Saturday, October 21, 2006

Cultural Differences of Japan and The U.S.

The United States is considered an individualistic culture where a person sees herself or himself as a separate and unique individual, and whose self-definition does not include others. An individualistic culture places emphasis on individual goals.

Japan, on the other hand, is a collectivist culture where a person defines herself or himself in relation to others. The concept of Wa in Japan refers to the harmony of the group, where the self is merged into the group to form a grand harmony. The concept of Enryo refers to reserve or restraint resulting from conformity to the group. Enryo is a response to group pressure to conform.

The United States is a low context and individualistic culture, which emphasizes direct communication. Common phrases in the United States that reflect this cultural style of communication are: “Say what you mean!” “Don’t beat around the bush!” “Get to the point!”

As a high context and collectivist culture, Japanese often use indirect forms of communications filled with qualifiers such as, “perhaps,” “probably” “and “somewhat.” The Japanese are self-effacing and strive to maintain the harmony of the group in their communications.

In Japanese culture, silence is accepted behavior in the company of others. Japanese believe that an indication of good manners is not talking too much. In contrast, North Americans talk more and try to control the conversation.

Japanese like to avoid uncertainty. In conversation they want to know the context of others to avoid uncertainty in the communication. It is considered proper to clearly identify who you are when first meeting. The more context a person can give about themselves the more comfortable the listener feels. This concern about certainty in relationships often results in North Americans referring to Japanese as regimented, rigid and closely ordered.

(Quoted from “ The Intersection of Cultures” by Joel Spring)



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