Diving into the differences – week 5

“Tatemae is a charming attitude when it means that everyone should look at the other way at a guest’s faux pas in the tearoom; it has dangerous and unpredictable results when applied to corporate balance sheets, drug testing, and nuclear-power safety reports.” ― Alex Kerr, Dogs and Demons: Tales From the Dark Side of Modern Japan

October 3, 2014 This week I am slightly delayed with my post as I wanted to wait for the second session of our intercultural training to end. Mark and I had two days of intercultural training with a personal coach this week. Originally from the UK, the trainer has been living in Tokyo for 11 years and we had some very intense and interesting hours with her. Some things were new to us, some would confirm our views and others left us in pure amazement. The Japanese culture is as fascinating as it is contradictory from a westerner’s perspective. And many things are currently changing in the Japanese society so that you can encounter very modern life styles in parallel to very traditional ones. My head is currently full of all the information gathered in those two days and I would like to share only a few examples with you.

  • It is not unusual that a woman will give up her job when getting married, but on the other hand the number of marriages is declining as more an more women chose to stay independent.
  • A woman would consider an abortion in order to stay in her job, but on the other hand more and more fathers are taking a greater role in child rearing and want to contribute more to family life.
  • It is a very caring society with lots of attention to detail and to the well-being of others, but if you stumble and let’s say fall in the metro station, people just walk past you without notice. Their offer to help you, would make you loose your face and you would have to admit that you made a mistake and need to thank your rescuers. This might even be true in life threatening situations!*
  • There are a lot of written and unwritten rules in Japan and people generally adhere to them very strictly. Nevertheless they are so generous if people disrespect those rules. We non-Japanese people are very welcome to visit their shrines and temples even if we do not know exactly what and how to do.
  • Crime is so low in Japan as a criminal act harms the honour of the whole family. So you place your handbag on the café chair to reserve your seat and go to order at the counter. Or you carry your purse in your back trouser pocket (sticking out). You have your handbag in the back basket on your bike. No one will take it. Protecting the family’s honour can also make you break an engagement if your future spouse’s employer makes negative headlines (true story!).

“There are so many other fun ways to dishonor the family name that buying girls’ underwear shouldn’t be one of them.” ― Rin Chupeco, The Girl from the Well

  • Japanese culture values age. They have a lot of respect for the elderly and this respect pervades the everyday business life. It can create very difficult situations as people just cannot take orders from a younger person – or give orders to an older person if you like this better. Reality is, that there is a mass of young, highly qualified people entering the workplaces who are willing to quickly climb the ladders and they sometimes have to deal with team members that are older than they are.

Looking at our everyday life, the lack of criminality, the highly service oriented culture, the friendliness, the readiness to help others (when asked for help!), the high quality of products – especially food 🙂 – make us enjoy every day in this city. I am curious to see how I will think about this blog post in a year or two. How much of my perception will have shifted? How many personal stories will I add in the coming months? It is a journey that just started.

* Apparently this is one reason for the many injured during the gas attack in 1995 (usually referred to in the Japanese media as the Subway Sarin Incident). People did not react to their suffering co-passengers and just left the trains at their stations without informing anybody. Thus the trains carried on for quite some stations before they were evacuated, the sarin packages removed, and the injured taken to the hospitals.

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