Aimai means ‘ambiguity,’ which is defined as a state in which there is more than one intended meaning resulting in obscurity, indistinctness, and uncertainty. To be ambiguous in Japanese is generally translated as aimaina, but people use this term with a wide range of meanings including ‘vague, obscure, equivocal, dubious, doubtful, questionable, shady, noncommittal, indefinite, hazy, double, two-edged,’ and so on (Roger J. Davies & Osamu Ikedo, 2002). In short, Aimai is an ancient method of communication for Japanese people which has its roots in the need for harmony. As I mentioned earlier, during the Tokugawa Period, Japan was cut off from the outside world. As a result, communities depended on each other to produce food. Collectively, they had to work and cooperate together in harmony in order to produce more. In order to do so they practiced Aimai.from Project Japan
“Natural communication often occurred without spoken words, and people followed their elders because they had more experience, wisdom, and power. In order to live without creating any serious problems for the group's harmony, people avoided expressing their ideas clearly, even to the point of avoiding giving a simple yes or no answer. If a person really wanted to say no he or she said nothing at first and then used vague expressions that conveyed the nuance of disagreement.”
Another reason for ambiguity is the feeling that to speak directly is to assume superiority over the person you are conversing with. The Japanese think it is impolite to speak openly on the assumption that their partner knows nothing. The Japanese value Aimai because they think that it is unnecessary to speak clearly as long as their partner is knowledgeable. To express one’s self distinctly carries the assumption that one's partner knows nothing, so clear expression can be considered impolite. Silence can also be considered a form of ambiguity. For the Japanese, silence indicates deep thinking or consideration, but too much silence often makes non-Japanese uncomfortable.
Once again we can see that being direct and not sharing the real heart but following the interests of the group plays an important role. In the case of Aimai, it also goes deeper assuming that the other person already knows what you want to say even if he or she does not know what you are talking about. This act makes the other part coequal to the speaker, or else it may look very superior and proud if someone explains everything in detail. Of course, this makes evangelism a very hard work, like assuming that they also know Christ and the good news of the gospel.
Some evangelists, especially from Northern America or Europe, go to Japan or even another country in the world with the attitude that ‘we’ are coming to teach something, and ‘we’ know it better and ‘we’ have it all, and ‘we’ come to bring ‘our’ style of worship and serve God. This attitude makes the evangelists or missionaries look like Wagamama—childish and selfish.
However, I still consider Aimai as a stronghold because the Christian message is a direct message and cultural values such as this block the directness of the gospel of Christ to the audience. For this reason, the outsiders going to Japan for evangelism work, or even Japanese Christians, should practice directness in their message and lifestyle. The Christian leaders and pastors and those in authority have to teach the Japanese Christians the basic principles of why it is important to be direct and what directness can do when they witness to an unbeliever.