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ishin-denshin and babysitters

Ishin-Denshin & Babysitters: Navigating Japanese "Telepathy"

2020-09-25

Have you ever been in a situation where little to nothing is being said out loud, but everyone around you seems to be having a conversation that you aren't a part of?

Welcome to ishin-denshin!

We've talked before about general cultural gaps you may encounter in Japan and have recently covered cultural issues specific to mixed heritage children. But let's dive deeper into this unique aspect of Japanese communication. Fun fact: it's non-verbal communication.

Ishin-denshin literally translates to "what the heart thinks, the mind transmits." It’s a concept used to explain the tacit understanding many Japanese people have - almost like telepathy. There is an assumption that others around you know what you're thinking. So in theory, that silent conversation was filled with information that everyone was receiving - it' just that you weren't tuned into the subtext.

The Japanese language is considered high-context, which means that verbal communication relies heavily on an implied understanding of situations. Conversely, many English-speaking cultures are quite the opposite. We tend to be very direct and explicit with the words we chose to explain something or when asking questions. Bridging this language divide can prove difficult but a little understanding can go a long way. 

Another term to know? Haragei. Related to ishin-denshin, haragei is the Japanese term that best explains the implications, euphemisms and pointed silences you might encounter often, especially if you work within a Japanese company. It’s also an important concept to keep in mind when speaking with babysitters. 

Ishin-denshin and Japanese Babysitters

The ability to work with babysitters who speak different languages and come from different cultures is one of the biggest benefits in joining the CareFinder community. Having someone who is qualified to care for your children and can provide unique perspectives is a win-win. But it does require a concerted effort in bridging cultural differences. Specifically when it comes to communicating before, during and after a babysitting job. 

Japanese babysitters are great for families who want their children to get a full cultural education while living in Japan. They’re wonderful tutors for supplementing language learning and helpful mentors for mixed heritage children navigating public schools and playgrounds. 

But, given cultural differences in communication, there are a few things to consider while working with your sitter.

Be extra-clear.

The Japanese language is big on “reading between the lines” to suss out the true meaning behind something. Try not to leave gaps that could be misread. When interviewing a sitter, leaving directions for a job or following up after-the-fact, be as direct as possible.

Don’t assume.

As mentioned, there are several aspects of Japanese culture that result in polite, implied and/or glossed-over responses in the face of a problem. If you’re checking in with your sitter after a job, don’t assume that they will tell you of an issue - ask about specifics. 

Take advantage of trial sittings.

Doing a trial with a sitter before using them for the first time is always recommended, but especially when there may be room for misunderstandings about what’s needed. That aforementioned inclination toward polite responses can also mean an aversion to conflict (aka turning down the offer after further conversation). A sitter may accept a job with one understanding of expectations, only to realize they aren’t on the same page. It’s best for your family if there’s an introduction first so you can see first-hand that everyone is comfortable. 

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