From my experience living in several countries and traveling around the world, I myself felt lots of differences between Japan and other countries, which are the way they live, their sense of values, their common sense and so on. I started to realize the characteristics of Japan and Japanese people objectively by comparing with other countries. In order to avoid the conflict which may happen from these differences, I want to show the Japanese characteristics which I have felt from my experience.
I think one of the biggest difference of Japanese and foreigners are Japanese people are more collectivism than individualism. In order to have a good relationship with other people, they often have to care about the others. Therefore, it seems that they put more emphasis on harmony with others rather than having their own determined attitude. This phenomenon is quite different from other countries because it seems that they put more emphasis on having their own thoughts and their own opinions. Japanese people are also unlikely to attract attention in order to maintain their harmony. There is a Japanese term called “KY” (空気読めない) which means not to read the atmosphere. If you act or speak something which does not really fit into that situation, you may be called “KY” by others which I think it is peculiar characteristic of Japanese.
Other characteristics of Japanese people are that they are polite, calm, and shy. Of course everybody is not like that but I think it tends to be like that when I compared with foreigners. What I see the difference the most is the service toward the customers. People treat customers as if they were gods in Japan. It rarely happened when I lived in Paris. However, it may be a big stress for workers because their services are highly expected by the customers. Also, I think many foreigners think Japanese people are very shy. For example, when I went to American school, I was surprised because many students were often speaking in class. I remember that I rarely could speak in class because I haven’t taken classes that students have to give their opinions in front of the people. Therefore, I think Japanese people are not really good at giving their opinions in front of the people compared with foreigners.
These are only some examples of the characteristics of Japanese people but I think it is important to know about it because not knowing anything about people who live in different country may provoke conflict and it could also be obstacle of communication. I want foreigners especially those who are willing to live in Japan to know how Japanese people are and try to understand about our character! (Of course, I want to emphasis that not all the Japanese people are like this. I just want to present the general character of them.)
by Mao Shukunobe