You are here:

Japanese Culture/Japanese culture vs Western culture


QUESTION: Hello Phillip.
As part of a school investigation I have spent time investigating similarities and differences between an eastern culture (Japan) and a western culture (UK because I live there but really just Europe and North America in general). I have made a series of conclusions from my research and would really appreciate your thoughts on whether they seem sensible.

1: Japanese people generally have a very strong work ethic and are more loyal to the company they work for than people in the west.
2: Religion and spiritualism do play a part in Japanese culture but it is more subconscious eg: Blessing Baseball games/buildings/machines. Sometimes it is not uncommon for people in Japan to follow more than one religion so for example even people who are Shinto/Buddhist/non religious may still have a Christian wedding.
3: Japan can be quite different to how it is perceived in the west and is often defined by inaccurate stereotypes.
4: Determination and an admiration of physical ability are both part of Japanese culture. (I made this conclusion by analysis of sport and physical game shows such as Sasuke and Kinniku Banzuke).

Sorry if my findings are not very well informed because I had to mainly just use books and websites to find out my information and before hand I only had a little knowledge of Japanese culture but I tried my best to use them to best describe Japan.

Thanks very much for any feedback you can provide.

ANSWER: Hello Sam,
How nice of you to choose this subject. You are indeed quite correct on the findings that you listed. Let's take this one step further, shall we? Then you can hand in a sound report.
Did you already explain for each of the points listed what the source is of the finding? I think they are well spotted from the point of view of somebody from Britain (and yes, it would look similar from The Netherlands or The United States of America). Please do realise they work ONLY from this point of view. The Chinese, Kenyans, Russians, they have very different looks on the Japanese.

1. This is the case compared to just about any other civilisation that we can think of. I can think of no people who value the relation between employer and employee so strongly. Employers also take good care of their employees in terms of insurance, salary, job security. The tsunami and the economic crisis we have had since 2008 throw a big dent in this conviction, because employers were not able to keep people on without any turnover. In the Tohoku area, whole factories were wiped away and people were left without any job, any income. However, no riots took place. None whatsoever. No looting. People value each others private space and property. This is another strong point in the Japanese not seen elsewhere.
The consequence is a high stress level. Japan has one of the highest suicide statistics (please verify, I am only recounting what I hear.
2. Please reconsider 'subconscious'. They are quite conscious about their spirituality. They just experience it differently from the way we do. 'We' is difficult to identify now that we have so many people who have left the church. How religious are you? What is religiousness to somebody who doesn't believe in God or Allah? The Japanese have a rather prominent space for their spirituality. You can see temples everywhere, even in the modern city of Tokyo. I say spirituality, not religion. We know our churches and the lives of Christians which are lived in the service of God. They don't do that. There are many gods and they are all around you. This is the case in many Asian countries, by the way. You can be on your way to work, quickly stop at a temple, donate a few coins, pray and continue. Around New Year, you would eat mandarins and rice cakes (a spiritual meaning is behind this). You would give some food to a monk passing by. But the monk would not preside in a service and guide you in your life the way a Christian priest would. There is a Christian minority in Japan (maybe 5%, better to verify) and they would indeed also remain doing things that would be considered 'Shinto' or 'Buddhist'. But because religion is not so strong, they would not mind participating in a Christian wedding. They even find it quaint.
3. This point is of course valid for any comparison between two peoples. What would be very interesting for your report would be to find out what they think of us. :) Personally, I find the Japanese culture is so strong and so different from mine that it is a perfect mirror for my values, beliefs and behaviour. That is very valuable.
4. Those are entertaining formats, aren't they? I have seen it copied to US and also British television. I think this is too specific and cannot be taken as examples to generalise over a whole population. But you have a point. Sports is a part of almost everybody's life. In school, it already starts that way. It has something of the Spartan way of life; a sound mind in a healthy body. Maybe it would be good to find statistics on how many people actively participate in a sport compared to people in other countries. I will say this, though; the samurai life is very inspirational to many people in many ways. Physical ability is part of that. Literacy, poetry, philosophy and of course valour are other parts of it.

I could always help you with examples and experiences. I cannot help you with statistics or scientific support. Maybe I can interest you in reading "A modern history of Japan" by Andrew Gordon, which taught me a lot.

---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------

QUESTION: Thanks a lot for your excellent help, its very interesting to hear from someone who has first hand experience of all these things.

1: I have also heard that suicide rate is quite high in Japan but not the highest (something like 30,000 people a year) and have also heard that there have been cases of people literally working themselves to death because of their commitment to their employees, the word for this is apparently Karoshi.
2: That makes a lot of sense because I kind of defined religion as going to temples and worship and spiritualism as a sort of less formal form of religion. From what you tell me is sounds like quite a lot of this spiritualism is just part of the national culture so people just take things like as you say eating rice cakes at New Year as part of everyday life.
3: It would indeed by fascinating to hear what they think of us (and useful for my report :)) but unfortunately I'm sure its very difficult to learn Japanese and haven't really got the determination to do it. The people I asked associated things like ninjas, sumo, sushi, and wackiness with Japan which are partly true but in the west it seems we do get a bit of an oversimplified version of Japan.
4: Something about Japanese gameshows seems to appeal to the west for some reason. One thing I have noticed is that while in my own country shows such as Takeshi Jou/Sasuke are quite popular and on most days, the only real physical gameshow in my country was cancelled a year or so ago. So do we like watch people from other countries hurt and embarrass themselves on some wacky obstacle course but don't really want to do it ourselves?

I have sourced all my findings so far which have mainly been from newspaper articles from Japan (Japan times etc.) and my own country though I did also use a few studies to talk about the religious/spiritual side. Thanks the advice about the book, I will make sure to check it out because I have a bit of time before my report needs to be completed.

Your message came in as a follow up question. From what I can read you wanted to give feedback on my answers. Thanks for that. I clicked a button for a 'You're welcome message' but this is automated. I'd rather say it personally, so I am trying it by revising my answer. I hope you can still follow it. :)

So, nice of you to use this information and I would like to hear the outcome. I am quite sure this can turn into a good grade.


Japanese Culture

All Answers

Answers by Expert:

Ask Experts


Philip Lafeber


Are you doing business with the Japanese? Do you wonder how to approach them, what to do and what not to do? I am happy to provide some advice.


I have worked for a Japanese company for 6 years and taught myself how to work with the Japanese and also some of the Japanese language. Also, my wife is Japanese, which is why I have also learnt about Japanese in private life.

None. All based on experience.

©2016 All rights reserved.