Riwa Tanaka

I am an udergraduate student attending the University of Hawaii at Manoa, majoring in economics. I was born in Nara city, Japan, and came to the United States when I was 18 to study English. Some of my hobbies are singing, dancing, watching movies, and shopping.


Time Perceptions

The essay "Social Time: The Heartbeat of Culture", which was written by Robert Levine and Ellen Wolff, provides readers with the authors’ viewpoints and research concerning ‘time-sense’ in different cultures. Levine and Wolff emphasize that there is difference of ‘time-sense’ on two levels, such as inter-cultural and cross-cultural. When we step into a new world, understanding the differences of ‘time-sense’ can help us to adjust ourselves to new people and new places. Unfortunately we tend to evaluate the temperament of others from different cultures and places based on their behavior toward time, rather than understanding their actual perception of time. People also have a tendency to believe in the positive relationship between speed and progress, which actually is doubtable. Before I read this article, I was one of them, who used to stereotype others from different places within and outside countries based on their behavior toward time as well as to simply believe that there was a positive relationship between speed and progress; however, the authors’ innovative and persuasive research and viewpoints about ‘time-sense’ and speed-progress relationship influenced me to reevaluate my stereotyped perception toward these two qualities.

How ‘time-sense’ differs in different cultures is well explained by the author’s own experience and research. Having lived in Brazil as a visiting professor, Levine questions the typical image of Brazilians, reflected in a term "manha" meaning "tomorrow", referring to that Brazilians usually postpone whatever they need to do (85). To find out if "the ‘manha’ stereotype oversimplified the real Anglo/Brazilian differences in conception of time", Levine conducted research to compare the ‘time-sense’ among college students in Brazil and Fresno, California (86). The result showed that students from Brazil seem to have more flexibility in ‘time-sense’ than students from Fresno, and if you dig deep into the reason why Brazilians are more flexible in time, you will find that they have different ideas of time and punctuality. Interestingly, there is a typical belief that Brazilians have, which is "lack of punctuality is a badge of success" (Levine and Wolff 86). From this perception, I will assume that if a businessman from Brazil comes late for a business appointment, it would not lead him to be dismissed from his job. Moreover, Brazilians rather see this person, who came in late for his appointment, as a successful person.

To understand that different time perceptions exist in different cultures can definitely lead you to a better understanding, as well as to a smoother adjustment to different cultures, as Levine explains that people encounter the difficulties to adjust themselves to new cultures because of their different time perceptions followed by language differences (87). For example, while a Brazilian sees that being late for an appointment is successful, a Japanese sees that being on time or earlier than the actual appointment time is polite and successful. If they do not understand their different perceptions of time toward each other, they must feel a discrepancy when they have an appointment together. Suppose a Japanese businessman goes to Brazil to do business with Brazilians and sets an appointment. A Japanese might feel offended by a Brazilian who is late. On the other hand, a Brazilian might think the Japanese, who came earlier, is not a successful businessman. If they knew that they have a different ‘time-sense’ and different concept of punctuality, their business would work smoother without causing each other contradictions.

While the authors mainly discuss about the existence of different ‘time-sense’ in a cross-cultural level, they also mentions about the different ideas of time and punctuality that lie in intercultural-level. The authors give two places in the U.S., New York and California, as an example to prove that there are different ideas toward time within the same country. New Yorkers are usually explained by a term "now" as opposed to Californians’ "later", since typical New Yorkers seem to be impatient and hurry all the time and Californians are more relaxed and laid back (Levine and Wolff 87). This example reminded me of a different concept of ‘time-sense’ existing within my country, Japan, as well. I can describe that Tokyo (the capital of Japan) is much similar to New York and Okinawa (the southernmost part of Japan) is more like California. Since there is a different perception of time within the country, we must understand these differences in order to adjust ourselves to different places in the same country.

Finally the authors mentions about the relationship between speed and progress. I agree with the authors’ point that; "speed is frequently confused with progress" (Levine and Wolff 91). What the authors mean by this phrase is that people tend to believe that the fastest country has the most progress, which is not necessarily true. The research, which the authors conducted within 6 countries (Japan, the U.S., England, Italy, Taiwan, Indonesia) comparing accuracy of bank clocks, walking speed, and post office speed, shows that Japan is making its way at the fastest speed in all three dimensions. Speed of each country differs because of their different perception of time and punctuality. For instance, Japan perceives that time is money and you cannot waste it. However, just because some qualities of the country’s speed are fast, it does not mean that the country is progressive in every way. Looking at the Japanese case, it is true that there is a positive correlation between speed and progress in terms of technology, industries, and the education system.

How about spiritual progress in Japan? I do not think we are the number one country in spiritual progress, since Japan is one of the countries with the highest suicide rate because of too much tension and stress that people are holding. It is shown that 31,402 people committed suicide during 2001, which means that more than 80 Japanese are choosing to die with their own hands each day (Curtin). Moreover, Japan is ranked by the World Health Organization, as a country with the number one suicide rate among other industrialized countries (Zielenziger). According to Curtin, the number of suicides is closely related to the decline of Japan’s economy. As proof of that, 71% of total suicides are men, and especially middle-aged men (Curtin). The rising rate of middle-aged male suicides in Japan correlates to Japan’s continuing increase of its unemployment rate and corporate bankruptcy rates from 1998 onward (Curtin). Also, Zielenziger interestingly points out that Japanese employees rarely take vacation, because employees are afraid that the company will discover it can manage without them. Thus, "workers are taking less and less time off" (Zielenziger). While Japan is becoming more industrialized and more progressive in terms of technology, education, and business, Japanese are having a hard time coping and catching up with the speed that Japan is moving at. Followed by the increasing speed of Japan, Japanese have started to eat fast food, which tends to collapse people’s health. Considering all of these varieties of progress, can we say that speed corresponds positively with the overall progress in the country? I would say "no".

It is true, as the authors state, "appreciating cultural differences in ‘time sense’ becomes increasingly important as modern communications put more and more people in daily contact" (Levine and Wolff 87). And, the authors continue that, "if we are to avoid misreading issues that involve time perceptions, we need to understand our own cultural biases and those of others" (Levine and Wolff 87). This passage means that our daily communications are becoming global and international, so in order not to misunderstand people’s behavior toward ‘time-sense’, we are strongly recommended to understand that how we perceive the ideas of time and how others perceive the ideas of time. Also, in the essay, the authors conclude that the relationship between speed and progress will become clear when we thoroughly observe the heartbeat of each culture. We, including myself, tend to oversimplify the people’s behavior toward time and underestimate the real ideas of time perception, which lie under the action of people. We also tend to declare that the faster the country’s speed is, the more progressive the country is. Reading this article, I recommend to people like me to think over your stereotypical beliefs. As we can easily see the different ideas of speed and time in different places and cultures, we have to come to a better understanding of these differences in order to truly progress.

Riwa Tanaka
ELI 100, 10/28/2003

Works Cited

Curtin, J. Sean. Suicide Japan: Part One-The Suicide Crisis among Middle-Aged Men. Japanese Institution of Global Communication. 10. Feb., 2003. Accessed 28.Oct.2003, at <http://www.glocom.org/special_topics/social_trends/20030210_trends_s27/>

Levine, Robert, and Ellen Wolff. "Social Time: The Heartbeat of Culture." Guidelines: A Cross-Cultural Reading/Writing Text. 2nd ed., Ed. Ruth Spack. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1996. 84-91.

Zielenziger, Michael. Japan’s Suicide Rate Highest Among Industrialized Countries." Washington Bureau. 18 Dec. 2002. Accessed 28 Oct. 2003, at <http://www.realcities.com/mld/krwashington/4768327.htm>