Humorist Dave Barry, in his 1992 book "Dave Barry Does Japan," wrote that as his family traveled the country, "nobody ever told us we couldn't do anything, although it turned out that there were numerous things we couldn't do."

He summarized some key English phrases used by Japanese people he encountered and the equivalent meanings " in American." According to Barry, "I see" and "yes" in fact mean "no," while "that is difficult" means "that is completely impossible." Barry adds that "we will study your proposal" means "we will feed your proposal to a goat."

Barry was, of course, exaggerating for effect — but just a bit. His wider point carries weight, as 許可を求める (kyoka o motomeru, asking permission) in Japan can be a challenge thanks to a host of vocabulary, varying degrees of polite language and the need to 意味を解釈する (imi o kaishaku suru, interpret the meaning) behind certain phrases or even 気まずい間 (kimazui ma, awkward pauses).