I wanted to choose a culture that was very different from ours in the United States, because learning about vastly different cultures can often be thought provoking, and can give people a sense of the bigger picture. One big component of Japanese society is saving “face.” Face can be considered honor or prestige, but is much broader than the way we use it here. It’s crucial to their society and is affected mostly by denying a request or being criticized or embarrassed. So when someone denies a request, it can be polite to say something like “it’s inconvenient” or “under consideration.” This might have a relation to the idea of harmony.
“Harmony is the guiding philosophy for the Japanese in family and business settings and in society as a whole.” Children in school learn how we are all dependent on one another, and are urged to try and act for the greater good, while trying to offer opposing facts in a polite manner. Working productively means working together, something that is reflected in personal and formal settings. I think they have a good point, although I have to stay objective when studying different cultures. Japan also has a hierarchy, and the oldest person in the group is always respected while the students refer to their peers as senior (senpai) or junior (kohai). When you are sitting down to eat, the elders and honorable guests are the first to start eating.
Japanese language is very different from English, and is spoken by 99% of the country! It’s the sixth most popular language in the world despite being scarce outside of the country. In the United States, almost 18% of people spoke another language in the year 2000. This number has probably grown since then, too. Japanese puts more emphasis towards the pitch of words, unlike English which gives more emphasis to different syllables. A person also uses the family name first when being introduced, and their personal name second – another custom that might be tied to the stress on the universal matters rather than the individual ones.
Non verbal communication also varies, and staring someone in the eye is actually considered disrespectful, especially if they are your senior. There is even a book to help foreigners understand non verbal signs like scratching eyebrows or the back of heads. Greetings also vary, but foreigners are expected to shake hands because they probably don’t understand the subtleties involved with bowing, the traditional greeting. Bowing when you are being greeted shows respect, and the deeper the bow, the more respect is shown. In the movie, The Last Emperor, one scene depicts a crowd of people bowing with their heads to the floor as the little emperor walks among them (although this movie was about the last Chinese emperor, the meaning of the bow is similar). When you walk into a house, you are also expected to take off your shoes and leave them pointing away from the doorway. There are sometimes even bathroom slippers for guests.
Japanese culture is interesting because it varies so much from our own. It seems like there are a lot of crazy traditions and art forms (especially with a huge list of table manners in the sources), but we can only look at their culture through our own cultural lens. I’m positive that when someone who has lived in Japan their entire life comes to America, they are just as astonished at our own lifestyles and silly traditions