Japanese versus Western culture; What are the differences?

First: What is considered Western culture?

First a list of what we (here at Culture Matters) consider Western countries (possibly skipping a couple):

  • Canada
  • USA
  • UK
  • Netherlands
  • Scandinavia
  • France
  • Germany
  • Northern Italy (not the south, which has a much more collectivistic culture)

What all these countries have in common is that they are Individualistic (according to Hofstede). On other cultural dimensions, they can/will differ (e.g. Hierarchy).

Japanese culture is known for its unique combination of traditional and modern ways of living. The country has a rich history and cultural heritage that is still very much practiced today. One of the biggest differences between Japanese and Western cultures is that Japan is a lot more collectivistic than Western cultures. (relatively). In Japan, the group is more important than the individual, and the needs and wants of the community come first. This is reflected in the strong emphasis on e.g. teamwork, cooperation, and in-group/society harmony.

Western culture is often characterized by being a lot more individualistic, which is the idea that people should be able to pursue their own interests and goals without being limited by the needs of the group. This is reflected in the emphasis on personal freedom (of opinion) and individual rights.

Indirect versus direct communication in Japanese versus Western culture

Another major difference between Japanese and Western cultures is the way in which they approach communication in general. In Japan, indirect communication is preferred and people often use subtle cues and nonverbal communication to get their message across. This is in contrast to the direct communication style of Western cultures, where people are more likely to speak their minds directly and literally. This is one of the most difficult differences to overcome when it comes to working with Japanese and Western cultures.

Art and Fashionjapanese versus western culture

Japan is also known for its unique fashion and style, with traditional clothing such as the kimono and yukata still worn on special occasions. The country is also home to many well-known fashion designers, such as Yohji Yamamoto and Rei Kawakubo, to name just a few. A fashion brand that is well-spread in Europe is Uniqlo. Following European trends with a Japanese twist. Japan has a strong pop culture influence, especially in anime and manga. These forms of entertainment are hugely popular in Japan and have a large following around the world, also in the West.

Art in Western culture is varied and diverse (although the 19th-century impressionists were very much inspired and influenced by Japanese art), with many different styles and movements. Some of the most famous Western artists include Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, Vincent Van Gogh, Pablo Picasso, etc. Western culture is also known for its contributions to music, with a wide range of styles and genres. The fashion industry in the West is also a major contributor to the world economy, and many famous fashion designers such as Chanel, Gucci, and Prada come from Western countries.

Companies like H&M and Primark are Western fashion makers but are not necessarily making designer clothes. Although they will follow trends and seasonal changes.

Easy to work with?

With whom is it easiest to work? Well, it depends on your viewpoint.

From a Japanese viewpoint, the Western individualistic style of communication can come across as cold, harsh, and (too much) in your face.

From a Western viewpoint, the Japanese can come across as “beating about the bush“. This indirect way of communicating is very difficult to understand for a Western.

An important point to add is no one is better than the other. It is just different.

In conclusion, Japanese and Western cultures are very different in many ways, but both have their own unique and rich heritage.

Still, the biggest difference is that Japan has much more emphasis on collectivism and indirect communication, while Western cultures are characterized by individualism and direct communication.


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