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Collectivist tendencies in eastern societies characterize interactions amongst eastern cultures and this makes them quite separate from their western counterparts who are individualistic in nature. The story illustrates this clearly through the narrator who represents the western culture as he has stayed in California for a long time and his father who represents the eastern culture.
Western cultures tend to focus on the individual and a specific person’s needs yet the reverse occurs in eastern cultures. Most easterners will think about how their action will affect their family. For instance, they will think about whether their actions will bring shame upon their families or will bestow honor upon them (Novinger, 82). In the book, such values can clearly be seen when the narrator’s father talks about their acquaintance who had committed suicide. Instead of narrating the incident as it was, the father opted to focus only on the fact that Watanabe was an honorable man. He knew that if he started passing judgment on him then he would defame Watanabe’s family-which was an issue that is just not acceptable in the Eastern culture (Isighuro, 494).
Gender relations in western cultures are also very distinct from those ones in the eastern part of the world. This is seen by assigned roles within the family and their ability to voice their concerns or communicate directly with members of the opposite sex. For instance, when the narrator interacts with his eastern father from the first time after leaving the airport, he says, “In fact, as I sat opposite him that afternoon, a boyhood memory came back to me of the time he had struck me several times around the head for ‘chattering like an old woman’.” (Ishiguro, 494) Men in the eastern culture are not expected to talk much and this explains why the narrator has such a hard time getting along with his father because he is just from a western state where men and women have more or less equal chances in communication.
Strict gender roles can also be seen when father and son wait for the only female in the house – Kikuko – to come and cook for them (Isighuro, 494). Furthermore, Kikuko has to wait for the moment when she is away from her father before she can light her cigarette or even talk freely to her brother thus illustrating that women in eastern cultures are expected to be submissive and proper; an issue that hardly crops up in western cultures. Women in the latter community can freely mingle and interact with their male counterparts as was seen when Kikuko started chatting openly when her father left. She also lit her cigarette when she was away from her traditional eastern father.
Western cultures tend to save face in a different way. If one finds himself or herself in some sort of trouble, one is likely to debate over the issue and give his or her opinion openly. Easterners save face in a different way. They tend to avoid confrontation by keeping their opinions to themselves. This aspect was easily seen in the book when father and son are talking about their dead neighbor Watanabe-San who had taken the lives of his family members and his as well.
The narrator clearly had a different opinion concerning the death of the family members as seen when he was told about the incident by his sister. However, when he confronts his traditional Asian father, he soon finds out that his father believed that the deaths were a mistake. The narrator chooses not to say a word because as is evident, their culture does not propagate the freedom to easily voice one’s opinion (Isighuro, 500).
Easterners also revere authority and one is often discouraged from challenging members in high authority. On the other hand, western cultures do not place so much precedence on this matter. The status quo can be challenged if it has been found to be inconsistent. In the story, Kikuko illustrates this when she tells the narrator about her mother’s opinion of him. She asserts that her mother often blamed herself for letting her son become what he was. To them, their son was a rebel of sorts because he chose to oppose the authority of his father. “She used to tell me how much more careful they’d been with me, and that’s why I was so good.” (Isighuro, 496).
Westerners tend to encourage direct communication characterized through the use of concrete language. Minimal emphasis is given to non verbal cues as individuals will tend to express themselves well through language (Novinger, 57). On the other hand, eastern cultures tend to discourage such kinds of expression and normally prefer using indirect communications. For example, instead of explicitly saying no, most individuals will choose to give a neutral answer or circumvent the issue.
For example, when the narrator was asked by his father whether he wanted to go back to the US, he quickly said that he was not sure (Ishiguro, 498). Their preference for indirect communication can also be seen in various parts of the story as well. For example, his father is visibly lonely after the death of his wife and the departure of his daughter to university. He therefore needs some company in his life and in order to do so, he needed to get his son to come back home.
Instead of telling him directly, he starts talking about how big the house is now and how it is so difficult for one to live in a house with those many rooms (Ishiguro, 497). His son is supposed to get this hint and then take on this new responsibility. However, the western and eastern cultural differences come out at this point when his son fails to recognize the meaning behind his father’s assertions and instead chooses to postpone the matter of his resident ship to the future.
The world is becoming increasingly global and more easterners are interacting with westerners but their sharp differences in communication, conflict avoidance and power distance can still be visibly seen in these scenarios.
Linda Anstendg; David Hickds “Writing Through Literature” A Family Supper”, by Kazuo Ishiguro, London: Longman, 1996.
Novinger, Thomas. Intercultural Communication: A Practical Guide. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2001.