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Today I noticed this article about eating disorders in Japan, which I got to via the News on Japan site.

The first line jumps out at me. Supposedly, in an interview, a 25 year old Japanese woman named "Hachiko" says:

In Japanese there are no words for “I’m suffering” or “I’m sad”. I can’t share my feelings with anyone. Needing help is seen as failure, something to be ashamed of.

Maybe needing help is seen as failure, but I can think of a few ways to say "I'm suffering" or "I'm sad". Just off the top of my head:

私{わたし}は悲{かな}しい

あたしは苦{くる}しんでいます

自分{じぶん}の置{お}かれた状態{じょうたい}はきつい

So I'm wondering, is this just a reporter's ham-fisted attempt to inflate the human drama by painting a picture of a cruel and uncaring Japanese culture that exacerbates eating disorders?

Or is there any logical justification at all for claiming that the nuances of the Japanese language don't accurately convey the suffering someone with an eating disorder might feel?

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I'm pretty sure that it's along the same line as "big girls don't cry". –  Ignacio Vazquez-Abrams May 20 '12 at 7:21
    
Hmm I don't understand what is meant by "In Japanese there are no words for “I’m suffering” or “I’m sad”." I think we have '苦しい', 'しんどい', 'つらい', 'きつい'... (Btw はちこ is not her real name, is it? It's such an unusual name for a 25 year old girl...) –  Chocolate May 20 '12 at 7:30
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@Chocolate: "Hachiko" is almost definitely a pseudonym to protect her identity. I don't think any Japanese parent would name their child the same name as a famous dog. –  Dave M G May 20 '12 at 12:15
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Ah! Right, of course they wouldn't...(just the dog's name was 「はちこう」(not はちこ) with the stress on ち, and a girl's name should be はちこ with the stress on は.) –  Chocolate May 20 '12 at 12:58
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@DaveMG: as Chocolate pointed out, the two names are different, and I have met countless Hachikos. (just so you don't go questioning her parents' taste the next time you meet one ;-) –  Dave May 20 '12 at 16:52
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So I'm wondering, is this just a reporter's ham-fisted attempt to inflate the human drama by painting a picture of a cruel and uncaring Japanese culture that exacerbates eating disorders?

There could be several reasons I can think of:

  1. The Japanese woman who said this might of meant it "metaphorically" rather than "literally", in the sense that there is a tendency to not express ones inner feelings as much in Japan as in other cultures. However, anybody that has studied Japanese before should be able to realize that the sentence is false, so it's obvious the author is inept.

  2. Somewhere along the lines, the actual meaning of the quote got botched, perhaps by the interpreter or someone else (this is very common and often leads to false information) (maybe due to reason #1).

  3. The author exaggerated to get people's attention and sell magazines (the original article is from Marie Claire magazine). Unfortunately, the majority of the audience probably wouldn't realize this, which gives a false conception about Japanese to the general public (for example, as an extreme case of a false conception, in America, I met a person who asked me if people in Japan walk around with swords like "Samurai").

But the moral of the story is don't always believe what you read.

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#2 gave me an idea. Maybe the woman said something like "In Japan, you can't say that you're suffering or you're sad." Someone could have easily misinterpreted that to mean that it's physically impossible to express such phenomena in Japanese rather than the fact that it's uncommon to do so. –  atlantiza May 21 '12 at 3:34
    
@atlantiza: That strikes me as the most likely scenario. I can imagine someone saying "In Japan, you can't say that you're suffering or you're sad," meaning it's not accepted, and then translated as impossible to express. –  Dave M G Jun 10 '12 at 16:18
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