Mingtian Ouyang: KLEXON

I joined KLEXON since the beginning of last semester. It was a circle with plenty opportunities to make Japanese friends and many fun activities. Most members of KLEXON are either college students or company employees. Among the company employees, engineers and designers make up a great portion. These two fields require them to use English more frequently than other company employees. During the meeting I noticed something very interesting. Before the meeting starts, Japanese KLEXON members would stay in their own seat, busy looking at their phone, while entire ignoring their surroundings. Meeting starts at 7 pm, however, around 6:55, even though most people have arrived, no one seems to bother start any conversation with others. I found this strange. Their goal of coming here is to practice colloquial English, but why do they have to wait till the last minute to do so?  

      When entering the room, some college students tend to greet their friends, who also happen to be in KLEXON. However, the rest members would normally just walk straight to their seat and start playing with their phone. Meanwhile, when foreign students come in to the room, they would greet people they know, and start a conversation right away. I think there are many reasons behind this difference. First of all, there is a different concept of time in Japan. For example, “everything is on time”, “low tolerance for being late” are some impressions Japan has left me. The idea of “doing the right thing at the right time” is critical to Japanese society. Maybe it is currently 6:55 pm and the meeting starts at 7:00 pm, but 6:55 is not 7:00. To the Japanese members in KLEXON, these two times are very different. Therefore, it is not the time to start practicing English because it is not the “right time”. I also asked a Japanese friend from KLEXON to prove my idea. His answer was that this phenomenon has to do with the idea of the “shyness as a national character of Japan” (シャイな国民性). He explains that it is not customary for Japanese to start a conversation with anyone he or she meets. Almost all conversations begin with a formal self-introduction.  Also, some worry that talking to someone before meeting starts might bother them, because strictly speaking it is not the “right time”.

6 thoughts on “Mingtian Ouyang: KLEXON

  1. Interesting observations! It sounds like Klexon participants treated it more as a class/means-to-an-end than a place to converse freely. I am curious, after these Klexon meetings finished for the day, was there a similar absence of chit-chat? Did you ever meet with any Klexon kids outside of the Klexon meetings? And, does Klexon organize any group activities that stray from this strict meeting-style format?

    • Thanks for the comment! After the meetings, people don’t seem to like to stay in the room, some of them head straight back, some would go to a bar and have a chat there. I actually got to meet with some friends from KLEXON outside of the meetings. We went to various events and visited temples in Kyoto. There are KLEXON parties held regularly, however the parties are kind of expensive so I only participated a few times.

  2. Wow, I knew about the strictness with not being late, but I didn’t realize it also applied to not being early. Did you just wait for 7 o’clock to roll around, or did you try to start your own conversations?

    • I tried to start conversations with the Japanese members, however, to my surprise, it was difficult to do so. When the meeting actually started, the environment changed very quickly.

  3. !!! The relationship Japanese people have with time is unusual, indeed. I’m curious about the company employees who are also members–mainly the designers. Have you ever spoken to them about what their life is like here in Japan? Aside from this overly specific question, I was also wondering how you feel about this “shyness as a national character” phenomenon. How has it impacted your life outside of KLEXON during your stay in Japan, if at all?

    • I have met a designer whose work involves designing the interaction interface (user interface) of software. He said many of his clients are foreigners and would only communicate with him in English. So he felt the need to polish his English skill. That’s why he joined KLEXON.
      When I first heard the phrase “shyness as a national character”, it somehow makes sense to me. To me I feel like making friends with Japanese is a easy task. However, I certainly feel that this would be different if I were to a Japanese myself. As a Japanese, you are expected to follow a set of rules in order to get to know someone new. I have seen many times when two Japanese students, who had introduced themselves to each other, sitting awkwardly next to each other and waiting for the right moment to start a conversation.