Literacy Across Cultures
September, 1997 1/2

Japanese and English Rhetorical Strategies: A Contrastive Analysis

[English abstract of a Japanese article]

Bern Mulvey
Fukui University

This presentation examines English and Japanese "preferred" rhetorical strategies as identified by Hinds (1980, 1983, 1984), Takemata (1976), Mulvey (1992), Ricento(1987) and Yutani (1977), among others. Three Japanese strategies will be discussed: the "return to baseline theme," the "kishoutenketsu" approach, and the "tempura" or "quasi inductive" approach. These rhetorical tendencies will be compared to what is known as the American academic English model, though it should be noted here that very little difference exists between written British and written American academic English. (See, for instance, David Crystal's discussion of this subject in The Cambridge Encyclopedia of the English Language on pages 300 and 311.)

To summarize my analysis of the three Japanese strategies: "Return to baseline theme" describes a rhetorical tendency whereby the author introduces an opinion early on which is repeated throughout but never discussed. Instead of explaining or defending this opinion, such an author moves along to discuss seemingly disconnected issues, often arguing these tangently related points at great length. Then, in the midst of this discussion on a seemingly almost unrelated point, the author reintroduces the earlier stated main topic, often merely repeating verbatim the prior sentence(s). Little attempt is made to connect the reintroduced topic to the discussion surrounding it.

With the "kishoutenketsu" approach, the author introduces a topic immediately, which is then discussed in the "shou" section of the essay. However, in the "ten" section, a new topic is introduced, one which need have only an implied connection to the preceding topic. Then, in the final or "ketsu" section, the author introduces yet another opinion or topic, which again need not have any connection to what preceded it.

In the "tempura" or inductive strategy, the author supplies facts, examples and support throughout the beginning and middle sections of the paper, though no opinion or controlling idea is mentioned. As the opinion being supported is undefined, the result is a somewhat disembodied feel to the development. The controlling idea is suddenly introduced in the last paragraph(s).

From research and my own experience, the above strategies are heavily utilized by Japanese ESL writers. The implications for language teachers should thus be clear: As these strategies differ markedly from standard Western usage, students using such strategies in their papers risk having their efforts mistaken for poor organization, lack of focus and inadequate development. (See studies by Ricento (1987) and Hinds (1987) for further discussion.) Of course, this is not the case: these essays do indeed possess a clear, concise method of organization. However, ESL teachers should be prepared to make the rhetorical differences between the native and target language as clear as possible to their students.

References and Suggested Reading

Axelrod, R. B. & Cooper, C. (1988). The St. Martin's guide to writing. New York: St. Martin's Press.

Crystal, D. (1995). The Cambridge encyclopedia of the English language. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

D'Angelo, F. (1974). A generative rhetoric of the essay. CCC, 25, 388-396.

Halliday, M. A. K. & Hasan, R. (1976). Cohesion in English. London: Longman.

Hinds, J. (1980). Japanese expository prose. Papers in Linguistics, 13, 117-58.

Hinds, J. (1983). Contrastive rhetoric: Japanese and English. Text, 3(2), 183-195.

Hinds, J. (1984). Topic continuity in Japanese. University Park, Pennsylvania: Pennsylvania University Press.

Hinds, J. (1990). Inductive, deductive, quasi-inductive: Expository writing in Japanese, Korean, Chinese, and Tai. In Connors and Johns (Eds.), Coherence in writing: Research and pedagogical perspectives. Alexandria: TESOL.

Kaplan, R. (1966). Cultural thought patterns in intercultural education. Language Learning, 16, 1-20.

Kobayashi, H. (1984). Rhetorical patterns in English and Japanese. TESOL Quarterly, 18, (4), 737-738.

Kubota, R. (1992). Contrastive rhetoric of Japanese and English: A critical approach. Ph.D. dissertation, Department of Education, University of Toronto.

Mulvey, B. (1992). Japanese and English rhetorical strategies. Masters dissertation, California State Univ, San Bernardino.

Oshima, A. & Hogue, A. (1981). Writing academic English. New York: Addison-Wesley.

Ricento, T. (1987). Aspects of coherence in English and Japanese expository prose. Ph.D. Dissertation: UCLA.

Sato, M., Kono, C., Tanabe, K. & Nishimura, Y. (1986). Nihongo sakubun [Japanese composition]. Tokyo: Nihongo no Bonjimsha.

Takemata, K. (1976). Genkoo Shippitsu Nyuumon [An introduction to writing manuscripts]. Tokyo: Natsumesha.

Trimmer, J. (1992). Writing with a purpose. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.

Yutani, Y. (1977). Current English: Translation of news articles and "nonsequence" of tenses. Academic Bulletin: Kyoto Bulletin of Foreign Studies, 18, 52-63.

Bern Mulvey can be contacted at Fukui University College of Education, Bunkyo 3-9-1, Fukui 910, JAPAN, or by e-mail at

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Literacy Across Cultures
September 1997 1/2