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.

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

  1. Anonymous September 19, 2017 at 4:29 pm #

    Excellent blog, I’ve done a 26 page comparative article on the differences between American and Japanese schools. This is very accurate and true. There are some aspects of Japanese culture that’s very interesting and intriguing. Myself being ethnically Japanese living in Hawaii, I’m still learning the “why’s” in Japanese culture. A lot of them are pretty easy to understand but others can be confusing especially amongst teachers in Japanese schools. Overall I love Japanese culture. I just hate how hard it is to find trash cans “sorters” to find in Japan, I remember trying to find one for hours before I could toss the bottle away hah!

    Liked by 1 person

    • tokyo5 September 20, 2017 at 4:11 pm #

      >Excellent blog,

      Thank you.

      >I’ve done a 26 page comparative article on the differences between American and Japanese schools.

      Really? Is it online? Can I read it? I also wrote a post about the differences between Japanese and American schools. Did you read my post? It’s here:

      >others (Japanese customs) can be confusing

      What do you find particularly confusing?

      >I just hate how hard it is to find trash cans “sorters” to find in Japan, I remember trying to find one for hours

      Many foreign visitors to Japan say that they feel there aren’t enough garbage cans here. But for those of us who’ve have lived in Japan all or most of our lives, it doesn’t seem that way. I think there are a “normal” amount of public garbage cans here…I guess I’m just used to Japan.


  2. piccaso addict May 21, 2017 at 1:29 am #

    Saying america should adjust to different cultures is dumb
    Because American culture IS made of and influenced by other cultures
    America is called the melting pot
    Because its made of 5 different cultures chímbese,irish,italian,mexican and russian
    Yes every country must respect the others culture, but sounds like you’re trying to say america should just kick out any ancestor learned culture to japans
    Japan has a wonderful culture and way of being but if every country was the same what would be the point of traveling?


    • tokyo5 May 21, 2017 at 12:51 pm #

      Yes, I know that America is a “melting pot” of different cultures. I wasn’t trying to say that America should try to become exactly the same as Japan. I meant that there are aspects of Japanese culture that America can learn from and include in the “melting pot”.


  3. Windsday November 19, 2016 at 12:08 am #

    See that’s where *free* health care gives you. In Europe it actually has failed and is on the brink of disaster but the media except on rare occasion will cover it up because the *media* is all owned by really really rich 5 percents at the top who are putting it on *life support* so to speak.

    We are closer then most think to a world wide economic failure but the good word of the media is the only thing preventing a mass panic.
    It ain’t the 60s and 70s anymore of independent news.

    Saying “Coke VS Pepsi* is now irrelevant because it’s all owned by the same people. You actually look like a total dick if you think they are any different other then taste.

    Most people who love free health care never had anything super serious happen like a broken back that requires you being put on a *waiting list* for almost a year.

    Non serious injuries that don’t require surgery free health care does work and makes people think that national health care is the way to go.
    It used to be people who could afford it would flee from Europe or Canada to go to America because service was a lot faster and no discrimination.

    Regardless of your income level even if you couldn’t pay for the service hospitals would NEVER kick you out or refuse to treat you.

    Before businesses went to China most small to medium business companies had their own health plan which you didn’t need National Health Care and were pretty well covered.


    • tokyo5 November 19, 2016 at 12:43 am #

      Health care isn’t “free” in Japan, but it’s very affordable with the health insurance system here.


  4. Anonymous October 21, 2016 at 12:49 pm #

    Japan is a great place to live in, and your articles have a lot of truth in it too. I appreciate all the positiveness that brought great perspective to my pits bottom “salaryman (this is what working adults here in Japan call themselves)” life now. Every culture is unique i guess. But just my personal opinion. If you are looking to climb a corporate ladder, working in Japan makes it almost impossible. Don’t you think so? Especially, before you can express your opinions out nice and clear, the conversations had already proceeded somewhere way beyond where you were stopped at. Foreigners are not allowed in top-level meetings too. Language is definitely a barrier, no matter how comfortable I feel with the life here, I just cannot see future here. Visiting here, living here, studying here, working here and trying to settle down here make a lot of difference how you look at Japan. Have you ever seen the number of people who goes mental at work in Japan. Well, in my previous department, at least 3 people were on Mental illness long-term leaves. Though i can’t tell you which company, but rest assure it is a very famous Japanese corporation that has revenue almost the same or more than Google.
    Also, respect for others can be taken into another extremity at times here. So much respect for your boss, you cannot leave the office before him. Too much respect for seniors, you have to pour sake for them. I have been working in corporate world here for more than 10 years, and many times I have witness power harassment and sexual harassment, not just towards foreigners but also towards young Japanese. I did have Japanese juniors who were forced to change his Self Introduction Speech and Career visions just because his boss do not agree with his vision and preferred something else. I’m interested to hear your point of view on this.


    • tokyo5 October 21, 2016 at 2:50 pm #

      Thank you for you comment!

      Of course, there are negative aspects and experiences in any country or culture. To me, there are more positives than negatives to living in Japan.


  5. jas sangster October 5, 2016 at 11:43 pm #

    I love this article. I’m planning to possibly visit Japan when I leave for my gap year after college and this has given me a bit more insight into Japanese culture. Thank you 🙂


    • tokyo5 October 6, 2016 at 8:40 am #

      Thank you. Which country are you from?


  6. Dewitt corley . August 23, 2016 at 10:44 am #

    I am,working with Japanese at my jobsite i,am,wanting to know,some,customs to let them know and respect them and,want their trust .


    • tokyo5 August 23, 2016 at 10:51 am #

      In Japan or your own country?
      A Japanese company?

      If you’re in your own country, I don’t think anyone would expect you know or follow Japanese customs.

      Anyway, if you want, please use this email form to contact me and give me more specifics about what you’re wondering, and I’ll try to help you.


  7. Josh May 24, 2016 at 10:12 pm #

    Love the article! Definitely agree that America need to adapt the ways of different culture.
    (Also bit of a weird cultural difference as well, but Japan is more comfortable with nudity, as it symbolize Purity, while in America its considered offensive)

    All countries should adapt other cultures.


    • Josh May 24, 2016 at 10:20 pm #

      As well as tattoos being commonly known as a symbol of criminality in Japan


      • tokyo5 May 24, 2016 at 10:40 pm #

        They generally have a negative image here.


    • tokyo5 May 24, 2016 at 10:39 pm #

      Yes, I think it’s a good idea to learn other ways of doing things from other cultures.


  8. Dj May 9, 2016 at 12:37 am #

    Super crazy biased. All your points about Japan being superior culturally are flimsynand easily reworded to Western advantages. This article should be called I love japan! Watch me romanticize the culture with ridiculous improbabilities and bias! Don’t care about your job or status? Oh yeah I forgot that Japanese people were known for their LAX parental pressure and whatever makes you happy attitude when it comes to their children’s academic choices. Man your asserting that Japanese people are.aliens who don’t ascribe to human behaviour. Oh I’m so sure that the japanese upper tier businessman has SO MUCH respect for a 35 yr old McDonald’s cook who lives at his parents because Japanese people.don’t care about that stuff. I think your probably not picking up the more subtle stuff and your buying that outward cheesy appearance. Like you as a foreigner (yes that prolly offends you but bro believe me they can tell your not Japanese) you yourself have stated there is.fuck all for diversity so hour gonna.stand out breh no matter what the strangers that you interact with in the city are gonna hear your.accent see and treat you sort of like a.tourist. I’m sure this has offended you because I can tell you have a strong desire to be Japanese. You could reword all your points to be negatives man – in Japan everyone has to clean up everything after themselves in.restaurants and theatres because.they only believe in half service where in america they believe in full.service and ask.that you allow the service.staff to clean after.your dining or movie experience. In Japan people don’t have enough respect for you or your time and refuse to be direct about their thoughts preferring instead to play subtle mind games. In Japan people are to cheap to tip service staff, a very low paying industry in the first world and instead a strong culture of subordination and duty is enforced. In Japan your station in life is directly and repeatedly blasted into you as you aren’t even allowed to sit down until told to by a superior. You are an inferior you need permission to move your body in Japan because better then you where as in America your value as a person is not.defined by your superiors and work relationships between employer and employee are mutually respectful, amicable and functional. The employer does not pretend to own you and the workplace doesn’t engage in some ancient rites of kingship. Man your article is just dripping of bias and rhetoric, no integrity. I like how you say Japan is great for environmental practices and recycling, then people immediately red flagged that shit citing individual styrofoam fruit packaging and your.counterpoint was the styrofoam keeps the fruit from getting bruised on the way home. So Japanese people care so little for the environment that a minor inconvience like having to be careful about how.arrange items in a grocery bag (it’s not hard to get fruit home man lol just lol) is enough to totally scrap any notion of sustainability and wrap their individual fruits in packaging that companies like McDonald’s haven’t even touched since eighties. Non biodegradable styrofoam on individual apples? Oh my god. Do they just not care? Sad. I forgot.what a tragedy a bruised apple is. Bunk article. This response will prolly get written off due to the random periods.and shit but I’m rapid.typing on my phone and this how it came.out. period.right beside.spacebar, still fully readable.don’t have time with my thumbs


    • tokyo5 May 9, 2016 at 8:41 am #

      Biased? This is my personal blog … and thusly, my personal opinions.
      I think you’ve never been to Japan … because you seem to have misunderstood my entire post and your comments aren’t accurate about Japan’s culture.

      Anyways, why does my post bother you so much? I like America, but it would be better if American people were more willing to learn and adopt some better ways of doing things from other cultures, rather than getting defensive if someone points out such things.

      Regarding styrofoam packs on fruit … that’s not the norm in Japan. Regular fruit and vegetables at regular supermarkets are just sold individually or in a bag. The fruit sold in syrofoam or plastic protective cases are expensive, high-end fruit sold at special stores usually. They’re meant as a gift.


      • Caleb May 20, 2016 at 10:27 pm #

        Well I enjoyed your article. I have been dating a Japanese girl for about a year now, and getting used to the cultural differences is so difficult. I am also studying abroad for a year starting in August, so I am sure this article saved me a lot of trouble. Don’t worry what others think man. Just keep on doing your thing.


      • tokyo5 May 20, 2016 at 11:52 pm #

        Oh? You have a Japanese girlfriend? What country do you live? Are you going to study in Japan? Tokyo?


    • James May 10, 2016 at 4:39 am #

      You know “Dj” I have always wondered – is it some American specific trait that you have to run your big mouths proving that not only are you ignorant and oftentimes inferior, but to make matters worse, there isn’t much between the ears? Is that why Americans still wear Canadian flags on your luggage in Europe; scared of what your real reception would be if the locals knew you were American? It is something I have questioned having lived in Japan, England, the US and Europe.

      But you, Dj, well it is painfully obvious you have never lived outside of the backwater region where your great-great-grandfather was born.

      I mean the concept of “personal blog”, which this obviously is, appears to have soared far above your head. It is pathetic how you Americans continually whine about freedom of speech but when someone says something you don’t like you are chasing them “out of town” with pitchforks. As for the “bias”, this is quite accurate. Very nicely written actually. After all, regarding a lot of cultural aspects, the US compared to Japan would equate to less than a dog’s poo on the side of the road.

      But let’s deal with your ignorance.

      “in Japan everyone has to clean up everything after themselves in.restaurants and theatres because.they only believe in half service where in america they believe in full.service and ask.that you allow the service.staff to clean after.your dining or movie experience.”

      No. The reason why America offers “full service” at such places is because the Americas is becoming increasingly full of lazy ignorant slobs such as yourself. If there weren’t people there to offer “full service” and pick up after such slobs I have no doubt you’d be living in your own filth. I am actually frightened of what your house looks like because there’s no one there to pick up after you. However, I won’t refer to such as a “pigsty” because your house’s condition would likely be insulting to pigs – they are, after all, clean animals.

      Now I have Japanese relatives though I am British from a thoroughly European background. However, it really wouldn’t matter if I was a spaceman from Mars. I was raised to be a DECENT respectable person and being only 29 years of age I can’t blame “old age”. I’d have to be crippled from the neck down before I would lower myself to your level of slobbery and not pick up after myself.

      “In Japan your station in life is directly and repeatedly blasted into you as you aren’t even allowed to sit down until told to by a superior. You are an inferior you need permission to move your body in Japan because better then you where as in America your value as a person is not.defined by your superiors and work relationships between employer and employee are mutually respectful, amicable and functional. ”

      As is your station in the US. Do you think, dj, that someone from the ghettos ever have a real chance at a better life? Rarely does someone of lower social status in the US get higher – well selling yourself like a street tramp at the job for “promotions” works of course, but not if you have respect for yourself. This is why, my simple little clown, the US ecomony sucks.

      But it is obvious from that statement the job you have held is likely burger flipper at the local greasy spoon.

      The dub “cut throat” applies to British & American business practices well before Japanese. Americans are petty individuals who engage in gossip around the water cooler instead of actually doing the job they are hired for. Now if you are in a high-end American business if the boss says jump, you better be asking him how high or your next “promotion” will involve the janitor’s mop.

      “The employer does not pretend to own you and the workplace doesn’t engage in some ancient rites of kingship”

      I retract my statement you may have worked in a greasy spoon. As chances you have ever worked in your life – pretty slim. Cause, little boy, when you sign papers for working at a business the owner does “own you” regardless if you are working in the US or hanging upside down in a cave on the moon.

      “I like how you say Japan is great for environmental practices and recycling, then people immediately red flagged that shit citing individual styrofoam fruit packaging and your.counterpoint was the styrofoam keeps the fruit from getting bruised on the way home.”

      Here’s why I say you, and the others commenting likewise, have probably never lived outside of the backwater town your ancestors were born in. You will find such packaging in EVERY high end market across the US. I am not talking little cheap “farmer’s markets” but major markets, you will find produce wrapped in such a style to keep it from being bruised.

      In fact, I believe it was standard practice among you foolish Americans to actually sell individual fruits & vegetables wrapped in plastic. I continually find bell peppers at the local market sold this way. I guess someone is afraid that they’ll grow legs & run away so they must be suffocated in these plastic prisons. But, litte darling, if you don’t know plastic leaves far more environmental footprint than styrofoam.

      Do respond. I find Americans like you amusing. Like how a scientist watching a rat exploring a maze is amused.


      • tokyo5 May 10, 2016 at 8:31 am #

        I appreciate your kind words about my blog … but I think you’re being unnecessarily harsh to Dj and to Americans in general!
        I was born and raised in America. I still think America is a great country … I just, personally, think Japan is better. Plenty of people immigrate to another country and it doesn’t mean they don’t like their homeland.

        I appreciate all comments on my blog … even negative ones. Sometimes I get well-written, polite, but negative, comments that make me reconsider what I’ve written.


      • Windsday November 19, 2016 at 12:10 am #

        Yup! It’s wrong to have a negative view of Japan or a different experience then the blog post! Damn!

        Just send us all to FEMA camps and gas us!


      • tokyo5 November 19, 2016 at 12:44 am #

        What are you talking about? Have you had a negative experience in Japan?


  9. 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?


  10. 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.


      • racha January 24, 2017 at 4:48 am #

        What is “Avatar” means in your language…?


      • tokyo5 January 24, 2017 at 1:31 pm #

        >What is “Avatar” means in your language…?

        What does the Japanese kanji in my avatar mean in English? As I said here, it means “power“.


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

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


  12. 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.


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

    Why did you write this article?


    • tokyo5 October 14, 2015 at 6:41 am #

      What do you mean?


    • Anonymous May 21, 2016 at 2:46 am #

      To inform, duh


      • tokyo5 May 21, 2016 at 9:06 am #

        I think maybe he is wondering something that isn’t made clear by his vague question.


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