Canada is an individualistic culture and Japan is a collectivist culture. This quality alone makes for a very large difference between how Japanese and Canadians live their lives. Now I am not saying that all Canadians live a certain way and all Japanese people live a certain way, but there are some commonalities that may be noticeable to foreign people when they visit a different country.
For example, some of the differences I have noticed:
- Canada = Not okay to be quiet. In Canadian classrooms, I have felt there is a pressure for students to answer questions even though they may not know the answer. If a teacher or professor asks a student a question, they are usually expected to answer it or to say they don’t know the answer. There isn’t an option to not answer the question. It is much more frowned upon to be quiet because in this culture it may come off as rude or uncaring.
- Japan = Not okay to be wrong. It is much more frowned upon for Japanese people to be wrong than to be quiet. For example, Japanese students, in my experience, tend to be quieter and take longer to answer questions. I have been helping teach a class of Japanese students and they take much longer to answer the questions I ask. This can be disconcerting, but I have been told that it is normal behaviour in Japan. Japanese students also usually talk to their friends beside them before they answer questions to ensure that what they are about to say is right. This can be a much longer process but is understandable knowing that it is frowned upon to be wrong in this culture.
- Eye contact is not so important in Japan. In North America, it is paramount to have good eye contact with people because this comes off as being confident, self-assured, and respectful. In Japan, it is not as common. It is actually seen as more respectful to not maintain eye contact with the other person for too long.
- Bowing. I had heard of Japanese people bowing before I came to Japan. This is a very common greeting, and it was the first thing I noticed when arriving here. People don’t normally shake hands so much with me here. We usually bow in order to show respect for the other person.
There is a common phrase I have heard people say to me a few times while being here in Japan.
“The nail that sticks out too much always gets hammered back down.”
So, basically since Japan is a collectivist culture, it is much more common for people to follow the crowd. The good of the group and group values take precedence over the individual. I do find myself trying to fit into the group more so here and get a little nervous if I feel I may stand out. An example, I went to Disneyland a couple of weeks ago with a few other girls. They were dressing up in costumes, and I didn’t have one since I’m only in Japan for a total of five months. The girls wanted me to get a costume because they didn’t want me to be different from the group. It is much more important for everyone to follow the group because it makes people more comfortable. Where as in Canada I find that if I didn’t have a costume it wouldn’t be a big deal because it may not have made me comfortable. My individual values would have been more important than the group, thus the group would wear their costume and not worry about whether everyone was wearing a costume. I’m not saying that one way of thinking is better than the other. Because I was brought up on individualist values, they feel more comfortable to me, but that’s not saying individualist is better than collectivist thinking.
I want to find out why people live the way they do here. I feel like the pieces to that puzzle are starting to fit together. With living here, I now understand why certain things are honoured here and certain things aren’t. These experiences I’ve talked about in this post alone have opened my eyes in so many ways! I want to keep my mind and my heart as open as possible!