JAPAN
CULTURAL DIFFERENCES



 
 
 
 
 
 
 

FAMILY
Women tend to stay home and raise the family. Men think of the country as the dominant family, but also want to be successful so they can take care of their families. Family is very important in Japan and the family tends to participate in lots of recreational activities together.
EDUCATION
Japan developed the Education Reform Initiative (2001-first full year) to encourage a better education system in order to compete with the international standard.  Students are required to have an education which is free of worries yet prepares them for the future of Japan.  Students are also required to do community service to keep them educated on the importance of Japan's unity and nationalism.  Employees are expected to have a very competitive education.  Japanese also learn the history of the country to teach the importance of living together in Japan in this era of globalization.  Students as well as employees learn the importance of mutual understanding and international cooperation.
ECONOMY
Unemployment has increased recently, but Japan still has one of the strongest economies in the world.  Japanese continue to update their products for export (cars, electronic devices, computers) to keep other countries buying their products.  (See Competition and Training and Development under JAPAN - Business Ethics).
POLITICS
Today Japan is a country that tries to do things for the people. Many laws and regulations are in place to make sure the country runs a certain way. The government is now run by the people and the Emperor is just a symbol. Sovereign power rests with the people. Executive power is vested in the cabinet, which is responsible to the Diet. The country's overall goal is for peace and democratic order. Japan wants to be seen as an honored place to the Japanese as well as outsiders.
RELIGION
Buddhism and Shinto are the two most popular religions in Japan. However, religion is not followed in everyday life, but is remembered for special ceremonies like births, weddings, and funerals.
ASSOCIATIONS
Japan has associations from Bankers and Nursing Associations to the Japanese-American Genealogy Association which links Japanese-Americans to their ancestors and relatives in Japan. Japan has professional and social associations that the Japanese find very helpful for recreational purposes and educational purposes. It gives Japanese the opportunity to meet people with the same interests.
HEALTH
The Japanese Ministry of Health must approve everything in order for it to be available to the country.  Japan has a system of universal health coverage, whereby most of the population is enrolled in some form of health insurance scheme and are thus required to pay insurance premiums. There are three healthcare systems of Japan: Employee's Health Insurance (for employees of small businesses and large corporations, employees of the government and the education system), Kokuho (retirees' healthcare system, agricultural workers, and self-employed), and the Health Care Programs for the Elderly (those over 70 years old including bedridden patients over 65 years old). Paid for by insurance premiums with help from local and national government.
RECREATION
Many Japanese spend their leisure time the same way the people of the United States do. Many believe this is because of the Western influence.  Some Japanese do not like the Western influence on their culture and some enjoy what the Western influence has to offer.  Some Japanese traditions are still practiced today: Tea Ceremonies, upkeep of Japanese Gardens, specific etiquette techniques and sitting techniques, and the many beliefs of superstitions.  People conducting business in Japan should familiarize themselves with the different table manners, greetings, and gift giving etiquette the Japanese practice.  The Japanese seem to participate in recreational activities with their families and friends.  Japanese are very close to their neighbors because of their small living quarters and tend to develop their etiquette techniques because of this.
VALUE DIMENSIONS
Japan's value dimensions have come a long way in the last 50 years with the influence of the United States. What Japan used to believe was right is no longer accepted. 
The following is what Japanese accept according to Hofstede's Value Dimensions as a guide: 

1. Power Distance - Authority figures are respected in Japan, but the superior must be a warm  person who looks out for the company as well as its employees. 

2. Uncertainty Avoidance - The Japanese always like to know what is going to happen next.  They have very strict laws and procedures for doing things in order to keep a strong sense of nationalism. Everything in Japan is done to make the country a better place.  For example: they always want to know that they will have one of the strongest economies in the world. 

3. Collectivism - The Japanese have a very strong dependence of belonging to "the organization." Japanese have social pressures and fears of humiliation, so they tend to decide what should be done for the organization in a group environment. The will of the group is very important in the Japanese culture. 

4. Masculinity - The women in Japan tend to stay home and raise the family.  Job stress is very high for the men and the interests of the organization tend to interfere with the employees' private lives. Japanese do things for the country, company they work for, and then for their family in order to survive in this culture.


 

INTERVIEW

        When I met Aya Miyakoda I could tell she was a very shy person with a passive personality. The first thing she said she noticed when she came to the United States was that the people here are much more outgoing and expressive. But that did not stop Aya from discussing what she has experienced while living in the United States.

        Aya Miyakoda has been studying at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge for the past six months. She is a graduate student in Landscape Architecture. She was born and raised in Tokyo, Japan. She was very eager to talk to me about the cultural differences in Japan, but she kept insisting that I speak to her father too. She said her father is much more educated and would be able to give me more information about Japan. I later learned that the women in Japan are much more passive, and the men are the educated and more dominate gender.

        Aya is enjoying the United States but has had some difficulties adjusting to our culture. Some of the topics we discussed were transportation, housing, education, recreation, family, and the people.  She misses being able to get on a train and go wherever she wants whenever she wants. “You must have a car to go anywhere here, and I have to share a car with my entire family,” she said. “I miss having more freedom in Japan. It is so easy to get around on the train.” She never would stay home in Tokyo because her house is so small (like in New York City or San Francisco) and her entire family lives there, including the grandparents. But in the United States she tends to stay home more. She and her friends would go out shopping or drinking almost every night in Tokyo. Aya is very close to her family and has really helped her parents while they have been in the United States (almost a month). “People in Japan take care of their family. In the United States you put your elderly in a nursing home. We take car of them until they die,” she said.

        Aya also noticed that in Japan you couldn’t tell the income level of the people. Everyone seems to be in the same social class. She noticed in the United States that you could just look at a person and tell which social class they belong. "Everyone dresses similarly and conservatively in Japan," she said. She also noticed the cost of living is much cheaper in Baton Rouge than in Tokyo. Another major difference was in her education. Aya described her education in Japan to be passive. “In my classes here, students express themselves and have discussions in class. In Japan, we would just listen to teacher and take tests,” she said. She began learning English grammar in junior high school, but she is really learning more about conversation by being in the United States. Her classmates here have taught her slang and some inappropriate words. “I just hope my classmates teach me which words not to say around certain people.”

        Not only are students passive while they are learning, but the people in Japan are very passive and more serious. “Here people talk to you everywhere, in Japan when on the train, no one talks,” she said. She described the people of Japan to be very shy and non-expressive. She thinks the people in the United States are cheerful, friendly and express their feelings. She also noticed that the buildings in the United States are bright colored and the roads are wide. In Japan the buildings are gray or brown and the streets are very narrow. She thinks this has to do with the personality of the people.

        Aya is really enjoying her experience in the United States. She said she is not sure if she will stay here after she graduates, but she knows she could not stay in Baton Rouge. “I could see going to San Francisco or New York City because they are similar to Tokyo,” she said.

        Her father on the other hand, is ready to head back to Tokyo. Tooru Miyakoda is the President of Keikan Sekkei Tokyo Co., Ltd., which is a planning, urban design, environmental design, and landscape architecture firm. He is in the United States participating in a project at the School of Design at Louisiana State University. He also teaches at a University in Tokyo once a week. Mr. Miyakoda does not speak English very well, but Aya was there to help with our conversation. She said her father is very smart and would describe what he sees as a difference in business in the United States versus Japan.

        “In Japan, we have pyramid system – very traditional, in U.S. you have tree system,” Mr. Miyakoda explained. The pyramid system is when you have a director at the top of the pyramid, who has been with the company for over 35 years and makes most of the decisions of the company. Then you have the sub-director, who had been with the company 15-20 years, then the chief (8-15 years) and finally the stuff (5-7 years). Many people work with the same company all their lives and work their way up to the position of Director. Mr. Miyakoda thinks this has been a good system for the Industrial Age of the 1900’s but for the Information Age, he is not sure if things should change.  The United States has a tree system where everything functions as a network. Everyone in the company works together and they network to other people in other companies. In this system decisions can be made quickly, it is good for mass production, and the employees seem to always be very busy. Mr. Miyakoda said in the U.S. people work from 9am to 5pm and then they go home and spend time with their families, but in Japan they work all night if they have to get something done.

        Japanese look at staying with the same company as a lifetime employment opportunity. Everyone is dedicated to the success of the company, not their individual success. Mr. Miyakoda compared it to working as a family, like the Mafia in the U.S. He also said that things are beginning to change for Japan. They are seeing the need for making relationships with other countries. The pyramid system is changing because business is struggling. Individuals in companies want more experience. Mr. Miyakoda said things are becoming Americanized and companies have to adjust. Also, Japan has very limited resources so they are beginning to try to make relationships with other countries to help with this problem. Japan also realizes that globalization is changing everything.

        In Japan things are taken much more serious than in the United States.  Recycling is required, they drink, wash, and swim in the same water to conserve the resources they have, and they are much more compact as a country because of limited space. People dance, drink, etc. in the same place. They live very compact lives. Even the cars are small. The density is high in Japan.

        One thing that Mr. Miyakoda is concerned with is the fact that Japan is an island that is isolated from everyone else in the world. Not many people speak English in Japan and he is worried about the future of the country with the globalization effect. He sees Japan as a very sophisticated culture and thinks the world is becoming more relaxed.

        Mr. Miyakoda and his wife also discussed some differences they have seen. In Japan if a woman decides to have a career than she is very likely not to get married. Men in Japan are intimidated by an educated woman and will not want to marry her. They still see women as mothers and housekeepers. In the past if a woman would work she would serve tea or be a secretary. Today it is more like the United States. Also, men tend to make money for the family to enjoy and they tend to have no hobbies of their own. Today men are discovering themselves and finding ways to play with their free time.

        They have also noticed that many young people are traveling to see what else is out there. The Miyakoda family sees Japan as a “gold island”. The people are kind and tender (especially the women) and it is very safe at night. I am sure they will enjoy their experience in the United States but will be very glad to be going home. The family gave me an origami bird as a gift when I was leaving Mr. Miyakoda’s office and offered me a place to stay if I ever wanted to visit Tokyo.
 

SOURCES
http://www.monbu.go.jp
http://www.fuji.stanford.edu
http://www.japan-guide.com
http://www.executiveplanet.com
Axtell, Roger E. Do's and Taboos Around the World, 3rd Edition, The Parker Pen Company, 1993.
Miyakoda, Aya. Interview, February 2002.
Miyakoda, Tooru. Interview, February 2002.