A country with 126.4 million people, 6852 islands, square watermelons and the highest life expectancy of the world: We are talking about Japan. Every year, more than 30 million tourists visit the land of the rising sun. Sights, natural spectacles and culinary delicacies make Japan a popular travel destination. But as country for emigration? Even though it is probably not the first destination that comes to your mind, 707 Germans officially immigrated to Japan – 611 returned to their home country. Why? Because such a different way of life cannot only be interesting, but also challenging. Japanese are different, but Germans too. Learn more about living and working in Japan and the cultural differences that you can expect on the other side of the world.
Japanese Are Different – So Are Germans
While the globalization is developing constantly, countless cultural differences remain. German and Japan are worlds apart: Obvious things such as food, architecture or clothing can be seen at first sight. But what about thinking patterns, the way of doing things and lifestyles?
In the book Eiche und Bambus. Oak tree and Bamboo: Japaner sind anders – Deutsche auch, the intercultural trainer Rita Menge gets you thinking by comparing different pictograms that inspire the reader to change their perspective. Rita Menge explains: „In my opinion, the most important aspect of the book is the fact that the viewer doesn’t receive a complete solution, but has to deal with the topic himself.“ This type of presentation is based on numerous studies which prove, that people comprehend things much more effectively, if they experienced or worked it out for themselves (rather than only hearing or seeing something). Rita Menge believes that is should also be fun, to learn about the German, as well as the Japanese culture and compare both.
The understanding for the challenges Germans face in Japan, Rita Menge developed during her 5-year work stay in the land of the rising sun. This experience abroad gave her the chance to discover, understand and share more about the sociocultural particularities of Japan. Her individual experiences and expectations are not just reflected in her book, but also in her intercultural trainings. Currently, Rita Menge regularly travels between Tokyo and Ludwigsburg.
Especially for people who are interested in new cultures, Japan is an exciting country for emigration. Since the Japanese culture is very different to the German one, there is not just something new to learn each day, but also a new challenge and change. ‚Eiche und Bambus. Oak tree and Bamboo: Japaner sind anders – Deutsche auch‘ will help you to learn more about various Topics. Emotions, sleep, and hierarchies are only a few points that you can expect.
What you have to prepare yourself for when moving to Japan?
When deciding to move to Japan, many questions will come up. What does the everyday life look like? What will surprise or even shock? What will spark joy and how does one handle all these impressions? Here are a few things you can expect:
Omotenashi – Hosipitality in Japanese
Omotenashi is a term that goes far beyond hospitality. It is a versitile concept of hospitality and customer service, which has its place in various situations of everyday life. Interestingly, Japanese do not differentiate between the terms guest and customer. Especially when introducing guests to the new culture, great efforts are made. Invitations for going out to dinner, for parties or excursion are not seldom in Japan.
Germans in Japan – when individuality meets collectivism
In Germany, Individuality is valued highly. Already kids learn the importance of independent working and are told at school that they should be proud of their personal performance. As soon as the high school is completed, most immediately leave home and the contact to the family slowly becomes less.
In Japan, the focus lies on collectivism. Instead of emphasizing their personal performance, success is granted the entire group. This collectivistic way of thinking is also reflected in the important role of the family: Every family member must take responsibility for the others.
Never lose your face
In Japan there is a saying: „A warrior only shows his emotions once every ten years”. Showing emotions in Japan, as in many other Asian countries, is seen as inappropriate. Since also negative emotions are hidden behind a mask, Japanese always seem friendly in the eyes of foreigners.
While Germans deal with emotions quite openly, different rules apply in Japan. You should consider that not only you lose your face through emotional outbreaks like anger or rage. Japanese, who do not know how to deal with your emotional outbreak, also lose their face.
Working in Japan: What can you expect?
The myths of overworked Japanese are well know: In the land of the rising sun, the office lights are often still on, long after the sun set. Many people believe that there is not a Japanese word without reasons that means death by overworking: karoshi. What does the reality look like though? What can you expect when working japan?
Japanese working hours
Contrary many myths, also in Japan a 40-hour work week is regulated. Florian Coulmas, sociologist and director of the German Institute for Japan studies in Tokyo says: „saying that Japanese work themselves to death can no longer be said. “ Statistics of the OECD prove this: While the average Japanese still worked over 2.121 hours per year in 1989, they only worked 1.710 in 2017. However, Rita Menge sees this critically: “The last death caused by overwork, was confirmed at court in 2015 and it heaily depends on the organization. Small and medium-sized organizations are often corrupt towards their employees. There is even a ‚black list‘ of these organizations.
Interesting are the reasons why Japanese often work longer, despite the regulated 40-hour work week:
Strong sense of collectivism: Japanese stay longer when they see that their colleagues are still there as well
Going home earlier than the boss, is seen as rude behavior
Earning more money by working more hours
How are decisions made in Japan?
Challenges are part of leaders‘ everyday lives. What about in Japan? Trainer Rita Menge explains: “Foreign leaders in Japan must prepare for longer processing times, meetings and decision making processes, than in Germany for example. One must be patient and train the Japanese colleagues step by step, to reach a more effective way of work.” In the book it is further emphasized that generally, bottom-up decision are made in Japan. That means, first a variety of perspectives is gathered, before the superior makes a decision.
Punctuality, hierarchies and the secret of non-verbal communication
Germans are known for their punctuality around the world. While the academic quarter is acceptable in Germany though, it is not in Japan. Being late is seen as disrespectful, professionally and personally.
The confucian principle of the inequality of human beings determines the strong hierarchal differences in Japan: Depending on which person is your counterpart, you will stand below or above. In Japan, they still work according to the principle: “The customer is kind”. Rita Menge emphasizes that the Japanese would do anything, to satisfy the customer and don’t shy away from making unrealizable promises. This approach often causes discrepancies when working with internationals. Also within Japanese organizations, hierarchies play a great role: The higher the position, the higher the reputation.
In terms of communication, Germans are generally very direct. A no is a no, it is emphasized by shaking the head and accompanied by the appropriate facial expression. Japanese do it differently. In the book Oak tree and Bamboo: Japaner sind anders – Deutsche auch, it is explained that the verbally expressed no is not often used. Instead, it is expressed through facial expressions and hand signs.
Bottom line: Japanese are different, Germans too
Living and working in Japan will not only bring great challenges, but also numerous opportunities. By getting to know a new culture, you don’t just learn about a new country, but also about yourself. It is the chance, to develop personally and to become part of a new culture. To conclude, Trainer Rita Menge has one last tip for you:
„My personal tip is to not exclude yourself from the new culture (many expats do this when abroad, many activities remain superficial), and don’t be afraid, to make mistakes.”
If you want to find out more about Japan or if your interest regarding a ‘Japan Training’ is sparked, we look forward to hearing from you!