In Japan, the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT) revised the Course of Study in English education twice in the last decade (in 2002 and in 2011), and the drastic changes have been made especially in the section of communicative skills: introduction of English study in elementary school, teaching English in English in high school, requirement of the subject ‘Oral Communication I’ in high school, etc. The aim of the revisions is to produce international individuals, who have high English proficiency not only in input-skills but also in output-skills, especially in speaking (MEXT 2004: 90, MEXT 2011). Despite the revisions of the Course of Study, Japan is still ranked low in English proficiency not only among the developed countries but also among the Asian countries (Sakamoto 2012: 409; Sullivan and Schatz 2009: 586; Educational Testing Service 2012).
Inputs on different cultures and languages take an important role in language learning especially in the modern society where students have high chances to encounter cross-cultural communication. The politeness strategy is one of those factors that the social actors must learn for the sound relationships with others. Each culture has its own politeness strategy; therefore, miscommunication is observed more often in intercultural conversations due to the various conceptualization of politeness in different cultures (Sifianou 1992: 216). That is, comprehending the diversity in politeness strategy seems to be a clue of smooth communication and better apprehension of different cultures in cross-culture conversations. The Course of Study for foreign languages and English language also refers to the significance of comprehending various cultures and languages (MEXT 2009); however, as previous studies represent the Japanese students studying abroad or the Japanese businessman in intercultural communications seem to lack the understanding of the western politeness strategy (cf. Fujio 2004, Nakane 2006). Besides, it is vague what ‘different cultures’ refers to in the Course of Study for English. Based on the attitudes of the Japanese students towards cross-cultural communication and ambiguous explanation on ‘cultural learning’ by the Course of the Study, I assume that one of the reasons why Japan cannot achieve the communication-focused curriculum might be attributed to the lack of politeness theory perspective in English learning. Taking differences in politeness strategies between the western societies and the Japanese ones into consideration, it seems to be unfeasible and insufficient to only increase the number of communicative lessons and compel students into speaking English. The differences in politeness strategy should be applied into English learning in order to boost the English proficiency of Japanese students and produce globalized students.
The present paper focuses on the following two aspects of English learning in Japan in order to test the hypothesis:
- The Course of Study in English learning in Japan does not specify what is ‘cultural learning’, which triggers the lack of politeness perspective
- The lack of politeness learning obstruct Japanese students to successful crosscultural communication
In the present paper, in order to observe the application of the politeness theory in English learning, firstly English textbooks used in Japan are analyzed in terms of the politeness theory by focusing on the following four aspects: silence, speech style, ambiguity, and hierarchical relationship. Previous studies have shown that extinctive differences between the western politeness and the Japanese politeness in communication are obviously revealed in those four points (cf. Fujio 2004; Kameda 2001; Nakane 2006). In addition to the analysis of the English textbooks, an interview on the correlation between English learning and politeness theory is conducted on international Japanese in order to observe how they acquire the western politeness strategy, how English learning at school functioned to learn the western politeness strategy, etc. (cf. see 3. for details). To contextualize this paper, the politeness theory and the previous studies on the relation between the Japanese politeness and crossculture communication will be presented first, and a brief overview of English education in Japan and tendencies in Japanese schooling will follow.