku, this was an indirect way of saying, "no" (since to do so directly would have been contrary to the principles of haragei); however Eisaku did not understand that Nixon took it as a promise of assistance.[6] However, the records show that the phrase "Zensho itashimasu" was never used, and Eisaku actually said "Watashi wa chikau" ( "I swear" ) and "Shinjite hoshii" ("trust me").[10]

Haragei also functions as a method of leadership, replacing direct orders to subordinates with subtle, non-verbal signals. It is considered a desirable trait in a leader in Japan.[11] as it makes the assigning of responsibility or blame to the leader difficult.

In martial arts circles, haragei refers to those arts which supposedly enabled the practitioner to sense threats or anticipate an opponent's movements[12][13] similar to Reinforcement sensitivity theory.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Yan, Z.; Xiao, C. G. (2008), "Re-interpreting Emperor Hirohito Reciting Shikai at the Imperial Meeting on September 6", 018, 6 (2): 018  Check date values in: |year= / |date= mismatch (help)
  2. ^ a b Davies, R & Ikeno, O; The Japanese Mind: Understanding Contemporary Japanese Culture; Tuttle 2002 p103-108
  3. ^ Hahn, T; Sensational knowledge: embodying culture through Japanese dance, Wesleyan University Press, 2007, p67
  4. ^ Xiao, Q.; Wang, Z. X. (2010), "XIAO, Q., & WANG, Z. X", Canadian Social Science, 3 (4): 30–32 
  5. ^ Kerlinger, Fred N. (1951), "Decision-Making in Japan", Social Forces, 30 (1): 36–41, doi:10.2307/2571738 
  6. ^ a b Binnendijk, H; National Negotiating Styles, DIANE Publishing, 1987 p55
  7. ^ Hassell, R; Haragei: Speaking from the gut in Black Belt Magazine, January 1985 edition
  8. ^ Lebra, T. S. (1987), "The cultural significance of silence in Japanese communication", Multilingua-Journal of Cross-Cultural and Interlanguage Communication, 6 (4): 343–358, doi:10.1515/mult.1987.6.4.343 
  9. ^ Johnson, F; Dependency and Japanese Socialization: Psychoanalytic and Anthropological Investigations in Amae, NYU Press 1995
  10. ^ Asahi Shinbun "Tenseijingo" column of 17.4.2017 "http://www.asahi.com/articles/DA3S12895267.html?ref=tenseijingo_backnumber
  11. ^ Kaiser, D; Pedagogy and the practice of science: historical and contemporary perspectives, MIT Press 2005, p369
  12. ^ Durbin, W; The Fighting Arts of the Samurai: the Warrior's Combat Handbook in Black Belt Magazine March 1990 edition
  13. ^ Lovret, F; The way and the power: secrets of Japanese strategy, Paladin Press 1987, p96