Observations on Japanese Culture

A list of my own views on things I’ve noticed so far in Japan. (Original posting Summer 2005)

At first glance, the culture here isn’t so different from the States’ – there are indeed several similarities.
The main difference that I have noticed is the level of politeness, which sometimes goes to extreme measures. When you walk into a store, every member of the staff who notices you will shout “Irashyamase”, an honorific form equivalent to a “Welcome”. They will do the same with “Arigatoo Gozaimasu” when you leave, which is “Thank you very much”, even if you didn’t buy anything. But that’s not all! Even staff members who didn’t notice you – if they were, say, on a second floor, may hear their coworkers welcoming you and shout their own welcome.

Skill, and how it is viewed, is a really big one. All the Japanese people I have met are ridiculously self-effacing (Confucius said that “The inferior person is concerned with their lack of fame, the superior one is concerned with their lack of ability) and will compliment other people at every opportunity. I know I have been told that I am skilled at Japanese on no less than 5 occasions, and I know I am terrible.
Another point that goes along with that is how one’s personal skills are treated. People do not want to embarrass themselves in public here, so what is the solution if you want to have a hobby? Practice in private until you are certain that you’re competent, and then suddenly go out into public. I have not seen a single person here do something they are not really good at. When at a party for the international students, Japanese students would not speak English unless they had to for fear of embarrassment – and these are students who had taken English upward of 6 years, sometimes as many as 10.

Another major difference is the prolific amount of manga that is out there. People in the States will tell you all about how the Japanese love Anime, and how everybody knows about Anime – not quite true. I’ve met several Japanese college students who say that Anime is mostly for kids, and it really isn’t on TV all that much. Manga, however, is everywhere – it’s even sold in convenience stores. Used book stores are pretty common here. Common themes exist between manga and anime, but I think manga is usually viewed as “less kiddy”. There are more manga series here than any sane person could keep track of – I have found no less than 4 manga series on Three Kingdoms alone, and I wasn’t even looking that hard. Another common sight in Japanese stores is pornography, which is sold in book stores, some convenience stores, video game stores, etc.

Alcoholism is another big one. Alcohol is everywhere, and it’s seen more as something good than something bad. A few of us have seen alcohol vending machines – where you can buy vodka, sake, beer, and some cocktail drinks as well. The age limit is 20, but there may as well not be one. I get the impression that a common occurrance here is for Japanese salarymen to work until they are finished, and then go out drinking with the guys – the concept of a salaryman is next.

Note: this paragraph is mostly my impression of Steve Kampa’s excellent presentation we had in culture class, so I ought to give some credit to him. Salaryman. The word doesn’t sound too bad, and the connotation actually seems to be good around here. It’s the concept of a man “married to his company” – that is, a man who works from 9 AM in the morning until he is finished. The official time for work to be over is 7 PM, but most salarymen are expected to stay until either they are finished with work or their manager leaves, whichever comes last. If they are finished with work but the manager has not yet left, then they are there as moral support. Apparently average time to go home is 10 or so, and most salarymen have a commute of 1-2 hours. Doesn’t leave much time for sleep, or, well, anything else on the weekdays. Pay may be better, but I don’t think it’s worth it (that, I suppose, is my view as a native of the US). There is, however, a very strong feeling that no worker should do anything halfway – you either do it and do it right or you don’t do it at all. That explains why I haven’t yet found a service employee who didn’t seem happy to do their job, even when I can’t order food correctly.

Video games. Ahh, yes, video games. Well, they are here, and they are easier to find than in the United States, but they aren’t absolutely everywhere. It’s true that there are 3 separate video game stores in easy walking distance from my apartment – and, indeed, probably a few more that I don’t know about yet – but I have no idea what portion of the population plays them.

Disclaimer: The rest of this goes into some detail. If you don’t know much about video games, you might want to skip the next paragraph.

The more popular games, at least in arcades, are Fighting games, but Beatmania style games (Pop’n Music, etc) are also decently popular, and there are even MMORPGs in arcades. Other types of games that are popular are mech-combat games (The Gundam EX2 game is one of my favorites, and Keith’s), racing games, and more role-playing oriented brawlers. As far as highest selling console games, Dragon Warrior is ever-popular. DW7 was – and is -the best selling game for the Playstation, even outstripping FF7 which was wildly popular in the States. Current high-selling games, I hear, include (I can say with some satisfaction) the Japanese equivalents of Dynasty Warriors 5 and Three Kingdoms X.

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