Culture differences between the U.S. and Japan

11 Oct

There are many cultural differences between Japan and America. Too many to list.

And, to tell the truth, although I was born and raised in America…I have spent just about my entire adult life in Japan—so I have become more used to Japanese culture than American.

What is considered “normal” behavior here in Japan just seems like the usual “common sense” way to act…and, honestly, sometimes the standard “normal” behavior in America seems unusual or “quirky”.

Most of the cultural differences that I’m thinking of aren’t real important…just the different ways of doing things in different countries and cultures.

For example…

– When people talk in America, they are usually quite direct and to the point. Often stating their opinion on a given subject quite brazenly.

But that’s generally impolite in Japan. Here, rather than directly stating an opinion—especially a conflicting one—a person’s feelings are usually expressed more indirectly.

In Japan, people are expected to be subtle and “read between the lines”.

Americans typically deal with facts and opinions. Those are important in Japan…but not as much as people’s feelings.
For example, an American person might be joining some Japanese friends for dinner. The plans were made to go to a certain restaurant that everyone likes. On the way there they pass another restaurant and the American might comment that he likes that other restaurant a lot.
The comment was meant as nothing but “small conversation”…but the Japanese people would quite likely change the plans and go to that other restaurant because the American (in the Japanese people’s minds) was strongly wishing to eat there.

Japanese people wouldn’t make such a comment…even in passing.

– When American people meet someone new, they can quickly call that person “a friend“…and the friendship can end just as abruptly.
It can take years before a Japanese person calls someone a “friend”…but once a friendship is made, it lasts a lifetime.

The above mentioned differences are just some things that make Japan and America unique. One way isn’t better or worse than the other. I live in Japan, so I’m used to the “Japanese way”…but if I still lived in America, I’d still be used to America’s culture, of course.

But here are some Japanese cultural traits that I think America could learn from:

Respect for others. At work, when called to the boss’s office, people in Japan will wait at the door until invited in…and certainly wouldn’t sit down until told to.
Similarly, when riding in car or taxi with superiors, people here will wait until told where to sit.

Also, Japanese people never wear shoes into a home or certain restaurants. And definitely wouldn’t put their feet or shoes (even brand new ones) on a table.

In addition, when Japanese people leave a restaurant, movie theater, ball park, etc., they clean up after themselves. They don’t leave a mess and expect others to clean up after them.

Another example…people in Japan aren’t judged by their jobs. No one “talks down to” another person because their job isn’t glamorous or well-paying.

Recycling. In Japan, recycling and caring about the environment has become important to many people. I haven’t lived in America for a while now, so I’m not sure—maybe this is similar in America.

Health care. In Japan, nearly everyone has either private or government health insurance. And health insurance here pays 70% of all medical or dental bills…including ambulance rides and pre-existing conditions.

Tipping. There is no tipping in Japan. And yet, the service in stores, restaurants, barber shops, hotels, taxis, etc. is said to be the best in the world.

Safety. Japan has one of the lowest crime rates in the industrialized world.

Punctuality. Everyone and everything is on time. TV and radio shows in Japan are scheduled to start at times such 6:54…and that’s exactly when it will start!
The trains and subways are also just as punctual.
People in Japan show up for work and meetings early. Very seldom, and usually with good reason, is someone ever late here.

Clean. This goes along with “respect”. Japan has very little litter or graffiti– even in major cities such as Tokyo. People here carry their garbage with them until they either find a public garbage can or they return home.

Those are some of the reasons that I love living in Japan. And I think that America and other countries could benefit from incorporating them into their cultures.

But there are also some parts of America’s culture that I think Japan could learn from:

Ambulances. In Japan, ambulances are government-owned and often take too long to bring patients to hospitals. There have been cases of people dieing in ambulances who could’ve probably been saved if they’d arrived at the hospital sooner.

Japanese 救急車 (ambulance)

In America, ambulance services are by private companies. The competition makes them all have fast response times.

School tuition. In Japan, high schools and colleges, even public ones, have expensive tuitions that must be paid by the parents. They are few student loans (which therefore are difficult to get) and no student financial grants.
American colleges have many more financial aid plans for students than in Japan.

103 Responses to “Culture differences between the U.S. and Japan”

  1. Anonymous November 15, 2015 at 7:46 pm #

    Thank you for your article, I too am working on a school paper and because I lived in Okinawa for three years and just returned to the states I chose to compare and contrast the U.S. and Japan cultures. All that you stated is basically the same as in Okinawa. I really missed being away from my family and friends in the states however, I have never felt so safe and accepted as I did in Okinawa. I had to learn to lock my doors again coming back to the states and it is kind of interesting how noticeable it is to me that in the U.S. we are so fixed on superficial things, like who drives what car, who lives in what neighborhood. In Okinawa nobody is focused on that type of stuff, just living and enjoying life which was a breath of fresh air. It is true the customer service in Japan is unlike anything I have ever experienced, it is superb. I feel blessed that I was able to spend three years among the Japanese, they are a humble, hard working, and peaceful people. We could learn a lot from them.


    • tokyo5 November 15, 2015 at 7:53 pm #

      Thank you. Okinawa is nice … quite different from Tokyo, though.
      Why were you there for three years? What years?
      What part of America are you from?


  2. Theresa November 13, 2015 at 6:01 am #

    Thank you for this article. I am working on a paper for school about cultural differences between Japan and America. Do you feel there is much diversity in Japan? Also, What does the symbol mean that you use as the photo icon next to your name “tokyo5”? Your answers are appreciated.


    • tokyo5 November 13, 2015 at 12:04 pm #

      >I am working on a paper for school about cultural differences between Japan and America.

      What types of differences have you noted?

      >Do you feel there is much diversity in Japan?

      What type of “diversity”? Racial? Cultural?
      Generally speaking, I’d say “no”.

      >What does the symbol mean that you use as the photo icon

      It means “power“. The reason I use it as my avatar is because I’m a fan of the American rock band KISS.
      KISS uses it as a kind of symbol for their band. The reason they do is a bit complicated to explain, but basically it’s due to a misunderstanding of the Japanese written language at their record label years ago.

      Why do you ask?


      • Theresa November 14, 2015 at 12:56 am #

        >I asked about the symbol because I see it used often, sometimes as a tattoo- I have always been curious to what it represented. Thank you for your explanation.

        >Diversity question: Diversity specifically in the job market – Gender, Race, disability.

        >Yes, College, a class in cultural diversity ranging in topics from disability, race, and gender equality in the workforce.

        I have not been able to locate much information just yet.


      • tokyo5 November 14, 2015 at 1:09 am #

        I see. Thank you.


  3. Anonymous November 12, 2015 at 8:42 am #

    I think this is an amazing article. It is very interesting.


  4. Anonymous October 29, 2015 at 5:36 am #

    america’s tuition is hell more expensive than japans


    • tokyo5 October 29, 2015 at 7:50 am #

      Do you think so? I think the costs are similar, but America has more financial aid plans. Japan has student loans, but full grants are less common.


  5. Maxmillian October 14, 2015 at 6:07 am #

    Why did you write this article?


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