Everyone knows about "the Japan that can't say no" idea. Today, I had an experience I've had rather frequently before in Japan where I encounter a Japanese person who won't take "no" for an answer. The general structure of the conversation is this:
JP = Japanese Person who wants you to do something you can't or don't want to do.
JP: Your student needs to cancel her lesson today and would like to come tomorrow.
Me: I'm afraid I'm busy tomorrow so I can't schedule a lesson for her then.
JP: She wants to come after 6:00 pm.
Me: I'm sorry but I'm especially busy after 6:00 pm.
JP: You're busy?
Me: Yes. Can she come next week?
JP: She would like to come tomorrow.
Me: I'm very busy tomorrow.
JP: You're too busy?
Me: Yes. I have other lessons.
(uncomfortable prolonged silence)
Me: (giving in first) Can she come next Thursday for her usual lesson?
JP: She would like to come on Friday.
Me: I'm sorry but I can't see her then.
(second uncomfortable silence)
Me: Please tell her I'm sorry I can't see her tomorrow.
JP: Okay, I'll tell her then.
As you can see, I'm pretty weak under the pressure of silence. I think this is a combination two things. First is the fact that I'm a teacher and any time I talk to a Japanese person, I feel it's my obligation to keep the conversation going. Second is because I was raised by a mother who made me feel like I was the most selfish person in the world if I didn't do everything I could to make everyone else happy even if I have to do so at my expense.
I don't have trouble asserting myself or making my opinions known but I do have problems saying "no" when I'm doing so for my own benefit. In this case, I was refusing a student who I don't really enjoy teaching because I already have 4 hours of lessons set up and that's going to be tiring enough without shoehorning her into the day. The main reason to turn her down is that it'll wear me out too much.
This problem is sufficiently an issue with me that I consider it a triumph every time I say "no" to someone because I don't feel like doing what they want for one reason or another. I'm sure this is a neurotic tendency but it's rather hard to overcome the conditioning I grew up with.
Despite a reputation for being polite and accommodating, the Japanese are just as capable of exerting pressure as anyone else. They just tend to do it in a more subtle fashion through repetition and silence rather than through volume or aggressiveness.