2005-08-08

Nikka Differences

It can be said that I started working on this post in my head when I was in Japan 2 years ago. I was asked to and so I'm going to post some differences between Japan and Canada (nikka). Limitations include but are not limited to my unbalanced scope of knowledge (I know more about Canada than Japan) and the following...

Disclaimer: These 'differences' are intrinsically flawed as they are generalizations of behaviours of groups of people - there are almost always, and probably many, exceptions to each of the points posted below. Please keep this in mind to avoid stereotyping; it is not my intention to offend any Japanese or Canadians. For example, if a medical study lists the mean IQ of African Americans at 87, that does not mean that a given African American is 'dumb'. Use the same kind of thinking when reading the post.

Language must also be clearly defined. By 'many' (or 'frequently') I do not necessarily mean a majority. 'Many' may even applied to describe a small percentage of the population, such as 1%. However, 'many' still carries meaning because it emphasizes a difference. For example, if the rate of 'such and such property in the general population' is 0.4% in Canada and it is 1.1% in Japan, that is a significant difference - almost 3 times! Yet, it is still a tiny minority of the population. When I say "Men here have more..." I mean that "Japanese men have more..." - this is the point of reference when using 'here'.

Japanese culture is changing quite rapidly, so there are some generational differences. There is an aging population that is creating a significant change in the structure of Japanese society, the implications of which will be felt from now until decades later. Some of the points below may only apply to one age group. Younger generations tend to be more Westernized, and so there is probably less of a difference between Japan and Canada in these cases.

I don't know if this is very enjoyable to read, but some have been waiting for this, so here it is!

And so, without further blah-blah...

Society
⇒Men here have more prominence in all high-level positions, especially in companies and the government. The second point is related.
⇒Compared with Canada, a higher proportion of women in Japan fulfill traditional roles in society (e.g. housewife, receptionist) and a much lower proportion are in the technology sector (e.g. areas such as software engineering).
⇒The use of personalized stamps (not the postal kind) is required in Japan; signatures alone are, generally speaking, insufficient.
⇒The main modes of transportation are train, bus, and taxi. However, many if not most Japanese families do have a car. Still, the percentage of Japanese owning a car is much lower than that of Canadians, owing to their excellent public transportation system.
⇒People are almost always polite here, in other words you'll be hard pressed to bump into a rude person. Many people, especially company employees here, are very busy and so may seem to be rude but really they just have no time (i.e. if you ask for directions to a temple).
⇒Service is basically without exception, exceptional here. When I come back to Canada I'll be in for a huge reverse culture-shock. "Whaddya want??"
⇒There is a much greater emphasis on cuteness here. Many commercials, books, even cars and electronics are essentially made to be cuter than their competitors. This is known as the 'cuteness factor' by foreigners like me studying cultural differences.

Family
⇒Many Japanese may form closer bonds with their co-workers and high school friends than with their immediate family. Due to this, it is frequently the case that husband and wife are not 'close' or affectionate. Stemming from this and weak anti-prostitution law enforcement, we have the booming love hotel/soap spa business.
⇒A mother usually bonds much more closely with her child(ren) than with her husband.
⇒Guys usually hang out with guys and vice versa for girls. They tend to form large cliques. Consequently, even when married, it is common for men and women to form separate groups, like for instance, when dining, partying, and shopping.

Company
⇒Most employees work long hours. What I mean is 9:00 to 21:00 is not really considered overtime.
⇒Company events here are held more frequently and on a larger scale (we had over 1500 people at our summer festival last Friday)
⇒The bureaucratic procedures here, although created with the intention to help boost productivity, is practiced to the point where it hurts productivity instead.
⇒People are almost always courteous and helpful here. In the company it's even harder to find a rude person since you won't be asking for directions to a temple or something while they're running to the company.
⇒Bonds between company employees are quite strong. It's almost family-like.
⇒Beer and sake are the agents that keep strong these bonds. Sure, many people in Canada drink beer and have a great time after work/school. But no, not nearly as prominent as it is here - here it is almost guaranteed that you'll go out a few times a week drinking.

Education
⇒There are many private schools here. In fact, most high school students go to private high schools.
⇒There are dozens of books that just describe and compare the 300-odd high schools around Tokyo.
⇒Primary school is 6 years long, junior high is 3 years long as is high school.
⇒There are many 塾, or cram schools that supposedly help you into universities and high schools.

Environment
⇒Sorting the trash into 11 different piles is something that Epson does (ISO 14001), but even in everyday life, garbage is sorted in a specific manner.


Sources of information include many 25-50 year old Japanese colleagues, penpals, Canadians working here, my relatives and their friends, and lastly of course, my experiences here.

This is a working list, and so even if a few months pass, expect this page to be updated again. Items may be removed and/or added without notice at my sole discretion.

And yes, I've been reading too many software licenses. =P

7 comments:

Ambrose said...

"Service is basically without exception, exceptional here. When I come back to Canada I'll be in for a huge reverse culture-shock. 'Whaddya want??'"

That's one of the main things I like about the Jap culture. They understand the definition of "professionalism".

Jason Yu said...

Yes, go awesome service!

Bao said...

I want to go to Shinjuku and to the... district whose name I forgot... and... get a soap bath.... *shifty eyes*

Anyways, I agree with the transportation - trains are good, subway's good (not only in japan), and taxi's are cheap - although Singapore's taxis were waaay cheaper. (which is something I'll have to write about later)

asynchro said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
asynchro said...

The other thing I like about the general mindset of Japanese people is that everyone seems to take pride in their work, no matter how menial it may be. Chefs, cashiers, janitors, they're always smiling and greeting you no matter what.

Another striking difference inside the office is the way the seating arrangement is organized without regard to company position. Company president, co-op, it's all the same to them.

Not sure about Alex, but I've got Andrew's blog: http://www.xanga.com/home.aspx?user=zanarkand

asynchro said...

forgot to say - awesome post. I can corroborate virtually everything on the list.

here's a couple more to add to the pot: in Canada, the few hours before the weekend, or a big a holiday like Christmas is usually pretty relaxed and laidback, right? And people tend to leave early to get a headstart.

Well, it's 6:30 PM on the Friday night before the big Obon holiday week where almost everyone is taking a few days off to go travelling or visit their 実家, yet the office is still almost full and everyone is still madly working away till the bitter, bitter end.

Why am I still here? Andrew and I are just waiting Alex :P

Jason Yu said...

Hey Lorenzo!

Everyone was working until the bitter end here too. People here have a great (maybe too great) work mentality.

I hope you get your bank account soon =) And have a great O-bon weekend!

Cheers,
Jason