What are cultural differences?
Culture, the way Intercultural Coaches usually define it, is describing the way how the people belonging to a certain group, such as a nation, think. The thinking is influenced by values and norms that the people belonging to the group share. Of course not everyone of a certain country thinks the same way, indeed there are big differences from one individual to another, but tendencies definitely exist. They exist because the people around oneself are influencing each other: in their childhood, children learn the values, the way of thinking and behavioural norms from their parents, educators and teachers. Later, through every interaction, in social life, in work life etc. people adapt their thinking and behaviours to the people around them – resulting that they are a little similar to the people they interact with or they have grown up with.
Japan is still a relatively closed society. As an isolated island with still today, very few foreigners, a culture has developed in Japan, which is indeed unique and in many aspects very different from all the other cultures in the world. Most people in Japan are proud of their culture and want to preserve it. There is not so much the urge to adapt cultural features from other nations.
Being unique, however means that there are considerable differences between Japanese culture and the rest of the world. If you are not familiar with these differences and you closely interact with Japanese people, for instance living with them in a host family, or working with them at your Working Holiday job or internship, can result in difficulties for both sides.
It is therefore definitely recommendable to learn about Japanese culture prior to your trip to Japan. Once you have are familiar with it in theory, you will be sensitized and able to understand certain behaviours you can observe in Japan, and you can adjust your own behaviour accordingly to avoid possible pitfalls.
Japan Explained Through Cultural Dimensions
A very useful analytical tool to study cultural differences is Hofstede’s 6D model of culture. The model identifies six key dimensions by which cultures differ and through comparison, serves as a good representation of differences. The dimensions described are power distance, individualism vs. collectivism, masculinity vs. femininity, uncertainty avoidance, pragmatism vs. normative and indulgence vs. restraint.
The Hofstede Centre has a powerful tool on its website, allowing you to compare your own culture with Japan. You will notice in which dimensions you can possibly expect bigger cultural differences and learn how people in Japan would typically position themselves:
You can also book an online intercultural skype training session with World Unite! (available in English and German), which takes around 90 minutes, and where you can learn from and also ask your questions to an experienced academic consultant (intercultural coaches, japanologists) about anything related to Japanese culture and/or living and working in Japan. To join is 45 USD/EUR. The sessions are usually offered 1-2 times per month to a group of around 4-10 participants, most of which go to Japan on a Working Holiday or Internship. It would be good to contact World Unite! latest around one month prior to your proposed journey to Japan. Even if you are already in Japan, it might make sense to join the session.
Yes, I want to book an online intercultural skype training session about living and working in Japan!