Kate Elwood discusses compromise in this installment of Cultural Conundrums. I think the language is a bit elevated for me to have had an opportunity to use the words or to have had a conversation about compromising in Japanese. But the gist of this is that the Japnese have a dislike of a deviation away from what they had already seen as a standard, which is interesting. Anyway, Elwood explains it better than me:
The Japanese equivalent of stubborn, ganko, is also generally considered a negative, rather off-putting word, although Donahue further notes a restaurant called "Ganko Tei," or "Stubborn House" so ganko may have a little more leeway into positive associations than stubborn. Unless the cafe owner has a somewhat off-beat sense of humor, it seems likely that he or she got the nuance of "stubborn" slightly askew, imagining it to signify an affirmative quality like possessing the courage of one's convictions or snubbing the notion of settling for second best.
Getting nuances slightly askew is a situation I know well from personal experience. The coffee shop story prompted me to recall another instance I had noticed of Japanese-English-equivalents-that-aren't-really-equivalent. The words were "compromise" and its theoretical Japanese counterpart, dakyo. I had heard peaceable, amiable, downright easygoing Japanese declare forcefully that they would never compromise on a given issue ("Zettai dakyo shinai!") often enough to make me wonder if they really intended the same thing by dakyo as I meant when I said "compromise."
I asked 20 Americans the first three words that came to mind when they heard "compromise" and did the same regarding dakyo with 20 Japanese people. Almost all of the words that the Americans related to "compromise" were positive or at least neutral. "Agreement" was the most commonly associated word, used by 35 percent. Other words included "discussion," "cooperation," "sharing," "communication," "peace" and so on. The negative words "give up," "unsatisfactory," and "bad" were used by one person each, and "sacrifice," which might be construed by some as downbeat, was used twice.
On the other hand, only one of my Japanese informants gave me a word for dakyo that was positive: benkyo (study). Another person said toki ni wa hitsuyo (sometimes necessary). The most frequently used word was akirame (giving up), used by 70 percent. Other negative words included ishi/ki ga yowai (weak-spirited), shoganai (inevitable), and tekito, a word with a broad range of meanings, but which my informants told me they meant in a negative way, like "halfhearted" or "leaving things half-done."
However, the low regard for the word dakyo certainly does not indicate that Japanese people are more obdurate and unwilling to find the middle ground than Americans, of course. Seeking agreement is clearly as much a desirable quality to Japanese as perseverance. When I asked some Japanese people to explain what I perceived as a contradiction between their wish for wa (harmony) and their disdain for dakyo, they basically told me that harmony was what was sought within a group, and that once a consensus had been reached, they were unwilling to budge from this accord. It's a subtle distinction, for me at least, but I think I get it.
A famous quote from the British writer G.K. Chesterton (1874-1936) goes: "Compromise used to mean that half a loaf was better than no bread. Among modern statesmen it really seems to mean that half a loaf is better than a whole loaf." It appears that the Japanese way of thinking of compromise is right in line with Chesterton's chestnut.