Sep 17, 2013

May be Yes, May Be No, May be I don’t know !

This is part 3 of my “Japan and I” Series. To read the previous posts, Please click here.

In many ways, Japan still remains a mystery to the rest of the world. 
For here, the ancient and the modern not only coexist but seem to do so in great harmony. The land of the rising Sun is as comfortable with its bullet trains and cutting edge technology as it is with Zen and Geishas.
Japan has a unique culture, with its own peculiarities and quirks that seem natural to the Japanese but intrigue and surprise all foreigners. 

Through this series, I attempt to talk about the Japan I saw and experienced! 

Today we talk about the Japanese and their very baffling conversation style !

 For all my years of working with the Japanese the one thing that exasperates me the most is their inability to say No. Instead of refusing a request directly, they will give you vague, ambiguous answers that will simply confuse and baffle you.

If there is one race that has perfected the art of Diplomacy, It is the Japanese. Qualities such as being straight forward and frank that are admired by the rest of the world are considered uncouth and barbaric by them. They feel that a direct refusal is very impolite and lacking in aesthetic sensibility. Instead they rely on subtle nuances and euphemisms to get their point across.

While interacting with the Japanese, one has to learn to read between the lines because what is left unsaid in the conversation is more important than what is actually said. When the Japanese say things like “Let me think about it”,” It looks difficult”, “Ahh I see …. “ they are using them as mere euphuisms for saying No. This can be very misleading for people not well versed in Japanese culture and norms.

Translation from Japanese to English is extremely difficult not just because the language is tough, but because to be able to interpret accurately one has to understand the meaning behind the words rather than directly translating them. Sometimes a whole lot is literally lost in translation simply because the translator is not able to catch the actual intent of the speaker. This leads to a lot of tearing of hair and banging of heads in frustration by all concerned!

Here are a few examples:

What the Japanese Say: “This looks like an interesting proposal. We will think about it.”

What they really mean: “This is a terrible proposal and we are throwing it in the dustbin!”

What the Japanese Say: “It looks difficult to me. But let me see what I can do”

What they really mean: “It’s completely impossible and I am not going to waste any time over it.”

They are also masters in making a conversation go round and round in circles. Many years back, when I was still new to the workings of the Japanese mind, I tried to rent an apartment in Osaka. Here is the very interesting conversation I had with the manager of the building.

Ruch:”I would like a corner apartment please”

Manager: “I see. You want a corner apartment. then”

Ruch:”Yes, please”

Manager : “We have a lot of other rooms that have a nice view”

Ruch: “Yes, but I prefer a corner apartment”

Manager: “Our other apartments are equally good …. “

Ruch : “Yes, but as I said I prefer a corner one … “

Manager: “Ahhh …. Umm …It’s a long walk from the lift though … “

And we both went on and on until it dawned on my thick skull that there were no corner apartments available and that he had been trying to say no to me all along.

The main reason for all this ambiguity is that the Japanese love harmony in everything including relationships and so try to avoid confrontation and conflict at all costs. Also by being indirect about a refusal they are basically saving the other person from embarrassment and loss of face. 
They also prefer to show disagreement in a non-verbal way such as tone and body language rather than in actual words.

It is not as if the Japanese are always so vague. On the contrary they are very precise and clear while explaining things. For example their technical or Business Processes will always be very explicit and detailed. The ambiguity sets in only during their interactions with others.

As a language, Japanese has the capability of expressing itself fully. It is just that the Japanese social norms and culture forbids its people to be so direct and forthright.

Sep 12, 2013

Sponsored Video: Lifebuoy Help a child reach 5 !

Before we get into this post, please take a minute to see this video. 

I have grown up hearing my mother tell me “Go and wash your hands first” as soon as I returned from school and before every meal. 

Washing your hands is something that most of us take for granted but do you realize that in India, not washing hands is indirectly the cause of over 6 lakh children dying before they turn 5. Hand washing with soap can help in reducing diarrhea by 45% and pneumonia by 23% - the two major diseases that affect young children. 

When we speak of washing hand and hygiene, lifebuoy invariably comes to our mind. All of us have grown up hearing the jingle “Tandurasti hai jahan, Lifebuoy hai wahan”. Lifebuoy for us is synonymous with hygiene and hand washing.
Now Lifebuoy goes a step further in their quest for health and hygiene by introducing their ‘Help a Child Reach 5’ campaign.

Lifebuoy aims to teach school kids, new mothers and through them the whole community the importance of washing hands. The purpose is to inculcate this habit in as many people as possible and thus help in reducing the mortality rate of children under five years of age by two third by the year 2015.

Lifebuoy has adapted Thesgora, a village in Madhya Pradesh, with one of the highest rates of diarrhea to promote the importance of washing your hands.
To start off their campaign they have also taken out the above video by Kajol where she urges people to join Lifebuoy in their campaign to eradicate Diarrhea from India, one village at a time. 

As they say, charity begins at home ! You and I can also help in this cause by stressing the importance of washing hands to our children and other family members.

You can also do your two bits by clicking on the following link and making a donation. The proceeds from the donations will go to Population Services International (PSI), a leading health organization for implementing hand washing programs.

For every donation that you and I make, Lifebuoy will match the donation amount for its handwashing programs. Lifebuoy will also donate 1 rupee to handwashing programmes every time the ‘Help a Child Reach 5’ video is shared online.

A healthy and strong generation is very important in the growth of a nation and that is what Lifebuoy aims to do. 

So tell me would you like to join hands for this cause ! 
You can watch Lifebuoy’s Help a Child Reach 5 video here 
For more information, visit 
Check out Lifebuoy ‘s website

This post has been sponsored by Lifebuoy, but all thoughts are my own.

Sep 9, 2013

From Black Robes to Backpacks !

The biggest problem travel addicts like me face is that we don’t always find like-minded people to travel with. So I am forever in search of travel groups that might serve my purpose. It was while searching for such a group that I discovered Girls on the Go. (or GOTG as it is called)
The fact that it was a travel group solely for women piqued my interest. On a whim I decided to sign up for one of their upcoming trips. It was during that trip that I first met Piya Bose, the founder of GOTG.

Soft spoken and polite, with a smile that lights up her entire face, Piya with her zest for adventure is a delight to travel with. Over the years an easy friendship developed between us and listening to her tell me how and why she started GOTG, just reinstated my belief that if you have enough passion and conviction you can do just about anything. 

So, when I was asked to write about a Woman Entrepreneur, I couldn't think of a better person than her!

Piya was first bitten by the travel bug when she went to South America on Rotary Exchange at the age of 16. It was during this trip that she realized that traveling was what made her the most happy. 
On her return however, she followed the conventional path and went on to graduate in Law from the prestigious National University of Juridical Sciences. She started her career at one of the top law firms in India. Most people would kill for such a lucrative job, but Piya spent all her spare time researching travel destinations and doing interesting things like figuring out ways to travel from London to India by road. (yes she actually made a road map for this!) The desk job made her restless and she knew for certain that she didn’t want to spend her days sitting in front of the computer, doing graveyard shifts for the rest of her life.

A chance trip to Lucknow was to be the turning point in her life. From Lucknow she took a spur of the moment decision to travel to Nepal and once there she realized that there were tour operators actually offering trips into Tibet. On a whim she decided to pull out all her savings and take an impromptu trip to Tibet. Her moment of epiphany came as she stood facing the majestic Mt Everest. That was the moment she decided that she wanted to do something meaningful and different in her life.

Through her solo travels Piya had observed that not many Indian women travelled on their own. Usually they travelled with their families and with them they were still playing their roles of a wife or a mother or a daughter. She felt women had no opportunities to just let down their hair, enjoy and be themselves. Also, women who did want to travel alone were hesitant to do so because of safety issues.

Piya decided she wanted to change that.

And so in 2008, Girls on The Go – An exclusive all women’s travel group was born.

For all her love for travel, Piya had no experience at all about the travel Industry. All she had was a dream and the conviction to follow it. Since she had just come back from Tibet she decided to put her knowledge of high altitude travel to good use and decided upon Ladakh as her first travel destination. With no money or resources, she banked on her ingenuity to make this trip a success. She started off by putting advertisements in travel magazines and social media groups. All the while she researched as much as she could about the destination. Within three months she had a total of 26 ladies who wanted to travel with her.

That trip was a resounding success and Girls on the Go has never looked back since.

I have traveled many times with Piya and the sheer dedication and hard work that she puts into each and every trip is evident. Her ground work is thorough, her planning is impeccable and her trips run smoothly and flawlessly.

What sets Girls on the Go apart from rest of the travel groups is that it doesn't just herd people together, book hotels and send them off. Piya connects with each client individually before and during the trip to understand their needs and this goes a long way in building positive relationships. The itinerary is planned not from a financial angle but by keeping the interests and comfort of the group in mind. 

Apart from the excellent manner in which she runs her operations, innovation and thinking out of the box is her USP. I remember on trip to Ajanta Ellora, Instead of the usual tourist guide, she got members of the Archaeological survey of India to explain the history of the paintings to us. During that trip we also went to Lonar lake, a destination most of the travel companies are not even aware of. And we had a guide who has actually worked with the NASA physicists explain the nature of this lake that was actually created by a meteor.

Her passion for exploring different cultures, architecture, art and food makes her trips very enriching. Her trips are filled with interesting activities from mud spas, heritage walks of Old Havelis in Rajasthan, cooking local cuisine in Bali, sailing down rivers in Vietnam to staying on the banks of a lake deep in Ladakh.

Although women travel as a group, she makes sure that they also have enough time and opportunity to just be by themselves and do things individually.

Travelling for Piya is a form of meditation. GOTG trips are never just trips, they are journeys  from which you come back rejuvenated with a refreshed outlook towards life. As she told me once, “I want to make a difference in the lives of women. If women benefit from my travels, if the trip helps them reconnect with themselves and helps them in their journey of life – I would be delighted.”

Needless to say, Girls on the Go is now one of the most successful Women Travel groups in India.

Piya has been featured in many newspapers and magazines. She was also invited to speak at a TEDx event.


Piya also featured in IBN 7's program titled "Zindagi Live" where she spoke about taking up unconventional careers. Her advice to anybody wanting to start a new venture is “Don’t think too much, listen to that inner voice and just take the plunge.”

In her pursuit to make a difference in the lives of people and work towards a social cause, Piya is also working on a travel venture for differently abled people.

When we talk of successful women entrepreneurs we usually think of women who have started an enterprise in the face of extreme personal adversity. But to follow your passion, to abandon a bright career to tread on a path that you have never walked on before also needs courage and great self belief. 

All of us have dreams, but how many of us give up our comfortable lives to follow those dreams. And that too, to not work simply for the financial benefit for it, but in order to make a difference in the lives of others. 

This in my eyes is what true entrepreneurship and nurturing independence is all about. 

Piya and I - Fellow Travelers and foodies ! 

Written for the Indiblogeshwaris Ladies Independence Special Contest in association with

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