US / Japan Culture Comparison

Although each individual is distance, you may find the following broad differences between the dominant cultures of Japan and America helpful in understanding AUAP students and the dynamics of your relationships.  Please realize this is a basic overview of a complex culture.  You will need to discover for yourself how much this information applies –or doesn’t- to the individual(s) you come to know.

  Communication :: Reality :: Conflict :: Self Esteem :: Humor and Emotions :: Friends


Preferred Communication Styles and Modes

The US

The ideal way to communicate is to speak directly and clearly about the issue at hand face to face with the person involved.

The ideal way of communicating is getting a message across by artfully speaking indirectly and hinting at the issue.  Being too direct is clumsy.  A go-between or middleman is often used with delicate or important matters.

Verbal communication is the dominant mode, although body language is also relied upon to a certain degree.

Words are not to be trusted as much as mutual feelings and non-verbal cues.  Verbal communication is seen as only one of the many ways to communicate, as the use of silence, pauses, actions, facial expressions, body language, etc. is seen as a more direct expression of one’s heart.

Since the U.S. is an immigrant society, putting as much of your message as possible into words is important in order to let people know “where you’re coming from”.   People try to remove the possibility of misassumptions as they believe everyone is different and the degree which they are involved in the majority culture varies.

Japanese view their country as racially and culturally homogeneous with a long history of tradition, so it is assumed that everyone knows and will play by the unspoken rules of the majority culture. 

The strengths of the English language are persuading others to see your point of view and explaining facts.

The strengths of the Japanese language are expressing relationships, solidarity, and feelings.


Objective Reality

The US

The reliance of facts, doing what is practical, and following their religious beliefs are what Americans tend to base their actions on.

There is a world of hard facts, but everyday actions are based on maintaining relationships with other, intuition and feelings, and actions prescribed by tradition.

When one is late, for example, a person often explains what happened first to provide a factual reason for their lateness and justify their actions.

When one is late, a person expresses remorse and apologizes to make sure the other does not think their lateness means they don’t value the relationship. The reason for being late is not so important.


View of Conflict and Conflict Resolution

The US

Conflict is seen as inevitable, and the ideal way to view conflict is as an opportunity to promote communication, stimulate ideas, increase understanding, and to bring about positive and creative change.

Conflict is dangerous to relationships and is to be diffused beforehand or avoided at all costs.  Harmony is the ultimate social ideal and conflict is completely at odds with it.

There is a belief that the best way to resolve conflicts is to bring them out in the open and deal with them directly.

By anticipating actions, watching reaction, and to trying above all to keep harmony, the preferred way to resolve conflicts is to subtly diffuse them before they occur.


Source of Self Esteem

The US

Self esteem comes from what people have accomplished in their lives and who they are.  A lesser degree comes from what others think about them.  Self-reliance is important.

Self esteem comes mostly from belonging to a group and the relationships one has made and nurtured.  As such, what other people think is very influential, although accomplishments are also factors.  Interdependence is important.


Humor and Emotions

The US

Humor is the best way to connect with people, and speeches and conversations are the best begun with a joke or something humorous.  Humor can be shared with almost anyone at any time.  Sarcasm, witty repartee, teasing, and oneupsmanship are often sources of humor.

Humor and seriousness are opposites, and humor is avoided if the subject or mood is serious.  Friends share humor and laughter after they’ve come to know each other, and joking with a stranger is uncalled for because it may cause offense.  Sarcasm, witty repartee, teasing, and oneupsmanship by someone not well know may be seen as a personal attack.

People generally reveal a certain amount of their emotions as they feel them, not hiding or controlling them unless a person is present who is causing negative emotions.  If someone is having a bad day, those nearby usually know it because unfocused emotion should be released rather than pent up.

People are taught to suppress their emotions to a certain degree and not let other see extreme emotions unless in a close relationship.  Unfocused emotions may be read by other as focused at them, so people are careful to control and focus their emotions.  Someone nearby may be having a bad day, but probably won’t show it.


Making Friends

The US

In the U.S., people of all ages, creeds, and esteem are potential friends, and act very friendly towards each other even when they first meet.  Friends are often made by chance when those nearby start talking with each other.  People who have met only a few times often refer to each other as friends.

Friendship is a gradual process that usually starts by joining a group or being introduced to someone.  Strangers and those of different ages or esteem are regarded as “the flowers one passes by on the journey of life.”  People are often seen as being in one’s in-group, out-group, or of a different social hierarchy.  To make a friend, one usually must become socially connected with another and take time to nurture mutual feelings and trust.