A lot of people ask me about Japanese customs. They learn the formal way to hand business cards, they bow deeply when they meet Japanese and they call me "Ito-san." Stop that. It's silly. To some Japanese, the awkward foreigners trying to please their hosts by acting Japanese may look cute, but more likely than not, you'll get a A for effort but you'll be forever the silly foreigner in their minds. It's only the extremely intolerant xenophobe who would really want a foreigner to really act Japanese and you don't want to be hanging out with those anyway. Keep an eye out for indicators of discomfort but bring the flair of your own culture with you.

Rather than trying to act Japanese, I suggest that people visiting Japan be sensitive and aware of the nuances in the interactions. It is more about timing, loudness, space and smiles than it is about how your hold your business card or calling people "Ito-san." When in doubt, shut up and listen. When smiled at, smile back. If you're freaking someone out, back off instead of continuing your interrogation. All of which I believe is not unique to being a foreigner in Japan. The more important Japan specific social behaviors involve cleanliness like taking off your shoes in homes and washing your body before and not taking your towel when entering the bath and not being stinky.

Caveat: If you're meeting someone for the first time, in a very formal setting, and you only have one shot, doing the step-by-step from the "How to Impress Japanese" book is probably a good idea. My comments above apply mostly to normal social situations.

UPDATE: I think many people were offended by this post. ;-) Please read the comments for an interesting discussion.

107 Comments

good points : ) I guess many of these are in the Last Samurai, aren't it?

Question: In Mexico I’ve heard that if you’re meeting new business associates for the first time you should plan on getting to know them personally (often over several meals, drinks, mingling of families, etc.) before getting down to brass tacks. I’ve also heard that in Japan it is best to enter slowly and establish some sort of personal bond before broaching business matters. Was this ever true? If so, have times changed?

I meet a doctor Oba from the imperial gift foundation/tokyo saiseikai central hospital.

I was chating about head accelerometers and how to use them in quantifing gait instability; my greek enginneering came over as i was makeing the academic connection and ruined everything with his over honest math/design questions. I guess here we had a different perpespective and attitude towards learning. Greeks are very inquisitive and have an ironic/skeptical tone to thier voices which is part of our linguistic heritage/ it is encouraged to be very difficult in asking questions in the greek culture, even if one does not know about a subject. It is acually considered a polite form of flattery to get into an argument with a greek. I do not think the same is true with the japanese culture.

stef

This may sound bad- but I have found that if a foreigner is busy pretending to be Japanese, they also miss out on some advantages by doing things they can get away with precisly because they are not Japanese. A foreigner can do things a Japanese could never get away with.

On the other hand, as you say, no matter how close one comes to _acting_ like a Japanese, one will always be the cute or silly foreigner. If someone is rejected for not being "japanese" enough, that person would be rejected no matter what. There is no real motivation for trying to act Japanese. Unless, as you say, it is a first impression. I think this is because one is showing that they are trying. If the person just showed up and acted all "I'm foreign and I don't care!" it would look pompus, like "I don't have to change the way I act for *you*".

Of course, when trying to "get away" with things, it is neccesary to understand the other persons perspective, to know how far to go, and where not to go. As you say, to "be sensitive and aware of the nuances in the interactions."

The honorifics, bowing, etc. are extensions of the language. So if I'm speaking Japanese, I use Japanese body language, to the extent that it feels natural to do so. Otherwise, it's like you say, silly. It's more complicated than what the books say anyway.

Thanks for these thoughts. It can replace many books about 'reading the Japanese Mind', 'Doing business in Japan', etc. It is just plain logic. Will save your entry to send to people with puzzling questions about how to behave in Japan.

One thing I would add is I am assuming a certain level of "common sense". Picking your teeth with someone's business card or tearing it in half would probably not be very cool even if you thought was really funny.

BTW, if you're non-Japanese in a business setting, I think the firm hand shake and a one-handed business card pass is probably the coolest.

ROOT, yes. Generally brass tacks come later in traditional Japanese business.

Oops. And yes... I think times are changing.

I've only met a few Japanese people, one of them had lived in Sweden for 2 years, another was fresh from Japan, visiting for a week. They were both quite down to earth, and it did not take long to realise that being myself was more important then trying to apply my meager knowledge of Japanese culture on them.

However I believe that it is also very important to KNOW about the Japanese culture, and know the proper way to act in various situations. Yet still act like yourself, with reference to how a Japanese would act in a similar situation. Am I making any sense?

I am glad you wrote this article Joi, I am going to Japan this fall, and it's good to know that the kind of open-minded Japanese I am interested in meeting, are generally pretty easygoing when it comes to stuff like that.

Although I still can't understand how people in countries like USA don't take their shoes of when entering their home. Yuck.

Joi, I love your site. It's always an interesting and informative read, but I'm going to have to call you on this one. By your line of reasoning it's silly for Japanese to shake hands with non-Japanese. Instead they should just bow. I'm sorry but I don't buy this.

I don't think there is anything silly about a foreigner bowing, in the appropriate fashion and situation, or in knowing the proper way to hand someone a business card. Some Japanese might view it as the silly foreigner attempting to act Japanese, but that is their loss and problem, not mine. Nor do I feel awkward when I bow or hand someone a business card. I have mastered both as well as most Japanese, perhaps better than some younger Japanese.

Bowing, handing out business cards in Japanese fashion, and even addressing you as Ito san, are merely the attempts that one should make when living in a foreign country and adjusting to its unique culture and society. Sure, these are the easy things that anyone can learn with little to no effort, however that does not mean that foreigners should not bother to act in the culturally acceptable manner, within reason, in the appropriate situations. Foreigners should also realize that just because they can bow properly, etc., that they should continue learning the subtleties of the host culture they are living in. Obviously there are many aspects of Japanese culture that are more important than bowing, but I think that it is as good a place to start as any. I would recommend that foreigners wanting to come to Japan or do business in Japan seriously consider learning how to bow and hand out business cards. I would also recommend that they study Japanese, which will allow them to lead a more comfortable life and to more fully understand the subtleties and nuances of Japanese culture, not to mention communicate more easily.

P.S. Maybe foreigners shouldn't use chopsticks either. That can be pretty silly sometimes too. : -)

It's interesting getting your perspective on this, Joi.

It reminds me of a comment that a Canadian friend made to me when I was living in Tokyo: she said that she had passed some kind of threshold of acculturation when she found herself bowing during phone conversations.

Of course, I would ask this: How are the Japanese reacting to your Joicards?

hmmm ooooppps! Joi this seems that I must have made such a faux-pa when I abruptly shouted out your name ITO-SAN in a French restaurant in Cannes.France last Thursday night!

Firstly I honourably disagree with your views - as I have a Japanese Korean wife and have lived in Japan as both a child and an adult.

As a result of which I admire Japanese culture and have naturally adapted my behaviour as a result, with my wife, my Japanese friends, and business acquaintances. This is also extended to my behavior in my wider "non-japanese" friends in general politeness and social interaction (a fusion of culture if you will)

I feel that such adoption of interaction within Japanese culture is important to reflect the deepest honour and respect I have for most (but not all) of the things that are innately Japanese.

Furthermore I am not Japanese nor ever will be but my children will be mixed Finnish/ Dutch Japanese/ Korean and I wish for them to have a high level of social etiquette that is reflective of their Japanese heritage and this I guess in their behaviour may indeed seem foolish to you - the "pure" Japanese.

Now having said this I truly appreciated your views on mobile and consumer focus, as I heard your Key Note lecture at Milia, Wednesday morning. Especially in light of the negative product push by the Fox and Warner Bros. people...

私は伊藤さんの考え方には、外国人に対する偏見が入っていると思います。外国人が御辞儀をするたけで・・・馬鹿な外国人だとはそれは失礼ではないでしょうか!!!伊藤さんも御存知だと思いますが、日本には多くの外国人が住んでおり、彼等は日本人と同じようにお辞儀をします。又、日本には住んでいなくても日本の文化を理解している外国人は日本人と挨拶をするときは、御辞儀をします。確かに御辞儀はヨーロッパやアメリカの文化にはありません。しかし、アジアの多くの国では日本と同じように御辞儀をします。伊藤さんの考え方では、御辞儀をするアミア人も馬鹿な外国人に含まれることでしょう。どうして外国人が御辞儀をすることが馬鹿なのか、私は理解できません。

remember to master the intricate body language of harikari/seppuku, ettiquette is key.

And heres what babelfish had to say of the above, are there better free translation sites out there? (fungus, hahaha?!)

I, think to Itoh's thought that the prejudice for the foreigner has entered. ... The foolish foreigner is with as for that it is not impolite with the fungus where the foreigner bows, probably will be? ! ! You think that also Itoh knows, but many foreigners have lived in Japan, he et. al. bows in the same way as the Japanese. And, you have not lived in Japan and the foreigner where also the て has understood the Japanese culture bows when greeting the Japanese. As for bow there is no certainly European and America culture. But, in many countries of Asia it bows in the same way as Japan. With Itoh's thought, it probably means that also the アミア person who bows is included in the foolish foreigner. Why, whether it is foolish for the foreigner to bow, you cannot understand me.

picking up the tab at dinner is another thing that can be misunderstood:

greeks, when they are friends, will take turns picking up the tab when out eating, it is expected that each member of the group of friends will keep a running tab in ones memory to buy evenly over the course of a friendship, which is for life...ect...I think other cultures have different rules; for example: other cultures may not understand this unspoken concept...with doctors, the bill always goes to the most senior or improtant physician, which goes to the hippocratic oath that all md's are part of a family and should share there wealth with the training, or just starting off docs. it is assumed that as doctors get older, they have more experience and therefore, as they enter the role of senior physcian, they in turn pick up the tab, this has carried over to the multicultural west from the ancient greeks.

stef

how do i set up a blog for three blind photographers??

Here's a better translation of Hikari's comment:

"I think that there is a bit of prejudice against foreigners in Ito-san's thinking. Isn't it rude to say that a foreigner is a fool just for bowing?! As I think Ito-san knows, a lot of foreigners live in Japan, and they bow just like Japanese do. And even if they don't live in Japan, foreigners who understand Japanese culture bow when they meet Japanese. Of course there is no custom of bowing in European or American culture. But a lot of people Asian cultures bow like the Japanese. I guess Ito-san thinks that these Asians who bow are foolish foreigners too. Why it is foolish for a foreigner to bow, I cannot understand."

Stef, I enjoyed your reading as I am taking educational philosophy course at ph.d. program and it does make sense. All western thoughts are from ancient greeks. Still is. North American scholar wants to level as "mordern" culture rather than "Greek" or "Western" now as people claim these "western" cultures as imperialism. Anyway, Greek ironic expression as polite manner is definately makes sense after reading " Educated mind" by Kieren Egan. He wrote different cognitive tools to shape your mind and improve different stages of understanding the world. According to him, the most sophisticated leve is "ironic" and somatic way of understanding. Sounds familiar to your culture?!

Anyway, my another comment goes to Hikari:
I think when Ito san wrote about funny gaijin bowing scenary is just a metaphor. What is important manner in multicultural business/communication is, I strongly believe, humanism. Just be human, you know what to do. Somehow, people have metaphysical way of understanding others, reading atomospher or feeling personalities from the very first impression. Of course, I will be impressed when foreiger try to adjust themsevles to my culture and I do have a respect toward that. Ito's point is this is not everything. (is that right, Joy?). There're more things that we can see and undertand.

So, what do you think? Please share your thoughts :) thanks

I lived in Japan for a total of almost 7 years, and spent the four before that interacting with the local Japanese community in my city in Canada while I studied the language....

When I worked there, there were times I just went with the flow and was "Japanese"... I think I can do it to a degree where people almost forget I'm a big tall caucasian... and it's worked well for me.

HOWEVER, when I'm dealing with Japanese people who speak good english, and have experience with foreigners, I will almost always default to English, and to more international business customs. I think maybe what Joi is getting at is what I've felt, that it's kind of weird or uncomfortable for Japanese people used to foreign customs to be treated to a cut-rate version of their own culture. :)

I think he is also pushing the point that people try to be polite in superficial ways, without really trying to respect the way of thinking behind the politeness... even though Japanese customs seem heavily scripted at times, I think there is really something behind them that you have to feel in your heart to come across as genuine when following the customs....

The flip side of the coin is that when I lived in japan, occasionally, despite my fluent Japanese, someone would insist on trying to deal with me in English, which always proved frustrating. (Not that I don't respect people for trying out their English, but foreigners in japan are not portable NOVA classrooms... :) )

hey; there is a strong pure element to your writing, leaving it a pure machine/finger interface reflective of the inner voice that brings you into being...but I hate heidenger...there is something suspect in that dude...but when Celan met him and gave him the intellectual honor despite Heddingers recalcitrance is demonstrative of wierdo dialectical, but this is part of why so many are driven mad by the shear mention of the post modern nature of being post modern.

I just got back from toronto: we are trying to get a vicarious soliloquey done by a group of blind photographers called three camera mind. We wish to find art, photograph it, and post it to see what different persons reactions are to the art.

will use steve mann's comparametric art system; we are going to figure out how the visually impaired can express the idea of projective geometry via the metaphor of flash light...

steve is so canadian...it was interesting walking around campus with him..with me asking the dumbest questions...and them engineering students wondering why is this nut here??

but I learned a little about eigenspace and gaussian windows. the math is central to understanding machine vision. one day there will be bionic vision for the blind...and one day we will need to be integrated into machines to function in a very wierdo future.

how cultures will adapt or be expressed in a homogenized smaller world will be contrasted with the individuality of persons creating language in pictures towards a visualpoetic that is kind of like kana and kanji language enlishisend with the latin and greek remnantes of this current world language. language will evolve into a family album of family area networks and the idea of nation will erode into a notion of the sovereign nation of one...the notion Japanese will be as ancient as the now classical greeks are, and the remnants of todays society will somehow converge in the future of prisons of surveillance and sousavaillence.

stef

chako:

we are in a empire building state of history: like the egyptian, persian, greek, roman, chinese, gupta dynasties, there is a trend for humanity to use knowlege and to store it away from the masses to maintain order. The human cented trend is counter to the emporer or royal trends, with emphasis on complicity. It was a gang of angry landlords that assasinated the tyrant of Athens, and it was a gang of senators that did ceaser in, but history remembers both events very differently. the pressures of terrorism, whether from religious extremist, will be coupled in the near future with internal extremist, or enviromental green gangs. these trends are part of the growing pains of an global village. to me, it seems the small groups seeking international fear, are creating the tempo for more security which in turn, has a profound pressure on our consciousness and social behaviour. What is it that made us all peace nicks during the beatle years, but hawks during the fourties? the bizarre yesteryear of nationalism is a anthropologic nightmare of human authentisity within the industrialization of the human soul. how is it that different nations, or persons with different means of language aquisition meet the new challenges of the future; will hegemony lead us to undermining the Unix/stallmann paradigm towards new paradigms based upon sanskrit? chinese?

think about what would be if all programming and math research suddenly switched to these new languages within one decade...that would be cultural sousavaillence against the prevailing english prejustice...and it may happen in our life time...thing is...those who are considered affluent and educated, are suddenly only trained in the obsolete. what if it became madetory to learn chinese???


think about that one...

The basic rule I learned over 7+ years in Tokyo is don't do ANYTHING "japanese" until you feel like you fully grok the nuances of it (cleanliness issues excepted of course, every effort is appreciated in this area I guess).

ie it is an acculturation thing, and if/when it comes naturally I don't see any harm in doing it Japanese, though it shouldn't be gratuitous.

(thinking of Mr Debito Arudou here).

My fellow sempai in the company were not generally impressed with the new kohai's business japanese skills. It's just like Business English, in that it requires O-T-J training.

Interesting perspectives. Hikari. I appreciate your point. I think I posted this after many people in Cannes apologized for writing on my business card, made pains to hand me the business card the right way and called me Ito-san. It felt very strange in Cannes. I also notice that many people spend way too much energy learning superficial rules when I think it's the connection underneath which is more important in social interaction.

Having said that, I would agree that many foreigners have mastered the art of bowing properly and blending into Japanese culture quite well. As Mark points out, a lot has to do with the language I think. If you speak and understand Japanese well, it's probably easier.

I would agree with Troy that it's what feels natural. If the body language of your Japanese wife rubs off on you, that's fine. If it feels natural to you bowing or calling me Ito-san, go for it. It's not so much that I mind it, but it seems silly if you're doing it for ME. I'd rather you spent time impressing me in other ways. ;-)

It's really about what feels natural I think. It is un-natural for someone to be speaking broken Japanese to me when we both speak perfect English. It seems strange for people to be bowing to each other when we're all speaking English.

On the other hand, I do think that learning to a quick nod of awknowledgment when someone bows to you in Japan is a good thing, but this deep bowing thing is weird. If the NTT handbook for employees they show how many degrees to bow in what situation. My point is that there are so many way to get it wrong that unless it is being done naturally, it looks strange.

Finally, people like Justin Hall and other dive into Japanese culture and bring their own flair, but try speaking and acting Japanese and it's great. I encourage you to try this if you have the guts. You will learn a lot, but you will often look quite silly. Justin has the right personality, but often ends up in situations where you'd label it "don't try this at home."

Anyway, this is my personal perspective, which as Hikari points out, is a bit skewed.

I think the unwritten rules are also different for Asians who could physically be mistaken for Japanese. Some (especially those reared in other countries during Japanese occupation) learn the customs/language to perfection, change their names to something Japanese and can basically fit well into the society. In a sense, they do need to deny their past but they do get to live well in a fine country.

For the more recent arrival (like myself), however, the goal is often to not be perceived as chinese/korean/south asian. Being a chinese-american, I always play up my American citizenship and upbrining because it gives more of the impression that I'm 'civilized.' I know I'll never be able to bow or follow all the traditions well, but I need to be wary that I'm acting with great humility. To make a broad generalization, in some day to day interactions, the risk is to be perceived as one of those uncivilized gaijin, or worse (esp to the Ishihara-supporters), a criminal, pimp, or gangster. Western countries are viewed to be far more civilized than Asian countries other than Japan. In that sense acting like the silly/cute foreigner gets you far better treatment than getting perceived as uncivilized.

here's a thought to understand the issue in a techie way. I think there are three types of "mode" in adopting different culture.

1. changable skin interface mode
2. emulation mode
3. multiple boot mode

1. is to build diffenet culture on top of her/his own inherited culture. most of case, only language and obvious customs in action can be adopted. but others may see this as superficial approach because it often is too obvious her/his actions are based on logics that the person inherited.

2. is to re-create other culture's logic with her/his own inherited culture. while one's culture has variety of logic sets in the library, this works well unles she/he faces to completely different logics.

3. is to adopt differnt cultures as different and to build different sets of neural connections in her/his brain. this works very well while she/he is in different culture at a time. but she/he often feels switching between modes as multiple personality problems. also, "patch work" personality may occur. for example, you may have difficulty remembering some Japanese words while talking in Japanese but easily remembering English words instead. (ok, I confess this is what I'm having these days. excuse me for self serving comment.)

I guess another way to say it is, out of context, everything seems silly. It's about context. If you have enough context around the bowing or the business card handling, it looks natural. The context can be understanding, language, being in a very form Japanese environment, etc. I guess my bad for making it sound binary.

As with many things... "it depends..."

I worked at a Mazda and Ford office for 2 years recently. I couldnt't imagine not calling everyone by there last name followed by "san" in that office setting. No one used a name by itself. I think I'd have felt rude if I would have said the name alone.

Another area of acting "Japanese" that's tricky is the dining situation. I can't come around to making noise when I'm having my udon noodles.. but I wonder if those around me in a Japanese restaurant are wondering why I don't make any noise. Is it rude not to make any noise.. or perhaps they don't think anything of it since I'm a foreigner.

Chris:
>Western countries are viewed to be
>far more civilized than Asian
>countries other than Japan.

I don't think civilization matters here. As 3 East Asian countries (Japan, Korea and China) share somewhat Confucianism culture (deepest is Korea), or even Zen in Japan, politeness in human communication is seen as very important value in those countries and those living in there know that. How civilized your country is as civil society, too candid style looks impolite in Japan. Though I think Chinese people value candidness too, for Japanese or Korean people, politeness comes first. If you fail to keep etiquette, you are not treated as an adult and the logic is it's not safe to do business with those who can't even keep simple etiquette. Zen adds more, there's a manner to treat others, but I'm not expert on it and again talking about Zen in Japan too much just looks silly enough :)

Nonetheless, I agree to Joi's perspective, because it's context-oriented point of view. When 2 people are talking in English, doing handshake is natural. As a Japanese, I feel embarrassed if people try to pay too much respect to my racial features. It's not different from depicting African people almost nude in comic strip, or talking to African American about hip-hop and basketball. Japanese people don't like to be always associated with Zen or Kabuki or Noh.

It's only my assumption, but I think misconception rate towards Japanese culture is rather higher than that Japanese people have toward other cultures. The moral is, until you get confidence that you understand how Japanese people feel about certain deeds, it's safe to do what you are confident and settled in, or you'll be seen as uncertain and schizophrenic personality. Superficial pretending is not so different from sarcastic jest playing with Japanese culture (can't resist quoting a character in Lost In Translation movie here, though I liked sound/music production of the movie very much).

Al. Yes. I think it would almost be gramatically incorrect in a big company like Mazda not to use Japanese honorifics. I think in a situation like that the context is probably quite clear. I can also imagine that even after work, you would continue to all those people with a "-san" because it had become natural.

A bit OT, but following on what KL says. A very funny thing that I notice often non-Japanese speakers talking to non-English speakers VERY SLOWLY and VERY LOUDLY as if made a big difference. Yes, speaking too fast is not good for communication, but speaking really slow to someone who has no idea what you're saying isn't going to help. The more funny thing is that I find it is such a reflex to many that even though I don't appear to have a problem understanding English, they SPEAK VERY SLOWLY to me. That's another thing I wish people would stop doing to me. (Before someone criticizes me for this too, I would agree that for people who understand a bit of English, speaking slowly probably helps, but it's probably more important to try to omit difficult words or slang than to speak slowly and loudly.)

There are lot of books written from an essentialist viewpoint around, that present 'Japanese', 'American' and so on as fundamentally different cultures, rather than just different cultures. (For example, saying that taking one's shoes off at the door is a 'Japanese' custom, when Japan is just one of the cultures where this is common. Likewise the idea that bowing is somehow Asian is ridiculous - all of Europe bowed before nobility for hundreds of years.

I find it sad that a lot of Japanese custom is somehow attributed to Zen (which was always a minority sect), the samurai class (maybe 10% of the population, and after 1500, not always a major cultural force) and other irrelevant factors that don't necessarily stand up to historical fact. Correctness in title and address, bowing and etiquette have been just as important on the other side of the USA - in England - where the quiet laugh at the bumbling foreigner is by no means unknown.

Joi said "It's only the extremely intolerant xenophobe who would really want a foreigner to really act Japanese." - in practice I would say that these people love to see you try and fail, but actually seriously freak out when you try and succeed - as it disproves the essentialist theory that Japanese are somehow unique and different to the rest of the human race. Several caucasian authors writing novels in Japanese have provoked exactly these reactions - David Zopetti and a few others I can't name at the moment.

The view that other cultures are somehow so different that we can't act like ourselves really grew out of 19th century theories of a racial hierarchy, that claimed that people of different colours are somehow fundamentally different. Some of these theories are still around today - people claiming that only Japanese people can truly understand Japanese literature, as if only English people could understand Shakespeare, or only Jews could understand the bible.

Treat Japanese the same way as you would people from other cultures - with respect, as people, not stereotypes and realising that one can't learn everything from a book. Hopefully you will be rewarded by being remembered as a perceptive individual rather than as a stereotype of the bumbling foreigner.

it would be interesting to get someone not japanese be japanese in an unviewed manner, like on a blog; how do we really know if Joi is not really a Frenchman living in Berlin???

that would be funny

or if justin exchanged online identities with joi for a week, would the smartmob groupies catch on??

stef

KOKO,
you can find some very good Japanese translation engines here:
http://www.csse.monash.edu.au/~jwb/wwwjdic.html
This one is especially good for students of Japanese.

and here is the other complex question: if we are to maintain freedom with a balance between the surveillenced state, vs the sousavaillence by the individual, does that mean that we become more candid and move toward being more gossipy? And with gossip, all of the social problems it brings in? Do cultures become more like Greek island, or Philipine-like, with each person from a tribe or clan, getting back to the group to report on what is happening with other groups.

In medicine, i find my one group of patients are very tight knit, and can gossip about nursing homes, specialists practice patterns, and how to get a cheap walker. This group of patients can get institutions working for them, and they are less likly to be kicked out of a hospital too quickly cause they can collectivly sousavaille the system. Whereas my other patients that do not have access to the same social information, do not know how to navigate throught a medical system that surveillances everything and places the individual at disadvantage. Members who of the more candid group, are more likely to survive illnesses of aging, whereas those disconnected from such social systems, or who are more reserved and "polite" do not survive the cold institutional hospital confinement.

I find in NJ, the several Japanese patients that I do have, congregate towards a Japanese enclave on the hudson, and will seek out one doctor collectively ect. I find that the family structure and the nature of breaking bad news is quite different from "western expectations" of full disclosure. This brings in the difficulties of establishing a Sousavaillence system, which in the younger generation, it seems to be happening very quickly amoungst the Japanese youth, but with death and dying in the elderly Japanese, the cultural expectation is to never give bad news to the sick patient, least they give up hope. I think I understand this and simply ask for guidence from the family. The family usually speaks for the ill and elderly patient, and there is a very different cultural expectation of what the doctor should do in these cases. But somehow, not being candid in the us, is to one tremendous disadvantage, the hospitals in Japan are not that different from the hospitals in the us, and how people use cellphones, cellphonecameras, and other informatic systems is of interest. Does this visual information change the culture?? or will different cultures use the same technology with different expectations reflective of values.

food for thought,,,and a bit beyond the business card.

stef

I won't use a buisness card: it goes against my peasant mentality: you know and like me or you don't. Won't wear a hospital id card either, but expect each security guard to greet me hello; make a point to know each of thier names and to get real close to tape record them, or to take pictures of them when they are not looking; kind of a hackers prank on the system.

Same goes with me as a poet, I read a poem, and the audience likes or dislikes, they do not have to buy my poems because they are my own personal candidness and visualpoetic.

but how does politeness influence poetry and living; appreciating beuaty is so key at the beginning of life as well as at the end. Who one knows will be at ones funeral. business cards are not for funerals, funerals should be for greiving...

Joi, although you may have Japanese citizenship, your mental and moral framework strike me as Western oriented. Duh, perhaps. But I wonder if your discomfort in reaction to the "bowing", "Ito-san-ing", and general desire to appease by foreigners viewing you as Japanese is a reflex to your desire to be viewed as more American? I agree with what you say about context and environment; I myself have been uncomfortable seeing foreigners act Japanese when it was arguably inappropriate. Still, giving them the benefit of the doubt that the act is not out of mockery, your annoyance makes me wonder if you might be in a bit of denial :)

no no...its like he is modern and human centered. he roots himself in knowledge.

would loveto see him at the olympics dancing on a table breaking dishes and throwing money at a belly dancer...but you have to practice a bit...

and we have to get steve through security...and onto a plane to get to athens...

and balance a glass of ouzo on his forehead. that goes a long way with impressing greek polititians and greek shipping tycoons

When I was living in Tokyo in the mid 80's, I lived in the Nishi Ojima neighborhood where white guys were usually only seen on television.

I found half my neighbors were really excited to buy me food and practice their English. The other half were really excited to teach me how to be as Japanese as possible.

So I quickly learned to size up how my audience wished to be treated.

This came in handy later in Hong Kong where people were absolutely astounded to hear me speak my limited Cantonese and get the tones right.

But, in the end, in any location, people everywhere would rather be treated as individuals and not stereotypes. As individuals, some of us feel comfortable extending into other cultures and some of us do not.

But, it's all the people, baby.

Matt... No. I find myself inherently Japanese in identity. The discomfort I feel is an awkwardness, not a resentment, and it is for the person doing it, not me. Again, it's not a strong feeling, but more just an awkwardness.

Oh... and I would rather not be viewed as American thank you. ;-)

Good article Joi. I just recently ran into a friend who had started to study just the kind of "acting japanese" -behaviour you describe. He went on to give a lengty presentation on the business card etiquette etc.

Being Finnish I can relate. Finnish culture is quite similar to Japanese in certain base values and behavioural patterns. Finns take their shoes off too. Act very polite in formal situations and first meetings. Are very keen on controlling the tone and volume of their voice, especially in group social situations. Finns don't ask "how are you?" unless they really really mean it (asking 'how are you?' in finnish really means that the person asking wants to know how is it going at work, any stress?, are you happy with your marriage (or sex life), and have you recovered from that nasty family tragedy 5 weeks ago, etc..) There are so much similarities between Finn-Japanese culture that atleast to my experience I have always resonated very well with my Japanese friends, business contacts or just random Japanese people I meet. I get same kind of stories from old 60+ Finn businessmen who have been doing business with the Japanese for decades.

Perhaps one of the major difference between Finn-Japanese culture is the place of a woman in society, and especially in business. Just about the only thing Finn companies complain when they deal with Japanese (or the Korean people as well, for that matter) is that they can't hire women to be sales people or account managers for example. It just doesn't work. Finland was the first country in the world to grant full voting rights to women. Nowdays even the president is a woman (recently also the speaker of congress, and the prime minister were women). Women are pretty well into sales, account management etc in Finnish society. There is still a bit of a gap when it comes to high-level CEOs and "big business leaders" like that.

Joi: I would be very interested in hearing your views on foreign women in Japan? Do they get away with stuff Japanese women never would? Knowing Marko and plenty of other Finns, what do you think about Finn-Japanese "like-mindness", is there such a thing?

This one is deep and complicated. I started coming to Japan about fifteen years ago, and we were doing business via a traditional trading company (Nissho Iwai), and doing the Japanese biz-card thing & bowing & Ikeda-san and so on just felt natural after the second visit or so. Having said that, I was always keenly aware that my bowing technique was really unsubtle and wooden compared to my Japanese colleagues; so the advice about going for a handshake might be really useful sometimes.

After we'd been working for a while, they all started calling me Tim-san, which felt a little weird initially, then friendly.

But as for calling people whatever-san, and being nice to their biz cards, and laying the biz cards out on the table so you can remember who's sitting where, and so on; all that just seems practical to me.

And of course we haven't got into beer-pouring etiquette at all yet... :)

My question is, if I bow, or call you Ito-san, am I trying to be Japanese/aping Japanese customs, or am I simply showing respect in the best way I can.

When people from two cultures meet, I hope that they both make efforts to respect each other - each moves in the direction of the other culture and hopefully they meet somewhere in the middle. If I were in Japan, I would expect to have to make more of an adjustment than if I were meeting a japanese person on my home turf.

Because of one of my hobbies, bowing isn't something alien to me, neither is appending an honorific to the end of a name (although that honorific is generally sensei). When I'm in the dojo, I consider myself (largely) on 'Japanese' turf - I make the efforts to shift, and show respect in the appropriate way.

If I'm told that the 'correct' way to hand someone a business card is in a particular manner, I think it's appropriate for me to do so. If I forget, or do so slightly wrong, then I hope that the other person can respect that I'm human, and that his or her culture is unfamiliar to me, and in doing so, not take undue offense at my error. If I can make adaptations in my behaviour to avoid offense, I think it's appropriate for me to do so.

It may look "silly" to you - I expect that. It may also feel silly to me. However, silly I feel, I'd feel more like an oaf if I failed to attempt respectful actions, than if I attempted imperfectly.

My question is, if I bow, or call you Ito-san, am I trying to be Japanese/aping Japanese customs, or am I simply showing respect in the best way I can.

When people from two cultures meet, I hope that they both make efforts to respect each other - each moves in the direction of the other culture and hopefully they meet somewhere in the middle. If I were in Japan, I would expect to have to make more of an adjustment than if I were meeting a japanese person on my home turf.

Because of one of my hobbies, bowing isn't something alien to me, neither is appending an honorific to the end of a name (although that honorific is generally sensei). When I'm in the dojo, I consider myself (largely) on 'Japanese' turf - I make the efforts to shift, and show respect in the appropriate way.

If I'm told that the 'correct' way to hand someone a business card is in a particular manner, I think it's appropriate for me to do so. If I forget, or do so slightly wrong, then I hope that the other person can respect that I'm human, and that his or her culture is unfamiliar to me, and in doing so, not take undue offense at my error. If I can make adaptations in my behaviour to avoid offense, I think it's appropriate for me to do so.

It may look "silly" to you - I expect that. It may also feel silly to me. However, silly I feel, I'd feel more like an oaf if I failed to attempt respectful actions, than if I attempted imperfectly.

I think the phrase that you use, "trying to please their hosts," betrays a cynicism from which your irritation may follow. Some years ago, I worked for a Canadian subsidiary of Hitachi. Whenever we would meet with a visitor from one of the factories, I always took pains to use a Japanese style of business protocol (granted, this was in the 1980s - I understand things have changed since) to be respectful of our guests. From everything I heard after such visits, my attempts were always appreciated, since the Japanese visitors often felt ill-at-ease themselves in a Western business environment; they thought highly of our attempts to demonstrate respect and regard for their culture, as opposed to expecting them to be aware of Western business mores.

When I visited a year ago, I found it a little strange to my North American ears to be referred to as "Mr." Federman by people who, in my home context would have called me "Mark," but I understood. Whether Koji-san thought I was silly or not when I referred to him as such is really immaterial as far as I am concerned; I was sincere in the respect I showed to this gentleman. (He was also a wonderful and gracious host.)

Respect offered should be respected for its intent. Viewing someone who offers sincere respectful intent as "silly foreigner" demonstrates supreme disrespect, and if I may say so, unbecoming arrogance.

Joi mentioned people speaking English more slowly or louder to him so he could "understand." I've often been in public situations with Japanese-appearing friends who speak no Japanese. If we are in a restaurant, for example, the person waiting on the table automatically speaks to the Japanese-appearing person. I answer. the restaurant person continues directing comments toward the Japanese-appearing person, even though it's obvious after the first or second comment that the Asian doesn't understand Japanese. I'd also like 10 yen for every time I've been asked if I can use chopsticks and eat Japanese food, even though the person asking knows I've been living in Japan for the past 30 years. We gaijin don't have the monopoly on stereotypes or superficiality.

As someone who grew up in both America and Japan, I personally like to be treated like an American in the US and, generally speaking, as a Japanese in Japan (for the most part.)

That said, there are times when I choose to emphasize my American-ness in Japan (which isn't obvious at first sight.) For instance, I often ask people to call me by my first name, which is not often done in Japan except with family and close friends. I will only do this with work colleagues or people I know I will see more often (i.e. not the lady at the post office, guy at the local conbini store, etc.) That simple action of asking people to call me by my first name immediately brands me as non-Japanese, BUT also immediately brings them into the "close friend" category as well. It is also the name that I like the most.

When people who know that I grew up in the US address me as Kanai-san, it does seem a bit strange, so I definitely understand Joi's comments. However, it is a VERY subtle interpersonal line that is hard to guage unless you have spoken to a specific person about their preferences. I think it is clear that to be safe with most Japanese folks, it's better to be more formal, rather than less.

Just for reference, I'd appreciate less formality as Joi seems to be requesting as well. ^_^

Joi wrote about how he felt strange when people used Japanese customs with him in France. That does seem strange. If you are in France, it seems appropriate to use French business customs, no? However, in the global business world of today, I suppose there are no real hard/fast rules.

Let me take a moment to mention Gillian Tett's awesome book I just finished, "Saving the Sun," all about how Long Term Credit Bank in Japan went under in the late 1990s, was bought by Ripplewood Holdings, and was reborn as Shinsei Bank (and just IPOed last month with wild success.)

That book is filled with wonderful descriptions of the culture clashes between the US and the Japanese within the setting of this bank restructing process. It's a really interesting read, is very accessible, and gave me a perspective into the Japanese government and the Japanese banking sector that is hard to get from newspaper articles.

i made a friend and a potential researcher from Tokyo, he was very nice to email me and discuss some of his surgical ideas and how it pertains to wearable computers. He is aware of my presbyopia and myopia at the age of 35, so hence the holes in what I write, which is only pronounced when I type faster, bringing out my slight dyslexia; I guess that is what the preview button is for. We have common goals for invention and treatment of illnesses with consumer technologies and both understand the anthropological nature of illness. Was just waiting to see if anyone here could catch the subtlies of eyesight impairment upon a blog.

As to the expansive nature of my other comments, my take is a sensitivity to coffee, my wife calles it lunacy. Its cultural to be loud and nutty in irony. I think growing up in a extended greek family and being the first to be educated, one need to adjust to protocols like politeness. On the other hand, if I was not heckling Thadius Starner's clueless about the disabled Phd student, I would never have meet Professor Oba who liked my ideas about consumer technologies becoming clinical diagnostic tools, which in turn was similar to his project that he was demonstrating.

Life is strange, and the connections and the destiny of human to human interactions are made very fun by these typing information storage systems. My personality is a magnet for patients that are loveable nutcases, and I am booked solid...let alone time to pop in and out of here, but the discussions here are very important, with the occational groundbreaking moment.

oh, by the way marc, steve needs some help with the blind leading the blind project...maybe we can get Dr Oba to sousavaille in Japan;)

stef

Firstly, it's interesting to see how many people well-acquainted with Japanese culture find that interacting in that 'mode' seems to work pretty well.

I am curious if any of those people would find it weird, or feel uncomfortable if a Japanese person said to them 'Just call me Takeshi' in a business situation, instead of Takeda san or something.

Secondly, Tane's remark about voting rights in Finland is slightly incorrect. Finland was the first country in Europe to grant voting rights to women, in 1906. New Zealand was the first country in the world to grant women the right to vote generally, in 1893. (Wyoming and Utah had granted women the vote in 1869 and 1870, but they are states, not nation-states.) Now even permanent residents of New Zealand who are not citizens are granted the right to vote as a recognition that they are equal stakeholders with everyone else.

(I heard that some local governments in Japan have granted the vote to zainichi Koreans and other people born in Japan that are not citizens - this is something I think they can be very proud of.)

I have found that Japanese people have different expectations of how foreigners should act, speak and behave. It all boils down to what the Japanese person thinks about non-Japanese and to their own personal beliefs about politness.

Examples, some Japanese people might find it to be very impolite for a non-Japanese to not bow when bowed to by someone older than them. Many Japanese have a very specific image of how a foreigner should behave, or even speak Japanese!

I have found that some conservative business men like foreigners to behave as foreigners should. They feel more in control when they are in the role of hosting the gaijin in their home land.

Many years ago, one of my English students taught me how to bow. He said "Remember, the most important thing about a bow, is that it come from the heart!" Keep that in mind and you can't go wrong.

Joi, I tend to agree with Matt and here is why. Your tatemae on this site and the few times I've met you in meatspace is more that of an american than of a japanese. Perhaps you have become a skilled chameleon?

Living in Tokyo, I try to follow local custom, even neighborhood custom, to the extent I can. Why? Because on the whole it makes my life here easier. "When in Rome" and all that. I find that by doing so I get treated more as just another person rather than "tonari no gaijin".

Very very interesting discussion.. Just my two cents as somebody who lives and runs a small business in Japan and has the unfortunate problem of being a single white female as well.

I am a bit peeved at the original post from Joi as it showed little understanding of the context he went on later to explain (in much better terms I might add - thank you Joi)

Joi is one of the unique few who are able to slip easily between cultures and languages and perhaps he seems to not appreciate the challenges facing the rest of us, who are pidgeon holed even before we open our mouths at a business meeting.

As an "obvious" foreigner, no matter how long you have lived in Japan, or how well you speak Japanese, or whether you have chosen to make Japan your home, nine times out of ten, it is assumed that one is fresh off the boat or will be heading back to one's "home" country. For the most part people like me in this situation can brush it off but when somebody is suggesting that I am "silly" it does irk me somewhat.

I learned many years ago the business card handling 101 and correct keigo for a first meeting and subsequent meetings and from my point of view, it seems to put non-English speakers at ease. English ability within Japan, even among executives is not high but anxiety when meeting "foreigners" is. Breaking the ice with some familiar actions and phrases is absolutely essential. People visibly relax.

I wouldn't suggest that people do this unless they can keep it going with some Japanese language. If you only speak one or two Japanese words then don't bother as you will look silly.

Certainly I would never greet somebody like Gen or Joi in this manner.. I know both of you guys and your situations. But an older executive from a Japanese company, absolutely.

If somebody's English is better than my Japanese, of course I revert to English. But I never assume or insist that people can speak my language.. that is just good manners.

It is a matter of choosing the correct approach for each situation.

When in doubt, smile and nod.

Joi, as I think you will admit, I have managed to both keep my own unique personality and also integrate large elements of Japanese culture into who and what I am. This is what makes me a bi-cultural person. What I feel when I read your post is the frustration of having to deal in English or English mode with Japanese who speak poor English. With Japanese who speak excellent English I never feel this frustration. So with you - you feel frustrated by those foreigners that try to communicate with you in some form of Japanese language/etiquette when it would be much more effective to do communicate in English. To be frank Joi, your advice is not really very relevant because most Japanese do not have the excellent command of English or Anglo/America culture as you do. In the last analysis your post is more about how to deal with Joi rather than Ito-san.

Mark: "Respect offered should be respected for its intent. Viewing someone who offers sincere respectful intent as 'silly foreigner' demonstrates supreme disrespect, and if I may say so, unbecoming arrogance." Yes. I guess I would agree with that Mark, but what I was trying to point out was the impression that I guess. Regardless of the intent, silly things seem silly to me and I think part of the value of the intent is lost because out of context, certain rituals looks strange. I'm just trying to point this out. If you're trying to show respect to me, I'm saying there are other things I'd rather you focus on than my business card. Also, I'm reacting to the great number of people and books that try to make the whole ritual of dealing with Japanese into a huge affair and sell the "I'll teach you how to deal with the Japanese." I'm saying that although, like I said, you'd get an "A" for effort, you'd not be getting the effect that you imagine. For instance, if I had read in a guide book that I should address everyone from the south with "Howdy Pardner" and I did this everywhere I went, wouldn't you point out that maybe that wasn't the best way to express my respect?

"We gaijin don't have the monopoly on stereotypes or superficiality." Totally agree Chris. I also think it's silly when Japanese treat foreigners in Japan as you say.

I said this before, this is quite context sensitive and my post is probably a bit provokative and rude since I'm stating it generally. So while I appreciate and respect the people who spend energy on rituals for me, I do often think that it's silly and a bit annoying. This may be arrogant, but I'm just trying to reflect my feelings honestly.

Tracey dixit:
>For the most part people like me in this situation can brush it off but
>when somebody is suggesting that I am "SILLY" it does irk me somewhat.
[..]
>I wouldn't suggest that people do this unless they can keep it going
>with some Japanese language. If you only speak one or two Japanese
>words then don't bother as you will look SILLY.

Methinks Joi's observations and feelings -- with which I tend to agree 100%, -- and Tracey's comments above highlight the dual and interwoven aspects of attempting to straightjacket yourself into some foreign culture's customs: it can be appreciated by your counterparts, or be seen as silly.
Japanese people appreciate, nay, expect that you might not be 100% up to speed with their customs, and will give you lots of leeway. Just be natural and civil, avoid being overly pushy etc. And give the Japanese who deal with foreigners the same leeway: they might not be 100% up to speed with *your* gaijin mindset/customs/culture either, as natural/universal as you might consider them to be.
Avoid templating people, and treat them as individuals. Getting in sync with your counterparty's individual personality can be easier if both of you behave in a natural manner.

One of the key words in Joi's original post is "visiting". Much of the response seems to be from or about foreigners "living" in Japan (or at least having a more significant connection than a quick visit for a conference or consulting job). As far as "visitors" go, I think Joi is pretty much on the money. Bowing, handing out business cards, and trying to use honorifics may make the visitor feel better because *that is what they have been told to do*. As I think back to the first time I ever came to Japan, it was overwhelming. Not because it was Japan, but because it wasn't home. Visitors cling to the life raft of what they are told to do, and some people make a very good business out of telling them.

As an American, when I visit France for a week and meet my wife's friends, I don't start kissing people on the cheek. When I visit Thailand for a workshop, I only "wai" in response to someone who seems to honestly "wai" to me. When I visit Canada for work or vacation, I have to watch my accent, because if it starts slipping towards Canadian, I'm going to be, and actually have been, called on it.

Tracey wrote that "As an "obvious" foreigner, no matter how long you have lived in Japan, or how well you speak Japanese, or whether you have chosen to make Japan your home, nine times out of ten, it is assumed that one is fresh off the boat or will be heading back to one's "home" country." I, and many others have certainly experienced that as well, so the whole identification of "visitors" and "here-to-stay gaijin" is ripe for misunderstanding. But, at that point, the relationships should be more interpersonal than intercultural, and that is a whole 'nuther kettle of fish, isn't it?

ok, I got beyond the business card and got the email back. I wish to collaborate with dr. oba and work with him on line regarding developing a treatment protocol for memory loss using cellphones, how do I suggest we work together: for as I am fidning out, there is business card etiquette, blog etiquette, and I guess email etiquette. Is there a different expectation across cultures?

I keep on getting in trouble on these public forums when I try and communicate exactly what is on my mind, but confess it may be not immediatly obvious to the readers what is it I am planning.

Is it way out to try to get persons together from a blog??

I tried in the past only to have failed.

stef

I think if I were to meet you in person, I would just call you Mr. Ito, or Joe, depending on the situation, be it business or personal. Then I would shake your hand firmly, since that's how I was taught. I'm completely unashamed to represent what I feel are the finer points of courtesy from my culture. I appreciate a person's effort to return the handshake. If a Japanese person bowed to me in America, I guess I would probably bow back in a similar fashion (returing the handshake) and then try to shake their hand anyway (bowing to them).

Call me crazy, but I think people are sensitive to other people's intentions. If we're sincere, then who cares which culture's customs we use, so long as it is understood that courtesy and developing a relationship are the intentions of that interaction.

I couldn't help but laugh and agree with you completely. It's reminded me of a few occasions when I overheard overseas Japanese students, speaking with a strong accent, and using American Idioms in social settings. eg: "Let's paint the town red" spoken with a lack of intonation and facial expression; sounded and looked hilariously robotic!

If someone bows to me, I'll bow back. If someone offers their hand, I'll shake it. If I know how to say hello in someone's own language, I'll do so. Seems like basic politeness to me.

On the other hand, some people do seem to think they will be cast into Outer Darkness if they fail to observe every detail of Japanese etiquette, but are so awkward and selfconscious that they end up just looking silly. If you're in a business situation where etiquette is that critical, isn't it worth the money to hire a native Japanese etiquette tutor to help you?

I understand what both Joi and Hikari are saying. Hikari reacted to the idea that just by bowing, Americans look silly. Joi's example may have been over simplified, but I got the gist of what he was saying. Even bowing in some contexts can be silly - but this is usually practiced by people who have little experience in Japan. I took a friend to Japan once, and he bowed to everybody - the Konbini clerks, waitresses, etc. It _was_ silly and painful to watch until I corrected him. It also reminds me of this Eikaiwa show that I saw where this was this "sensitive male" type (American I think) speaking Japanese. He spoke not only super polite, but in a very feminine manner, and he was bowing all over the place. It made me want to slap him.

Like Joi said, it's better to bring some of your own flair with you as a foreigner in Japan. That's what makes you interesting in the first place. Just don't be obtuse - say thank you, please, etc. You just don't have to act like a peasant in front of every person you meet. No one is going to cut your head off.

Also, like Kevin said, it can be very beneficial to be different in Japan, as long as you are the right kind of different. I freqeuently receive free meals at restaurants just by making conversation with the manager, and basically am treated better than usual. I jokingly call this the "gaijin discount" but I really think it is a reflection of the good spirit and innate hospitality of many Japanese.

I'm nearly six feet tall, over 250 lbs, with bright red hair and a full beard. I will never be mistaken for Japanese even in the dimmest light. Nevertheless I am learning Japanese to the best of my ability, including the customs as well as the language.

It has been my experience that many Japanese expect gaijin to be completely uncultured, from a Japanese perspective. Thus any attempt to work within Japanese cultural norms, especially by an American, is appreciated. As others have noted, there is even a degree to which foreign mannerism are appreciated as interesting or flamboyant.

The trick seems to be to avoid mannerisms that Japanese would find frightening, unhygenic, or extremely offensive (such as shouting in public or coming to a public bath without showering first), while at the same time not acting so formally that one comes off as trying to "be more Japanese than the Japanese". An analogy in America would would be wearing a tuxedo and using formal dinner manners when going out for pizza. It just looks comical, and betrays a lack of famliarity with the culture by aping it to an extreme.

Just a side note.. I ALWAYS train my Japanese staff in the art of the firm handshake and looking people in the eye when greeting.

It works both ways and there is nothing worse than an awkard wet-fish handshake from a person who is unfamiliar with the custom.

I hope my bowing(nodding/leaning/stooping/wobbling) over the last 4 years has not felt to Japanese like a wet fish handshake does to me.. surely nothing is worse than a wet fish handshake!

My experience is similar to Dave's:

"Joi said "It's only the extremely intolerant xenophobe who would really want a foreigner to really act Japanese." - in practice I would say that these people love to see you try and fail, but actually seriously freak out when you try and succeed"

It's getting rusty now, but I did acheive fluency after several years of hard work. Once I finally had it, I found that my fluency kind of freaked a few people out. Believe me, I did my best not to seem as if I was emulating Japanese people and I didn't ever want to appear as if I was showing off.

Even non English speaking Japanese who had no choice but to speak to me in their native language seemed to feel a little unsettled at the realization that they were having a natural conversation with a foreigner. By learning the language to a tee, I felt as if I had somehow trespassed.

I have noticed, however, that elderly Japanese seem to be very appreciative if you can use keigo that is relevant to the situation and is delivered without error.

If I didn't do "silly" things like bowing, using the formal phrases in business Japanese, and the Japanese way of exchanging business cards, I would probably get fired. That or it would become difficult to have a proper business relationship with our clients and vendors.
I think if you can speak Japanese fairly well, it's expected that you also know the rules of the culture. I would rather be the silly gaijin rather than the rude gaijin who doesn't even try to follow the social rules.

Wise words from Tracey.

And who would have thought a personal rant from Joi about someone who overdid the bowing and business cards would have stirred up such feelings!

If there's one problem area that Japanese society seems to specialise in, it's ningenkankei. (Human relationships.)

I have spent a lot of my life in Europe with my family unhappy that all around me I saw people who are Americans, my countrymen, and who were making asses of themselves. The Americans I saw where talking loudly in churches, shouting English slowly at people to magically get them to understand, and showed a total disregard for German culture.

Here you have a situation where there are people who are actually interested in learning and adopting Japanese culture even though they are foreigners. They could rest on their laurels and show no interest, but they have enough respect for your culture to do the best they can to do the right thing. In my mind this should not be criticized but applauded. It means that the foreigners in question may actually believe that the whole world should not bend to their ways.

Why is Japan a special case? The corrolary to this is that the expectation in other cultures that a Japanese visitor should not attempt to learn the most basic of social rituals. That is provably false.

BTW Hikari is my Korean/ Japanese wife who has adapted quite uniquely into Japanese culture having lived there for the later 10 years of her 33 year life...she is always mistaken by Japanese as being "pure" Japanese. Hikari has adopted the art of Japanese culture so perfectly that not one person has seen that she is NOT Japanese. So a foreigner, albeit of Asian origin, can adapt (and adopt) Japanese culture without looking foolish...

Now that we have moved to Holland Hikari's only hurdle now is adapting to the Dutch culture with spitting "G's" and mad orange customs! ;)

muchas gracias, ito-sensei!
d.

Ditto to the posters talking about speaking Japanese. To many Japanese, a white guy speaking fluently is like an alien with antennas sitting at the dinner table and using proper etiquette.

They seem to get the feeling that someone's seen their dirty linnen when people like me can speak fluently. We are, by the rules of nature, just not supposed to be doing that. ;) To many of them, it's just "wrong", and therefore very uncomfortable...

Regarding Joi's comment, Joi, I have to say I think you are experiencing what I call "being western without knowing it". You are liberal and western in your view of things, therefore tend to think that other Japanese are too. They decidedly are not though, except for a very few... The vast majority would like to see gaijin try to do the right things regarding Japanese culture, but don't actually want to see them do those things as well as they do. That's how I see it... ;)

Trevor,

I thought I would die with laughter after I read your post.

(Trevor-san ga toukou shite moratta komento wo yonde, okashikute shinisou datta. ) Is that right? Sorry, no IME installed here.

One more thing. To all the posters who say that Joi is a closet American... Excuse me, but Joi is a closet CALIFORNIAN, not American. ;) (j/k, Joi)

Of course it’s funny when Westerners imbue a business card with artificial respect; it’s funny when anyone does it! All social customs are funny in different frames of mind. Just be glad that someone is actually trying to be nice to you, and tune in to your culture, even if they get it wrong. They might produce a few chuckles, or they might produce a useful new mutation.

Everyone who ever travels has to put up with questions, assumptions, and silly behavior. If you can go with the flow, you’ll probably enjoy it more.

Anyway, what’s so wrong with looking silly? Copying other cultures is interesting in a mannerist way, and can be fun to watch. Silly English physicists who study the tea ceremony; silly Japanese rockabillies who build the perfect North Carolina roadhouse in Koenji. More power to them! The world is shrinking and—at least for most folks fluid enough to be on this website—your culture has as much to do with your mind as your geography. The people who adapt, however imperfectly, other cultures are in the delicious first lapping waves of a churning sea.

Quentin Crisp wrote a book in which he contrasted manners with etiquette. Etiquette for him was following a strict social pattern meant to preserve snobbishness; manners are about making those around you feel comfortable.

Hajimae!

As a Kendo student and meeting many japanese people, i've learned many things about Japanese protocol. Maybe it's not business protocol for meeting someone or starting a social chat, but, For example, to salutations never look to eyes, be kind, respect, and be "really" clean, i mean "REALLY" clean. I love that of course and i love the way japanese use discipline to many things in their life, then a little bit of humor and be concentrate when the professor teachs you something...

Matae!

Do we think Japanese businessmen are "silly" when they try to shake our hands? Even if you get the "dead fish" hand shake, you are appreciate the effort to bridge a cultural divide. I have never heard of a Japanese person being offended by a two-handed meishi pass or a bow. I have heard of Japanese getting offended, though, by gaijin "taking advantage" of their gaijin status and drinking straight out of the dai-bin bottles and being obnoxious at business dinners...

I appreciate this post. When in a forgein country, I'm very aware to "mind my manners" that doesn't mean I become someone else. I'm aware of my tone and I make a point to smile, the universal language.

Your point is valid, Joi, however I largely belive formalities are apropriate as the situation dictates.

When my Aikido club traveled to Kyoto, the formality associated with the sport held sway.

While I have no objection to bowing, I sure as hell am not going to be the one attempting to bow the lowest.

But addressing a senior respectfully, listening to him tell stories, pretending i have enough Japanese to understand, attempting to time laughs correctly, calling someone I just met Ito-san (I never went as far as -sama)... these are almost identical courtesies I would pay to a senior Frenchman were I to visit that country.

It isn't "silly". Someone is trying to extend a courtesie to you. When this happens, it behooves you to say "Please call me, Joi".

That's all.

What is silly is that you find yourself irked that a foriegn visitor is trying hard not to screw up.

If the guide books in English are wrong, it is the fault of the guide book writer and publisher.

Would it be better of some of my redneck friends and I ride into town and tear it up like we do on a back home Saturday night?

Then again, I suspect you experience less of this now that you're no longer involved in VC.

You officially have less ass to kiss.

Still, if you want white guys to treat you like another schmuck in the barbershop, you are in the wrong country. You need to live in the US where no one respects anyone.

I'd trade the way you feel is old fashioned for my way any time you like.

wonder if current cultural norms will change due to this??

http://www.cfp2004.org/program/

Mendocino
2d floor BOF 2: Japan's New Privacy Protection Rules, Citizen Numbering, and Threats to Civil Liberties

Between 1998 and 2003 Japan's national Diet passed a series of laws that will fundamentally reshape the relationships among free speech, government surveillance and individual privacy. Among other things, the new laws create the country's first comprehensive citizen numbering system, provide rules requiring confidentiality of personal information, and provide the first formal legal authority for wiretaps. Another new law established Japan's first national freedom of information system. The speaker will provide an overview of all these developments and will solicit comments from participants, especially seeking to draw comparisons with developments in the United States and elsewhere.
Presenter: Lawrence Repeta

Is Stefanos having several conversations, possibly with a large group of people dispersed in space and time, which he happens to be typing out on this particular Web page?

One important thing for a foreigner to know is that the Japanese try to refer to persons through indirect reference. For example, instead of saying "you", they prefer to indicate the person by some reference to the current situation, indicating either position, gender or degree of courtesy. This yould be kept in mind by all foreigners even when using their own language.

I think you are completely missing the point. Culture is not intrinsic to race or even nationality, it's influence is completely environmental. Therefore, because I've lived in Japan for 3 years with my Japanese boyfriend, naturally some cultural mannerisms have rubbed off. If they didn't, it would be more disturbing. If you live in a new culture for long enough, you begin to adopt characteristics of that culture, whether you mean for it to happen or not. Joi Ito sounds completely snobby, and nationalist, like, "don't touch MY culture". Give me a break. Culture is fluid- welcome to the age of enlightenment.

I guess it does sound a bit snobby. How about this. "Don't feel you have to act that way on MY account."

"When in Rome, do as the Romans do," ne?

Anyway, are you really Japanese? Your English is culturally perfect.

If you've been reading this blog for any length of time, you know that Joi is not racist or malicious. Like the rest of us, he likes to explore a range of ideas and sometimes they're controversial. Don't know him well enough to say whether or not he's a snob. Doubt it, but if he is, it's not because of his honest stance on this issue.

There does seem to be a funny thing about foreigners in Japan. Either they are boisterous stereotypes that go against the grain of Japanese culture or they immerse themselves so totally that they try to act Japanese themselves. Both scenarios are a little bit insulting to Japanese; they are not stupid people. Quite the contrary, as you know.

It would be fair to point out, however, that it is much easier for a Japanese tourist to fit-in in my home (California) than it would be for me to fit in somewhere in Japan.

See, you're doing it too!

"A funny thing about foreigners"

You're stereotyping foreigners in Japan. How would you know? Have you met every foreigner in every part of Japan?

There's nothing wrong with either scenerio as you pointed out! Why is it insulting when people try to immerse themselves in a new culture? At least they're trying.

I think you have fallen into the "Japan is a special case" trap. I have also lived in other countries and people do it everywhere. People do it when they come to America also. If you choose to live in a new country, then should you not try to assimilate to some degree. People can retain their original culture as welll as learn a new one- as exhibited in all Western countries.

I think you are being a bit racist when you claim it's silly for foreigners to try and immerse themselves in the Japanese culture. Why? Because White people can't learn Asian cultures/traditions? Well then, how about Asian people moving to Europe?

You're being arrogant about Japan and foreigners. People can do what they want. Not all Japanese people are the same either! You should read the book, "The Other Japan," by David Suzuki. There really is a hidden culture within Japan, and it takes time to find it.

Oh, one more thing, about culture being fluid: My best friend in Japan is British, and most of my co-workers Australian and Japanese, no Americans. I'm American, and have now started to use British vocab, and have a strange Brit-sounding accent according to my family. I also sometimes think in a British-Katana accent. I don't do any of this intentionally. It may sound strange, but it's not really. I've heard British accents and the Japanese language every day for 3 years. It has started rubbing off and I think it's interesting. I have to really watch what I say in America because people might think I'm being pretentious, when really, I've gained new cultural mannerisms. Now why should any of this be different for foeigners living in Japan over an extended period?

B-Sapporo, that happens to me too. I wrote about it here. My point was not to discourage the flow of culture or that it didn't naturally rub off on you. My main point was that instead of trying to study the motions, that it made more sense to come in with your eyes open and aware and focus less on the formalities. If you are bowing naturally as it rubs off on you, fine.

The events that lead to my posting this item was when I had a whole bunch of people apologize to me during the course of a day for not handling my business card properly, or not bowing, or whatever. I was feeling "OK, whatever, lets get on with it." Also, some people who have been to Japan a few times spend an inordinate amount of time explaining to newcomers in Japan EXACTLY how they're supposed to do things when I have a feeling they'd learn better if they just dove right in.

But in retrospect, I suppose it was a bit snobby so I take back the generality of my assertion, but am taking the position that people shouldn't get all worked up about protocol on MY account.

I lived in Japan for 17 months and was and am deeply intrigued by the culture, heritage, ethos, that shaped this society along such very different lines than the West. However, the entire country is like some vast role-playing game. You can watch and admire the correographed behavior of gas-station attendants. There is a plate glass window behind the driver's compartment on one of the railways out of Kyoto and you can observe the white-gloved engineer going through an elaborate performance:time 10:42, platform CLEAR, signal GREEN, Engine START! I had a Japanese friend who had been a member of a girl band, and something of a "rebel" by Japanese standards. She got a job at Takashimaya Dept. Store and it was strange to watch her transform every day and play the role of a perfect Takashimya Girl all day, and come home and be "normal" until her husband came home and then switch into "Japanese wife-mode".

You can watch two women meet in the street each SHOWING how much pleasure she takes in the other's company, and it is also generally easy to tell who is the host and who the guest.

Now, I don't want to suggest that there is NOTHING to these various forms, that they are mere "performance" with no sincerity or that the sincerity behind the roles is no more than that of an actor being "true to his part". These forms, formalities, roles are preserved partly because they are useful and also partly because they must at some level be satisfying or enjoyable..and NO ONE relaxes like the Japanese. When they DO set aside formality the Japanese can "unwind" far more than Westerners can.

A Westerner dropped into this VERY BIZARRE society would be hard-pressed not to conform to the "rules of the game". After all, we DO play "by the rules" at home. It would be easier to avoid bowing and business card etiquette if the Japanese themselves didn't make such a HUGE fuss about bowing and business card etiquette! To an extent the rules force a level of compliance. I mean you come into an office building, and you are overwhelmed by being met by assistant managers flanked by office ladies, what we find an embarrassing amount of politeness and if you are clever enough to remember to take off your shoes, the office lady (or horrors someone higher up) will turn them to face outwards so that you can more easily step into them on your way out. Well, since you don't REALLY want to make people handle your shoes, on subsequent visits you contrive to leave them facing outward. You can't really blame foreigners for adopting some Japanese ways when they are constantly being corrected, or at least SHOWN how to behave.

I think that it is wrong to ascribe motives to ANY Japanese action. My belief is that we don't "think" the way the Japanese do. Conditioning, language, values, all are so different that we might as well be alien species rather than simply foreigners. I think that Mr. Ito points out a truth or a "reality", that the Japanese people do appreciate "Japanese behavior" in Westerners.

There is an element of ruthlessness in the Japanese attitude not only toward foreigners but toward each other. Several times I completed an assignment, I would make parting gifts, say farewell to my fellow Japanese workers. The office ladies would be in tears, everyone would promise to write....and I never received a single e-mail, a post-card, a note, even though I wrote. In a way, it's not that the tears weren't sincere but that a level of emotion appropriate to the event was shown. Once your connection with the company is severed, you are cut off clean like a knife-stroke.

I think it is profitless to be judgemental, and besides as far as I can tell the Japanese are just as ruthless with fellow Japanese. I think rather that Mr. Ito has hit upon one of the peculiar paradoxes of Japanese behavior and quite rightly points out that foreigners do not gain respect, and possibly gan a measure of disdain when they adopt Japanese mannerisms. In theory perhaps we should maintain more of a "cultural identity" but it truly is hard not to bow your head when all about you are bowing theirs!

Michael S. Copley

To Joi Ito, sorry, I now understand where you're coming from! Actually, I thought you meant people who have lived here for a while, but I see your point completely, and agree that it would be annoying. Also, thank you for understanding my point as well. Maybe I'm just too wary sometimes, because I often hear my students say, "We Japanese," and I hear Americans say, "We Americans," and I feel that no one person can represent a nation. Sorry, I gripe a lot.

I also take away my assertion that you were snobby, as you clearly are not, but rather trying to explore cultural situations, which is admirable.

Cheers!

I think you are being a bit racist when you claim it's silly for foreigners to try and immerse themselves in the Japanese culture. Why? Because White people can't learn Asian cultures/traditions? Well then, how about Asian people moving to Europe?

B-Sapporo, you are a DAMNED LIAR for calling me a racist. Because you have made an outlandish and baseless claim about me, I am justified in my passionate repsonse to you.

You're stereotyping foreigners in Japan. How would you know? Have you met every foreigner in every part of Japan?

Of course not. Is this a requirement for forming an opinion on the matter? If so, you have no business speaking your mind either. What you call stereotyping is what I call a general opinion founded in objective observation. The fact that there are always exceptions to the rule goes without saying.

WTF do I know about Japan, anyway? For some strange reason, my Caucasian parents got me started on a strange combination of piano, swimming, and Japanese language lessons at the age of six.

At the age of 12, I visited Japan for three weeks in a student exchange program. During my 17th and 18th years, I attended and graduated from Matsue Higashi High School in Shimane prefecture. Later, as an adult, I worked in Tokyo for about two years. And finally, I passed the 日本語能力試験一級。
So, even though I have been lucky enough to learn very much about Japan, I don't feel the need to walk around acting like Lafcadio Hearn, either.

You're being arrogant about Japan and foreigners.

Another lie, but if it makes you fell better about yourself, go with it.

People can do what they want.

Yes thay can, but only a few do what they should.

Why is it insulting when people try to immerse themselves in a new culture? At least they're trying.

That act is not insulting at all. As you might say, it is a very good thing that promotes friendship and the exchange of ideas across cultures. The problem is with the white lie that's told when a gaikokujin tries too hard to be Japanese. I think Joi put it best at the very beginning of this thread:

Joi: Keep an eye out for indicators of discomfort but bring the flair of your own culture with you.

Exactly. And you, B-Sapporo, certainly seem to have brought your own personal flair to the table. I appreciate that.

I think you have fallen into the "Japan is a special case" trap.

Perhaps I have, because I firmly believe that in many ways Japan is a special case. While most Americans probably do not think so, my opinion is that as of now, Japan may be America's most important and powerful ally in the world. We should show respect for their loyalty to us, their freindship, and the advanced nature of their culture.

B-Sapporo -

I'm sorry if I got a little carried away and I am sorry if I insulted you. You raise good points and you are obviously a thoughtful person.

The gist of the point I'm trying to make is, let's be careful not to insult anyone's intelligence. You didn't mean to call me a racist, either. You just said I was acting racist. Maybe I should have shown more sensitivity.

Daijoobu yo! I see you have more extensive experience in Japan than me, so I respect that.

It's just that I lived in both Spain and England for awhile and therefore I view all countries as having something typically unique about them. So, when I was in Spain, we were chastised for our piss-poor accents by everyone. In fact, half the time people couldn't understand me unless I "acted" in a Spanish in manner.

Therefore, I thought I should apply that experience in Japan. I do see what you and Joi Ito were saying, and I've come across the same scnerio. However, it's hard to adjust constantly to different people, and I feel tired all the time because of it.

You're damned if you do and and damned if you don't. That's how I feel sometimes. Maybe I'm just getting bored and it's time for a change!

Also, I stopped feeling this was a special place since now it's just everyday life drudgery of work, pay bills, work, pay bills, work... The same as anywhere. Yeah, I need a vacation.

I think that one important thing is just being ourself first. But a second important thing when we are going to another country is to show some respect by learning a minimum of customs and language. When I go to Japan I try to adapt to japanese. I eat japanese food and I bow. But I do it without acting, I mean by still being myself. I think that if the gestures are done naturally and not like an imitation, it will not look silly.

On the other hand, I don't like the travellers who don't learn any word and don't learn any customs when they go in another country. My hometown is Quebec city where we speak French and where there are a lot of japanese tourists and american tourists. When I was in high school (my school was in a touristic place) and when tourists were asking me information, I was insulted when they were not even able to say one word in French like "Bonjour". When I go to USA I can't imagine going there without learning basic english and when I go to Japan I would feel ashamed not knowing the basic customs and japanese.

So if I look silly when I bow in Japan, I will continue to do it anyway cause I prefer looking silly than looking insulting or feeling ashamed...

Gosh the japanese are mean. I had alot of resect for them until now. They are rude. What if us westerners said we dont like you in out contry so we will discriminate againts you.
YOU RASISTS.
Ahh thats ruined my day I still have respect for the Japos though, your lucky you make manga.
I you have a problem with what i got to say the email me back i argue you down. rasists

How would we all respond if the Joi's article read as follows...

A lot of people ask me about American customs. They learn how to shake hands, they learn how to make small talk, they take on easy-to-pronounce nicknames, and they call me "Mr. Johnson." Stop that. It's silly. To some Americans, the awkward foreigners trying to please their hosts by acting American may look cute, but more likely than not, you'll get a A for effort but you'll be forever the silly foreigner in their minds. It's only the extremely intolerant xenophobe who would really want a foreigner to really act American and you don't want to be hanging out with those anyway. Keep an eye out for indicators of discomfort but bring the flair of your own culture with you.

Rather than trying to act American, I suggest that people visiting the United States be sensitive and aware of the nuances in the interactions. It is more about timing, loudness, space and smiles than it is about how you shake hands or address people with the proper "Mr." or "Mrs." appellation. When in doubt, shut up and listen. When smiled at, smile back. If you're freaking someone out, back off instead of continuing your interrogation....

I think most people would find this kind of attitude racist.

Interesting blog, and conversation, from 2004. If you are posting something new after JUST reading the initial article please read all comments - appears the folks making some recent statements haven't read the full commentary.

Tracey, if you come back to this post I would very much like to open a dialogue with you about starting a business in Japan and doing so while being a single woman. sunileni@gmail.com.

is there really such a thing as "acting to japanese to the point you'll offend/insult a japanese person?"

that sounds horrible, it's like the right intentions but negative outcome. I simply don't believe it. You might come off as un sincere, but i dont think you'll ofend anyone.

im going in april of 06 and though i'm going to be myself, i'm smart enough to learn some customs. I will try them, see what happens. mostly I want to know them for two reasons



1) gaijin doesnt know anything japanese- i want to dispell that image. I think this will help greatly on first impressions and make it easier for others to talk to me/be comfortable around me. They'll give me a better chance. granted, this won't be enough for some people but :) they suck.



2) don't want to offend anyone.

There are some things that me and you do that seem normal but is very taboo in other cultures. Like when eating witch chopsticks, if you say lay the chopsticks down on the bowl so you have a free hand- seems normal to me- but this is something done at a funeral.

Beig a forigner, I will get some leeway, and some won't even expect me to be able to use chop sticks let alone things like that. I think ito-san should look at it from a different way.

I bet the other person is thinking the same thing. Do i confine and try to use the american customs i know or keep it japanese?

When in romans do as romans do? Sure, be yourself?? Sure. In the end we're all human, Japanese people are human, if they see you are sincere it won't matter.

As far as how to act? Just be aware and respectfull, respect is universal, then just see what being ther over long period of time molds you to be. The idea of coming back home and bowing at the pizza delivery guy sounds hilarious to me and I think it would be funny to experience it.

You don't have to act "japanese" too. You're foreign, it will be easy to tell, no one will expect you to do things perfect. The ones that do are the ones that would have never given you the chance. I think if you keep an open mind and immerse yourself anyone will be fine.

I think people over think it. You dont have to be/act japanese to make friends and connections. Who's to say what acting Japanese is in the first place? Too many questions just dive in.

Although the ides of "playing a role for the greater of the group/peace" i've heard of aswell. I frankly don't like that idea. If i had to do that 24/7 I would go insane. I'm sure there will be many times where my american instincts will test me on how to behave in certian situations, but i don't think thats negative.

I'll see.





is there really such a thing as "acting to japanese to the point you'll offend/insult a japanese person?"

that sounds horrible, it's like the right intentions but negative outcome. I simply don't believe it. You might come off as un sincere, but i dont think you'll ofend anyone.

I agree. I don't think anyone would be offended or insulted unless you do something terribly wrong.

There are some things that me and you do that seem normal but is very taboo in other cultures. Like when eating witch chopsticks, if you say lay the chopsticks down on the bowl so you have a free hand- seems normal to me- but this is something done at a funeral.

This is wrong. In a casual meal, especially if they have not provided you with chopstick stands, it is not rude to lay your chopsticks down on a bowl. In fact, that would be preferable to laying them on the table or talking with your chopsticks in your hand. Talking while waving your chopsticks around is fairly rude, although common. The funeral thing is specific to two actions. Don't stick your chopsticks in food, especially rice, standing them up and let go. And don't pass food chopsticks to chopsticks. This is because after cremation, Japanese pass the bones of the dead person to each other with chopsticks and in the end, stick the chopsticks in the ashes standing up.

If someone has told you not to put chopsticks on your bowl horizontally because this has something to do with funerals, this is exactly the kind of "I know Japanese culture and you should be VERY careful of this" crap that I guess I was reacting to. I would be much more careful about say... pointing your chopsticks at someone when you talk. But there are so many little things to remember in Japanese table manners and as you have just illustrated, it is so easy to get them wrong.

Sure. In the end we're all human, Japanese people are human, if they see you are sincere it won't matter.

I agree with this.

well the chopstick thing was very poorly explained, one on my part, two on the fact I didn't pay too much attention.

but i could very easily offend someone if i didn't know. and as far as your situation, i bet you the japanese guy or girl who knows some english might even be wondering his/himself if how/what custom to use when speaking with you.

I'm going to go find other blogs, I liked this one. it's always fun to learn about a culture especially one that doesnt have honest information as easily accessable.

I might sound ridiculous here. However, the problem I encountered is important me, as it involves my plans for the future.
I have a Japanese girlfriend whom I'm planning to marry. I believe this decision was mutual. Still, many times she really distrusts me. Could it be because I am a foreigner? She never had experience with a gaijin before (neither have I), therefore I assume that she has certain presuppositions, even though I never gave her a reason for being so. I am trying my best not to fall into the stereotypes of the gaijins and I don't think that I couldn't adjust to the norms and customs in Japan.
As I have seen many times, intercultural marriages could still work, sometimes might even be better...

A very interesting conversation held up here from 2004. I, myself, am not American, as I was not born there yet I have been living in The United States for around 11 years. Born in Ukraine, there is no link between me in Japan, yet some things led to the other and I had to be intertwined with the most fascinating culture to me. Continously, being fearful that Japan would not accept me at all, I started learning the language starting with hiragana and working my way up to kanji characters, and katakana in between. I still do not know the language fluently, only 5 months of studying went in, and I believed I knew the basis of the Japanese language. The point being, which no one is going to be concerned about is, I was trying not to stand out ad the "alien" in the large crowd. As a child, traveling to Japan was a dream for me, and being accepted there would have been to me beyond dreams. All this talk, is making me conceited, but in America I spot an Asian and try to act impressive, not Japanese-sounding. I don't know why, for some apparent reason I believe the Japanese to be highly above what I am. Which some people can agree with, and I constantly try to think of negatives about them to bring down that thought.

English is my second language, next to Russian, so please excuse any mistakes. I just believe if you don't practice those customs as bowing, or using honorifics, you'll be looked down on negatively and with that thought in mind no matter how polite you are, they still carry on that negative image.

There are actually lots of customs - some are business others are social
http://japansugoi.com/wordpress/japanese-customs-you-must-know-before-going-to-japan/

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