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Comparing Japanese and Chinese Cultures Essay

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Updated: Oct 10th, 2021

We often hear the word “culture” and sometimes it is difficult to point out what it really means. Although this word is sometimes used to describe yoghurt, molds or bacteria, culture can be used to describe the set of learned beliefs, values, attitudes and behavior of human beings. As the Oxford Dictionary of Philosophy (1996) defined it, culture is a “way of life of a [group of] people, including their attitudes, values, beliefs, arts, sciences, modes of perception, and habits of thought and activity. Cultural features of forms of life are learned but are often too pervasive to be readily noticed from within”. To know the differences of other people’s culture, we will try to delve on two Asian cultures — Japanese and Chinese. These two cultures can be quite similar in many features, but we will discover that these cultures are different in some ways.

First, it is said that both Chinese and Japanese culture value their loyalty to their job and family. For the Chinese culture, they value the danwei (work unit). Li (2001) described the importance of this type of practice that “even during peace and prosperity, business and social connections are first made with family members, and only then with family friends. This practice was eventually extended to include the danwei (work unit) to which every worker must belong” (Li 33). On the other hand, Japanese society is also group oriented like the Chinese. Japanese people value loyalty to the group (business, club, etc.) and to one’s superiors is essential and takes precedence over personal feelings. In business, loyalty, devotion, and cooperation are valued over aggressiveness. Companies traditionally provide lifetime employment to the “salary-man” (full-time male professional), who devotes long hours of work to the company. Devotion to the group reaches all ages; even members of a youth baseball team will place the team’s interests above their own (Smith 46).

The main difference between the Chinese and Japanese concept of loyalty is that the Chinese people emphasize their loyalty to their family as a top priority. It is no wonder that in the Chinese culture, arranged marriage still exists because they value their family more within the Chinese society. In the novel Joy Luck Club (1989) by Amy Tan, one woman was forced into marrying a man she did not love. It is quite disheartening to know that some cultural practices can sometimes get in the way to any person’s personal freedom.

Second, Japanese and Chinese cultures rarely exhibit public displays of emotion because they find it embarrassing. For the Japanese people, they often do not show “honest facial expressions” because Japanese culture emphasizes self-control over the public display of emotions. They even show “put-on smiles” for public display when they are not in a happy mood. Indeed, it is easy for Westerners to misinterpret the Japanese ‘smile ‘and ‘laughter’ as insincere, dishonest, or even mocking. The myth of the “inscrutable Japanese” no doubt has its roots in these misinterpretations. This is why Japanese management experts advised, “Never take ‘yes’ for an answer. Don’t take a smile for ‘yes,’ when doing business with the Japanese” (Nishiyama 23). Likewise, the Chinese are noted for being reserved and they do not show strong emotions while in public. This is because their culture is influenced by Confucianism, the ancient philosophy of social order. This philosophy influences attitudes and encourages a group consciousness—especially in rural areas. The Chinese are very proud of their nation’s long history and of past Chinese achievements. They do not appreciate external criticism. The attitudes of people in larger eastern cities tend to be more cosmopolitan than those in the more traditional rural areas.

In this case, the main difference between the Japanese and Chinese culture with regards to their reservations to showing emotions in public is that the Japanese people tends to overdo it. This is because of the nature of Japanese society, which places a high value on saving face and avoiding interpersonal confrontations. This is why sometimes when a Japanese person is facing an extremely scandalous situation, committing suicide can be possible. For example, Toshikatsu Matsuoka, Japan’s the Minister for Agriculture hung himself from a door in his apartment due to his involvement over a series of political scandals (Kimber, 29 May 2007).

Last and most important, Japanese and Chinese people are known for their extreme politeness. For example, Chinese people do not like to be touched by people they do not know, except in crowds where physical contact is unavoidable. However, close Chinese friends of the same gender may sit or stand close or walk arm in arm. Respectful distance is best when dealing with older people or those in important positions. When invited, Chinese are generally prompt; being more than a few minutes late is impolite. Guests conduct themselves with restraint and refrain from loud, boisterous speech and actions. Invited friends often bring gifts such as tea, cigarettes, fruit, chocolates, cakes, or wine when they visit. One also might take a small gift when visiting an older person. Hosts rarely open wrapped gifts before visitors leave. Similarly, Japanese people greet guests with a bow as the traditional greeting between Japanese. This means that Japanese people are wishing to show respect or humility as they bow lower than the other person. The Japanese people also regard being late as a sign of disrespect. Japanese traditionally emphasize modesty as their guests usually are offered the most comfortable seat. When offered a meal, they express slight hesitation before accepting it.

Although there are clear similarities in the Chinese and Japanese cultures, we have learned that there are existing differences with regards to how they value some aspects of their culture. It is a very thought-provoking to know the differences of both cultures because we will know why Chinese and Japanese people act the way they are. Learning their culture can be essential because the world is swiftly changing and globalizing. With these rapid changes, we need to expand our ties with the Chinese and Japanese people through being attuned to their cultures and traditions. Eventually, all people meet in both work and social settings and cultures have their unique rules and customs as to what is acceptable social behavior. It is through respect that we gain the respect of others. Thus, it is crucial to examine why a culture has certain ethical standards and what they mean in that particular context.

Works Cited

“Culture”. Oxford University Press, 1996. Oxford Reference Online. Oxford University Press. Web.

Kimber, Richard. “Minister who faced inquiry into series of scandals kills himself”. The Times (London, England) (2007): 31.

Li, Jenny. Passport China: Your Pocket Guide to Chinese Business, Customs and Etiquette. Novato, CA: World Trade Press, 2001.

Nishiyama, Kazuo. Doing Business with Japan: Successful Strategies for Intercultural Communication. Honolulu, HI, USA: University of Hawaii Press, 1999.

Smith, Patrick. Japan: A Reinterpretation. Westminster, MD: Vintage Books, 1998.

Tan, Amy. The Joy Luck Club. New York: Ivy, 1989.

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