Japan is an island country located in the Northwest Pacific in East Asia. It is an incredibly homogenous country, 97.8% of the population of Japan is Japanese with foreign nationals making up the rest of the percentage. This is due to an intense isolation policy “Sakoku” that lasted for 250 years which severely limited trade and exposure as well as supported strong nationalistic ideals, that combined with a low birth rate, leads to lack in diversity. Not to say that there is no diversity in Japan or on its islands, there is diversity in dialects, tradition between the north and south, and in blood due to the few Japanese invasions and the occupation of South Korea.
Over the entirety of Japan, there are some cultural norms that everyone abides by. When meeting people for the first time, the Japanese bow to each other however foreigners are expected to shake hands. It is considered rude if you introduce yourself so it is best to wait until someone introduces you instead. Non-verbal communication is very important and complex in Japan. They must be conscious and careful of their body language, tone, and facial expressions during conversation. There is also a social hierarchy system in Japan and the oldest in the group is always respected and honored. They are served first when eating as well as have their drinks poured for them by the youngers.
More to read: Essay on various forms of diversity
There are some cultural similarities between the US and Japan even though they differ greatly in demographic. One similarity is that both cultures are polite and friendly on the surface but reserve deeper conversations for friends. In the US, we partake in small talk and most are quick to assist a stranger in need of assistance. Americans are generally open to strangers and helpful to strangers as are the Japanese. However, small talk among strangers does not generally happen in Japan unless a foreigner initiates it. Though both cultures are friendly on a surface level, interactions with strangers don’t progress much deeper than civil pleasantries and are more reserved in opinionated or sensitive conversations. Another similarity is the pride both cultures take in working hard and being conscious of their status. The Japanese have a very difficult work environment that encourages long hours and overworking. This environment is not changing anytime soon as the Japanese continue to enable it because not following it would suggest that they are working hard enough and that is seen as shameful. In the US, we also value hard work and tend to place less value on things that we perceive as not received through hard work or that was “given easily.”
The Hofstede Cultural Dimensions reveals the cultural structure of the Japanese and how the country relates to other countries as a whole. In terms of Power Distance, Japan has an intermediate score leaning more towards a hierarchical society. However, Japan is not as hierarchical as most other Asian countries. Foreigners can perceive the workplace as incredibly hierarchical but that is due to slow decision making. That is because each decision needs to be approved through each higher level in the hierarchy which can take a long time as it reaches the higher levels. For Individuality, Japan scores low and is considered a collective society. Japan puts the harmony of society before personal opinions and a sense of shame upon losing face. However, Japan is not as collective as other Asian countries. Japanese have a strong sense of company loyalty which is considered individualist. The Japanese also do not have the close extended family ties seen in other similar countries like China or South Korea that create the base of a collectivist society. Japan tends to be a collective society as a whole but are loyal to their ingroup, such as family or local community. That being said, Japan is a highly masculine society. They are driven by competition, achievement, and success. This combined with being a collective society might lead one to not see the masculine qualities of the culture however Japanese competition is more among groups of people, class or levels at work, instead of among individuals. Japan is very concerned with beating the winning team and outdoing groups of people. More expressions of masculinity are seen in the strive for perfection in the production of material goods and well as in services. Because Japan is one of the most masculine countries in the world, the rigid view of gender roles of still common and can hinder women from moving up in the workplace.
Japan also scores very high in uncertainty avoidance. As one of the most uncertainty avoidant countries in the world, many ceremonies are conducted the same way each time they take place. Graduation ceremonies, weddings, funerals, and other social events are all held the same way each year and attendees are given very thorough and clear etiquette books where what is expected of them is described in great clarity. This is attributed to the amount of natural disasters the country has to deal with and due to these circumstances, the Japanese have learned how to prepare themselves for any uncertain situation. Japan is also very long term oriented. They see themselves and their lives as short moments in the long history of mankind. The Japanese live by the philosophy that they should try their best in their lifetime and that is all one can do. Many companies in Japan also have long term views in investment instead of trying to top their earnings each quarter. Many companies are interested in serving society in the long term over generations instead of bringing in large sums each quarter for investors. Japan also has a low score in indulgence. Societies like this tend to be cynical and pessimistic which can also contribute to the great lengths that the Japanese go to in regards to uncertainty avoidance. Restrained cultures such as this also do not put much emphasis on leisure time which can be seen in the intense overworking culture in the Japanese work environment.
Common stereotypes that can be seen towards the Japanese are that they are uptight and cold, workaholics, and closed off to foreigners. Many of these stereotypes have some small relation to the cultural dimensions discussed above. Many see the Japanese as uptight and cold but this stereotype comes from the west where talking to strangers and small talk is normal. If someone who was not aware of Japanese culture went there and tried to interact with the people on the streets, they could get the impression of them being cold when stranger interactions are simply not common. The Japanese will talk with someone if they are approached and try to help but they will usually not be the one to initiate. The Japanese are also very busy as work is very important to them. This can be taken as being brushed off or hurried when that was not the intention. Japan can seem closed off to foreigners as the country is very homogeneous and its citizens are generally loyal to the ingroup grew up in or work in. The low foreigner population can already seem daunting coupled with the potential for language barrier. Many Japanese do not interact much with foreigners because they assume the foreigner cannot speak Japanese and they themselves might not be confident in their English skills. However this does not mean that the Japanese are against foreigners, the average person just might not have much experience with foreigners or be concerned about a language barrier. Other stereotypes, particularly held by the west, are not directly held towards the Japanese but are held against East Asians as a whole regardless of their actually ethnicity or accuracy. This can include the stereotypes of being disrespectful tourists, eating cat or dog, and being employed in technology or being good in school.
In the workplace, these stereotypes can affect both the Japanese and their co-workers. The Japanese find saving face to be very important. They might agree to something they do not want in order to save face of the person who proposed the idea as well as themselves from outright rejecting an idea. In order to successfully navigate this, foreigner co-workers or investors must be well versed in working with the Japanese and be able to read body language that tells them “no” when they might verbally say yes to avoid embarrassment. Within a Japanese workplace there is a lot of strive to be the best this usually group vs group instead of individual vs individual but this can lead to less collaboration between the different levels which could stunt growth. Within a foreign workplace, the co-workers could paradoxically find their Japanese co-worker as avoidant and not a team player but this could be contributed to the difference in workplace hierarchy between the west and Japan. This could lead to exclusion unless the co-workers strive to understand and work with the cultural differences.
As the world is getting increasingly global, there is a lot more exposure to different cultures than in the past. Japan is slowly getting a larger foreign population as well as a half-Japanese population. This puts strain on the very nationalistic ideals of the country but also promotes diversity and exposes the Japanese to other cultures. Most of the strain falls on the older generations but the younger generations readily accept foreigners or foreign media. Most of this acceptation is surface level because foreign media and individuals are seen as exotic and cool but they will not be seen as a part of Japanese society. Japan is still highly homogeneous compared to the US in demographic as well as ideals. The workplace environment has not changed much in the last hundred years however in the last few years there has been a push to lessen work hours and the pressure to stay late. This movement has seen some success however it is still a cultural value that is strong in the country so it may take a long time before we see drastic change. And since the Japanese try to avoid sharp changes due to uncertainty avoidance and the desire to remain out of the spotlight, this change will more than likely happen over time gradually instead of quickly all at once.
Anti-Japanese sentiments have existed in the US since well before WW1. Some of this prejudice translated in to law with the Alien Land Law of 1913 and the following internment camps and Yellow Peril in California. These policies and institutions have since been removed but their legacy and effects still live on today. There was another surge on anti-Japanese sentiment in the 1980’s and 90’s with the rise of Japan as an economic global power but with the introduction of the internet, anti-Japanese sentiments have been largely crowded out. Within Japan there are policies that affect their citizens unfairly. One of those was the labor law enforced in 2010 which applied to Technical Intern Trainees. This law coupled with the weak laws that protect migrant workers lead to abuses in overtime, unpaid wages, dangerous working conditions, and confiscation of personal documents like passports. Japan also does not have any anti-discrimination law to protect racial or ethnic minorities that reside there. There was an anti-hate speech law that was passed recently in wake of growing hate speech towards its Korean residents however this law does not apply to undocumented migrants and indigenous people. In order to have an inclusive society I would suggest a reform of the Technical Intern Trainee program to eliminate the possibility of abuse of power and strengthen laws to protect minorities so if abuse does take place, they can be held accountable. I would also alter the hate speech law so it includes protections for ethnic minorities and migrants, not just Korean residents.
Overall I have learned a lot about the Japanese and how they conduct themselves in society and in the workplace. They are not so dissimilar from the US that they are completely alien. We share many similar sentiments in hard work and generally being happy to help those in need. Japan however is different enough in mannerism that we should strive to learn about the culture so we do not accidently offend or confuse cultural practice with being cold or disrespectful. Saving face is a huge part of Japanese culture and if someone is unaware of it, this can possibly put the Japanese person in an awkward position and dissuade them from working further with you or getting closer. Japan is also very structured and information is clear because of the high degree of uncertainty avoidance so vague information and direction could be distressing or confusing. Because of this, meetings should present information detailed and clearly so there is no confusion or uncertainty about how to conduct the meeting or what is being presented. As the world continues to become more global, we must learn how to interact with other cultures effectively so we can continue to be successful and inclusive in our lives.
Works Cited Arudou, D. (2018, January 3). https://www.japantimes.co.jp/community/2018/01/03/issues/2017-japan-woke-issue-discrimination/#.Xt2GxxNKhQI. Retrieved from www.japantimes.co.jp: https://www.japantimes.co.jp/community/2018/01/03/issues/2017-japan-woke-issue-discrimination/#.Xt2GxxNKhQI Insights, H. (2020). www.hofstede-insights.com/country-comparison/japan/. Retrieved from www.hofstede-insights.com: https://www.hofstede-insights.com/country-comparison/japan/ Report, H. R. (2017). https://www.hrw.org/world-report/2017/country-chapters/japan. Retrieved from www.hrw.org: https://www.hrw.org/world-report/2017/country-chapters/japan
Last Updated on December 1, 2020 by Essay Pro