This Question Came to My Inbox: What Kinds of Things Would Cause the Japanese to Have Culture Shock in the West?

There are actually several things in the west that could cause a Japanese person to have pause and react badly inside. The thing that people must remember about the Japanese is that they are not as free as people in the west with themselves. We must also remember that they go their whole life seeing only people with black or dark brown hair, black or dark brown eyes, and white skin. They also have a very high standard of cleanliness. These things can cause a lot of things that can cause them to have trouble when they travel to Europe or America.

To begin with, in Japan, it is a hierarchical society. Confucianism orders their society. It keeps them in check and keeps them doing the right thing. When they leave Japan, they are no longer in a society that keeps them in check. They have freedom for the first time in their lives, and many don’t know how to handle it. It is like the kids in America who leave home and go to college for the first time, so they spend their time sleeping late instead of going to class and some getting drunk the first year of their freshman life in college. The Japanese businessmen who travel outside of Japan are unpredictable. For the first time in their lives, all their cultural restraints have been removed. No one is watching them or standing over them making sure they do the right thing. They don’t know how to handle themselves. Many Japanese businessmen who are quiet and unassuming in Japan completely change their personalities outside of Japan. They get drunk. They chase women. They do all kinds of things they would never do in Japan. They are like 18 year old American kids who have left a very strict home for the first time Japanese businessmen end up with crazy reputations outside of Japan.

Here is a picture trying to depict the idea of public and private self in Japan. You never really reveal who you are to others. You stay in a little box, and everything else is outside of that box. It is shocking to the Japanese when Europeans and Americans are so open in the way they interact and speak with one another.

The Japanese who come to the west may also have a hard time because they are used to the public self and the private self in Japan. They are never allowed to say what they really think in Japan, so no one every tells them what they really think. They find it difficult for the people to be so direct with them. People from Europe and America are much more direct than Japanese. They Japanese will find it difficult to hear things directly from people and not through the grapevine like in Japan. American guys will tell girls they think they are pretty, but you tell someone else to tell that girl she is pretty in Japan if you really want her to know, and you won’t tell her directly. In Japan, if a guy wants to tell a girl she is pretty, he will get someone else to do it for him. Teachers will call a student down and tell them not to chew gum in America, but the Japanese teacher will ask someone else to tell that student not to chew gum in their class. The directness of the people from Europe and America will give the Japanese pause when they come for a visit.

A guy from the west marrying a Japanese girl is much more common than a Japanese guy marrying a girl from the west.

I have actually had Japanese girl students come to me and ask me what an American guy was doing because they didn’t understand. An American guy had asked a Japanese girl for a date, and the girl was very confused. In Japan, the guys are stoic. They don’t ask girls out on dates. They go through a “go between” if they want to get married. Either that, or if they are with a big group of friends, the girl sits by the boy she likes, and the boy buys her a gift if he likes her, and then they are considered dating. For a guys from Europe or America to call a Japanese girl up and ask her out on a date is actually very shocking to her because it has never happened, and she will be wondering exactly what is going on.

Japanese guys who are students often withdraw to themselves because they are just unsure about how to do things in Europe and America. There was a Japanese guy at the university where I taught who was known as a recluse, and he only talked to other Japanese.

As for the Japanese guys who come to Europe or America, they may handle it one of two ways. They may withdraw to themselves because they don’t know how to get along with women who don’t chase them, or they may be trying to figure out how the American or European guys get girlfriends. I actually had a Japanese guy who heard the Japanese girls asking me questions about what the American guys were doing, and the Japanese guys decided to use me as a way of understanding how to get an American girlfriend. They felt like very strange questions to be asked, but I was very conservative with my answers and explained to the Japanese guy who asked me how to call an American girl up, ask her for a date, and then act like a gentleman on the date. He ended up marrying the American girl. Perhaps American guys should ask American women how to get a girlfriend, and they may have more luck too. 🙂

This is a foyer in a Japanese house. Those are outside shoes you see there. The outside shoes will never be worn inside. The houses are made to make it convenient to step out of your outside shoes when you come in and right back into them when you go out. The sliding door there leads to the outside. What looks like a wooden shelf over the shoes is the inside of the house. The outside should never go on that wooden shelf because it is the floor of the inside of the house. The line is strictly drawn and never crossed. When we crass it in the west, it really upsets their balance inside of them.

Something else that would be hard for the Japanese in Europe and America is the standard of cleanliness. Japanese always take their shoes off at the door. They take it so far as when they become Christians, they think it is a sin to wear your shoes in the house. As for me, I wasn’t raised in a Japanese home, but went to Japan the first time in my late teens. I liked them taking their shoes off at the door, and I began doing it at my house. I found it difficult to go into my mother’s house because no one ever took their shoes off at the door. I found it difficult to think any time I went to anyone’s house that we should leave our shoes on at the door. I didn’t pick this habit up until my late teens, and the Japanese were born into homes where they take they shoes off at the door. If I have strange feelings about leaving my shoes on when I come in the house, can you imagine how a Japanese feels?

The people in the village in Romania often have to wear boots like these because of all the mud, and the Japanese would have a really hard time with this.

Besides the shoes, Japanese often find people from the west to stink. They think it is the kind of food we eat. The older people in Japan think people who eat beef smell bad, so they are probably having a lot of trouble with all the young Japanese enjoying McDonald’s. If a Japanese were go to a village in Romania, they may really have a hard time. In Romania, there is lots of mud, especially in the spring time. The people in Romania wear rubber boots in the spring time because of all the mud. The Japanese would really have a hard time if they saw a Romanian village dweller wear their boots into the house or out of the house. Besides that, there was a coop farm in the village where I lived in Romania. The people smelled strange from working with animals all day and not having running water, so baths were hard. If they had running water, they would only take a bath once a week because electricity was so expensive, so they turned their hot water heater on once a week and took a bath. The Japanese would have a very hard time with all that. The Japanese are the cleanest people on the planet. They are serious about taking their shoes off at the door and taking their hot baths. If I found the people in the village in Romania to smell bad, the Japanese may want to run from them.

Whenever you build a house out of concrete, you cause dust. Many European cities have very dusty sidewalks, and people just don’t recognize it because they take it as a par for the course. However, when people come from countries where they don’t build all their houses out of concrete, the people notice the dust. In Africa, they have a tendency to build with concrete too, and you can really see the dust on the sidewalks.
Because Japanese homes are made of wood, there is no concrete dust on the sidewalk, and it makes their homes seem clean even on the outside.

In many countries in Europe, the buildings are made of concrete. Concrete makes dust, so the streets are much dustier than in a place where the homes are made of wood. In Japan, most of the homes are made of wood. That means there is no concrete dust on the sidewalks. The country looks clean even outside. The Japanese would probably have a negative reaction to the concrete dust that is on the sidewalks of many countries in Europe. The Europeans are used to it and don’t even think about it, but if you come from a place that has no concrete dust on the sidewalks, you will feel the difference and wonder why the people don’t keep their sidewalks cleaner if you encounter it.

Something my Japanese son in law really had trouble with in America is people touching him. In Japan, you just don’t touch people. However, people in America hug. When my daughter brought my Japanese son in law to visit my mother and sister, everyone was hugging everyone. They even hugged him. My mother hugged him. My sister hugged him. My nieces and nephews hugged him. They were all hugging all of us who had come to visit, and my Japanese son in law was standing there like a stiff log scared to death! He tried to explain what happened to him later to me, and he told me just how much it scared him. He told me how stiff he was and how he just stood there with his hands at his side shocked! In America, often hugging is considered being friendly and nice, but to a Japanese, it may be threatening.

To people from the west, these girls look enough alike to be sisters, but they aren’t. This similarity in the way they look give the Japanese security, and they like it.

Lastly, the look of the people in the west can bring pause to a Japanese. Most Japanese grow up their whole lives only seeing people with black or dark brown hair, black or dark brown eyes, and white skin. When they encounter someone with blond hair, red hair, blue eyes, or with darker skin for the first time, it really gives them pause. One girl actually told me that she would rather talk to me because my coloring is like a Japanese. She felt like the girls with blue eyes and red and blond hair looked like they were from outer space. I had a black friend in Japan that really struggled because people stared at her all the time. They just aren’t used to people who are different.

We are used to people having different hair colors and eye colors in the west, but the Japanese aren’t used to it.
In places like America and England, people could look like anything, and it can seem strange and unsettling to people who come from a place where everyone looks the same.

America is a melting pot. America is full of people who are different. Seeing people who are different is not problem to us. In fact, many Americans don’t realize that England has always been a kind of melting pot, and we got our basic cultural standards from England. There were three basic tribes that began the English people. One tribe had black hair, blue eyes, and white skin, the Picts. One tribe had red hair, blue eyes, and pink skin, the Gaelic. The other tribe, the Saxons, were of Germanic descent and had blond hair, blue eyes, and white skin. After that, the Romans came in, and the Romans had dark hair, white skin, and dark eyes. On top of that, the blacks from Africa were also in England early on. Even Shakespeare writes about them. They called them Moors. Later, there were even people from India who became British. England has been a melting pot from the beginning even though people think of them as white, and America is a melting pot with even more ethnicities than England has. If you come from a society where everyone looks the same into a melting pot, you may feel slightly strange. You may want to run and hide. You may be looking for people who are like you since everyone is different, and the Japanese can find other Orientals in America.

In America, you can find Chinese communities, Japanese communities, Vietnamese communities, and Korean communities among the many other kinds like Mexican communities, Italian communities, Polish communities, communities that are specific American Indian tribes like Ponca, Choctaw, etc. There are also people whose cultural backgrounds are from these places, but live separately from the others who are like them. I had one Japanese girl who said to me after visiting America that if she ever left Japan, America is the only place she would go because America seems to have people from every place on earth, so it is the only place she could fit. However, she said she would never want to leave Japan.

Most Japanese say to me who come to America that they wanted to see America, but they would never leave Japan permanently. The Japanese people are interested in the outside world, but they only want to travel and see. One place I have learned most Japanese don’t want to go is Africa. They are afraid of Africa. I think it is because of the primitive nature of many of the cultures there. Even though Japanese like studying or being tourists in other countries, most of them would never leave Japan permanently. The Japanese people feel comfortable in Japan. They know who they are and how they fit. They are very secure in Japan. They travel. They go through culture shock. They sight see. They study in other countries, but very few of them actually want to leave Japanpermanently. They are curious about what is outside of Japan, but they love Japan. It gives them security, much more than those of us who come from the west.

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