Cultural Differences

Public Relations Office        March 21, 2013

Daniel Beiter, Exchange Student from the University of Augsburg (Germany)

Cultural differences between Germany and Japan

Daniel Beiter

There are many obvious cultural differences between Germany and Japan: eating different food and with knife and fork instead of chopsticks, driving on the other side of the road, and the styles of traditional architecture, music and clothing, such as the German Lederhosen/Dirndl and Japanese Kimono, do not have much in common as well. That is why I want to write about differences concerning the invisible aspects of these cultures: the values, the virtues, and hence the ways of thinking – at least as far as I could observe them and was told by Japanese people.
Before I arrived in Japan, I had heard that the Japanese values were the same as the traditional German ones, which are mainly: punctuality and discipline.

Indeed, it seems to be very important to Japanese to keep appointments and plans. If it really occurs that a Japanese person is late or cannot make it at all, he or she is expected to deeply apologize for it. In Germany this is taken much more laxly, which results in people being less and less on time these days. The same goes, for example, for trains: While in Germany everybody complains about the trains being late (which at least shows that Germans still care about it), in Japan you can expect them to be perfectly on time. This importance of punctuality makes life comfortable in a way that you can carry out your plans much more smoothly than in Germany. In other words: Due to this punctuality shared by everyone the Japanese life works. That is why a Japanese friend of mine even called punctuality the Japanese society’s “foundation”.

As everything is working so perfectly, everyone is expected to “work” in the same way everybody and everything else does, i.e. the Japanese society also asks for discipline. Discipline means, for example, behaving well in public, such as not bothering other people by shouting, as it happens in other countries such as Germany. Moreover, although in Germany you are supposed to throw away your garbage into the garbage cans, you can still see empty bottles, cans or other trash lying on the pavements, in parks etc. In contrast to that, Japanese people are disciplined enough to take their garbage with them and dispose of them properly, and therefore the streets remain clean.

Furthermore, “discipline” means doing your work properly. For example, Japanese traffic policemen show you with dedication that your ride is safe, even if there is not a single approaching car or so in sight. Or if in Japan a server makes a mistake with your order, he/she will not only apologize and immediately correct the mistake but will as well offer a so-called “service” like a free drink or dessert, which is the case even in cheap restaurants. In Germany we just say that the “customer is king” yet in Japan they are even compared to gods – and they are truly treated like that! And with thinking of your customers as gods, you have to give your best, i.e. work in a highly disciplined manner in order to please them. However, “discipline” also has the negative connotation of being too strict or even drilled, hence the expression “to discipline someone”. In fact I was reported by some older Japanese that their education was of that kind, but I see at Kwansei Gakuin that today’s students are encouraged to make their own minds by doing research by themselves, so you can understand the word “discipline” in its very best sense.

In summary I can say that although Germans and Japanese share the same values, they are much more obeyed in Japan, which is what Germans should take as an example.

Doori Kim, Exchange Student from Ewha Woman's University (Korea)

The Cultural Differences between Korea and Japan

Doori Kim

Korea and Japan have been closely linked to each other for over 2,000 years in terms of culture, language and even economic structure. This is because these two countries locate very close from each other geographically and they are also related historically. People say that Korea and Japan are so near and yet so far. This comment has both a geographical and a political significance. If you look into these two countries thoroughly, there are many significant cultural differences between Korea and Japan. I will illustrate my points with some salient examples.

First of all, in terms of table manners, when Japanese people eat, they consider holding the rice bowl the right thing to do. It is also okay to put the edge of your rice bowl to your mouth. However, it is very rude to hold your rice bowl in Korea. Another example is when we go to a Japanese restaurant; we do not get spoons for the soup. This is because Japanese people consider it rude to drink soup with spoons. However, in Korea, drinking soup without using a spoon is considered bad manners.

Secondly, people’s perspectives on religion are different. Many Koreans are very devoted to their religion. When foreigners visit Korea, most of them are very surprised to see the sheer number of churches in Korea. However, Japanese people do not seem like they are that devoted to their religion. For Japanese people, religion is their entire life itself and more closely linked to their everyday life.
Lastly, Korea and Japan have distinctly different cuisines. Unlike Japan, Korean food is well known to be spicy and salty which includes lots of red pepper and seasonings. On the other hand, Japanese people do not like stimulating food in general. Also, Japanese meals are usually very simple, whereas Korean meals come with many different kinds of side dishes.

Cross-cultural observations can easily be tainted and contaminated by a lot of factors. As I have mentioned above, these perceived differences can create barriers between cultures and even within organizations. This is the reason why we have to try to accept each other’s cultural differences with an open mind.
As we interact with others of different cultures, we will eventually come to the conclusion that there is no good substitute for receptiveness to interpersonal feedback, good observation skills and effective questions. Making a genuine effort to find the positive historical, literary, and cultural contributions of a society, learning a few polite expressions of a foreign culture and learning to appreciate these differences can have especially positive effects.