Global Politics

Could Washington take some cues on 'saving face' from Japan?

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Credit: Jason Reed/Reuters

A US senate staffer places a sign at the steps of the US Capitol in Washington,

The US government shutdown standoff continues. But while President Obama and Speaker Boehner dig their heels into the sands of the Potomac, many around the country are calling for measures to "save face" and resolve the standstill.

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The concept of "saving face" originates in Chinese culture, but it's a concept that is common in many other cultures, especially in Asian nations like Japan. 

In fact, according to Michael McKenna who works for Japan Intercultural Consulting teaching Japanese business people about American culture and Americans about the Japanese, the Japanese concept of saving face and harmony is one that is written into one of Japan's oldest texts, the 17 article constitution of Shotoku Taishi.

"Harmony is to be sought, conflict avoided."

This line, McKenna says, is among the very first lines of Taishi's constitution. 

The pressure to maintain harmony can be seen in many aspects of Japanese culture, says McKenna, even in the very language itself.

"There's a wonderful word for 'no' in Japanese, but you don't hear it that often," says Mckenna.

In fact, a popular book among Japanese language learners from years ago is titled, "16 Ways to Avoid Saying No."

So how does McKenna think Obama and Boehner might take a cue from the Japanese and avoid just saying no?

Take a listen to Marco Werman's conversation with McKenna to find out.

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