Basic differences between Japanese and foreigners

Cultural differences: the Japanese (a different perspective)

Since there’s a new series of “their mores” posts on hubra, I’ll join in too. Habrauser king2 started it, I’ll continue. A look at the Japanese after almost 3 years of living and working in Tokyo. I work (programmer) for a large IT office equipment manufacturer, with a total of 108,000 employees worldwide. I live in Tokyo, with my family (wife and daughter).

Part one, the job.

Hiring and changing jobs and stuff is specific. Even though the Japanese are trying to get rid of lifetime hiring, I have to see it everywhere. A typical cycle in our company: before April a few hundred graduates are recruited (graduated 3 months ago), then, within six months, the young people are trained in the company, trying different types of work (visiting assembly lines, trying to sell, etc.). It may turn out that you come to the company to write in Java, but you will sell if they recognize your talent. Or it could be the other way around, a girl I know has a degree in International Business, sort of, and now writes in Java. Closer to fall, Shinjiks (Shinjin – newcomer) come to groups and get a test project for six months. In the spring, they defend their projects and start working on current projects from the new April. And work for the company until retirement, except for transfers within the company. 100% of my colleagues’ LinkedIn profiles look like this: University; Company. End of profile. In 3 years I have only seen one layoff, a Japanese man’s father died and after 17 years with the company he (Japanese man) was returning to his home village to continue his father’s farming business.

There are no unions, and the Japanese do not like to discuss working conditions (salary, schedule, etc.). The unspoken slogan is “I’ll do my best, and the company won’t hurt me. I have a Japanese acquaintance who graduated from university in the USA, returned to Japan and worked for IBM in a technical position. After 7 years, he decided to change the company and the profile (sales). Had an interview with us and with Canon. There he was told “buddy, if you didn’t graduate yesterday, forget about a career with us. The career ladder is scheduled for a lifetime, and you’ve already lost 7 years.” That’s pretty much it. And he came to us, apparently he was told something else :) By the way, I heard a similar story in the U.S., about Canon’s American office.

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IMHO, one of the biggest problems (for foreigners) is overwork. There are, roughly speaking, two kinds of them: paid and limited overtime (a good view) and unpaid, when the salary is raised by a fixed amount and working time is no longer counted. The second option is to forget about the family, the Japanese are willing to live in the office and expect this from their foreign colleagues. Real examples: 1) Dialogue between a foreigner (family, two children) and Japanese classmates, after the first year of work: “Do you really go home at 10 pm (so early)? – Yes – Are you stupid?” And while family may be the reason for a foreigner to go home earlier than others, it’s not always the case for the Japanese. 2) Employees voluntarily give up their lunch break. Reason: The company decides that someone has to answer the phone during the lunch hour. Everyone wants to be this “someone” – the problem is unsolvable – the result: everyone stays in the office. Statistics show that 90% of foreigners don’t last three years in a Japanese company. There are, of course, exceptions, and companies try to adopt the Western experience, but I have not been there.

Once in Twitter I came across a quote: “while the American company releases a beta version, the Japanese one solves non-existent customer problems (a very loose paraphrase)”. Yes, something like that has to be seen, people are really willing to look for solutions, to put together meetings for problems like: “how to make sure the program continues to work on a computer that’s turned off.” The “don’t turn it off” option is not satisfactory. Not only that, but also “this is not the level of a Japanese company, we can’t offer such a low-quality service” is added. A real example: before the launch of iPhone sales, Apple tried to work with NTT Docomo (the largest operator). The answer: “we can’t sell a phone without “we can’t sell a phone without our branded crap“We can’t sell a phone without our branded shit that our customers are used to. Give us a couple of years, we’ll adapt everything for the iPhone, and then welcome”. SoftBank, on the other hand, was able to launch a naked iPhone, and now the iPhone/iPad holds an impressive market share.

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Part two, outside the office

This is something worth putting up with the first part of the story for. The service area is simply top-notch. If in Russia you had to go to the emergency department or the hospital to ruin your mood, in Japan you have to do it to lift your mood. Japanese are extremely polite and will go to any lengths to help. My wife didn’t want to leave the maternity ward, she really liked it there. At the hairdresser will take your bag to the street, only there to give it to you and will stand on the street until you turn the corner and the entire salon will wave at you and shout “Hurray! Thank you!” On the flip side, the Japanese expect the same kind of return from you when you’re at work. Likewise, when a client comes to our office, after the meeting is over, we stand on the porch with happy faces (well, I’m not being a hypocrite, I’m really glad he finally left :) until the client gets out of sight.

The negative point is the price of service. The Japanese spend a lot of money on service. An example is moving. Yes, I understand that the moving company laminates the corridors, elevators, walls, floor with special padded sheets, pack/unpack everything themselves, but as a result you can easily part with a month’s salary. And the Japanese still call the service to move into the next house. We once moved from Yokohama to Tokyo by renting a minibus for the day and two of us and a friend successfully coped with it, pre-packing everything. I’ve never seen any repetition of that “feat” before, as we don’t move around on our own.

Japan is a very safe and comfortable country, it’s worth living here for the sake of it, a real dialogue at a Japanese school: Sensei: Japan is a very dangerous country! We (Russia/USA): Come on! Sensei: Yeah, they said on TV that somebody got their purse snatched again! Us: Ha ha ha, not enough air time in our countries to cover all the incidents and accidents. Sensei: o_o.”

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On the subject of the Kurils. The Japanese in their masses (young, middle-aged) are apolitical, and hardly have any idea that their country is “mortally offended” by Russia. Nobody cares, frankly. I can’t imagine any Japanese at work asking me about this. Although the Chinese did ask about the sauce used in the news in Russia, and what Russians think about it. Japan is used to fighting with its neighbors for every scrap of rock, and Japan has been (without) successfully fighting with China and Korea for the relevant scraps. And China is much harsher on Japan than Russia. I’ve never encountered any negativity towards myself as a Russian, for the Japanese all the Gaijin look alike, when they find out that we’re also Russians, they go like this: O_O.

And yes, in cinemas, the Japanese don’t get up until the end of the closing credits (they don’t turn on the lights, the letters crawl on a black background, it’s pitch black). And at McDonald’s they clean up after themselves and wipe down the table.

Six things that are radically different in Russia and Japan

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Principle differences between Japanese and Russians.

For Europeans, Japan is a country with incomprehensible customs and traditions. Although people also go to work, walk and socialize just like we do. But if you dig deeper, there are huge differences in the mentality of Russians and Japanese. We have collected six facts that clearly confirm it.

1. quietly talking to myself.

The habit of talking to yourself. | Photo:

Many Russian-speaking citizens have a habit of talking to themselves. Sometimes this takes the form of reasoning, sometimes we express our indignation, and sometimes we just mutter to ourselves. Think for example of Comrade Novoseltsev in “Service novel,” which alone with himself played by roles conversation with Lyudmila Prokofievna. Actually such behavior can amuse, but not at all surprise our compatriots, but the Japanese would find this comrade very strange. They are not verbose and believe that you must speak only about the case. Respectively, if there is a question, there must be an answer. Angry exclamations, rhetorical questions and thinking out loud are not the Japanese.

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2. Behavior in traffic jams

Nervous, standing in traffic. | Photo: Pikabu, Driving.

If a Japanese ever finds himself in a traffic jam somewhere in Moscow, he is likely to be shocked. Yes, according to, the behavior of our fellow countrymen stuck in traffic jams is simply disgusting. We honk, yell, cut each other off, trying to rush through the unfortunate stretch of road. In Japan, traffic jams are much quieter and calmer. Cars are lined up in neat rows and everyone is calmly waiting for their turn to go. It is safe to say that the residents of the Land of the Rising Sun are much more patient than the Russians. They know that using the signal and shouting will not affect the situation in any way and don’t waste energy in vain.

3. The Habit of Picking on Friends

Friendly jokes, pranks and sarcastic jokes. | Photo: LiveJournal.

Friendship in post-Soviet countries takes a different form from relationships between people abroad. Friends are almost like relatives for us and can easily voice their opinions, offer advice even if they did not ask for it, make remarks or tell inappropriate jokes. In Russia, people close to you can call you names and add “I love you” at the end, and it won’t count as an insult. Well, horns in photos, joking pictures on social networks, and other jokes are normal for our population. As for the Japanese, such behavior would be considered an insult in an instant. People in Japan have very clear boundaries and are rather distant, even to old friends.

4. Punctuality

The habit of being late and delayed.| Photo:

The Japanese are very punctual. Moreover, being late for them is a sign of disrespect. Indeed, in this country they value personal and work time. But in Russia, being late is quite common. Of course, you can get a reprimand from your boss or partners for this, but it is unlikely to cause mortal insult. All the more so, you can always refer to traffic jams, public transport or other force majeure circumstances.

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5. Eating on the go.

Quick snacks on the go.| Photo:

First of all, eating on the go is not healthy. The Japanese already have a lot of stresses in life and they do not need any health problems. Secondly, in the Land of the Rising Sun, it is simply not accepted and indecent to eat on the go. According to, there are almost no people who eat a burger or devour shawarma on the run in the subway car. But here, such behavior is quite acceptable. Many people allow themselves to eat not only on the street, but also in transport, at the gym or in the mall.

6. Slacking off at work.

Neglecting work duties.| Photo: Reticente.

Work and family are the two most important parts of every Japanese person’s life. And they always treat their work responsibly, trying to perform their duties more than a hundred percent. Many of them work at weekends and overtime, come into the office early and do not attend to personal matters during working hours. As for Russia and neighboring countries, work is more of a distraction. Many people in the workplace deal with personal problems, chat with colleagues, secretly play games and look at their watches with impatience, waiting for the end of the working day.

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