A Bridging Foundation Scholar Compares Living in Japan vs the US

November 5, 2012 

What’s the biggest difference between Japan and America?

The biggest difference between the two countries is the way in which harmony is pursued. I strongly believe that all societies desire peace and prosperity. In this way, Japan and the U.S. are alike. However both countries have different methods of pursuing this goal. In Japan, individuals are willing to subdue their egos, their desires, their ideas, and their opinions in order to achieve uniformity with society. Harmony is achieved through the process of assimilation, through the practice of shared norms and traditions. Even the language is constructed in such a way as to reflect this goal. Individuals humble their speech–known in Japanese as keigo–to show respect and deference to a superior. I will never forget customers at any Japanese business being called “O-kyaku-sama”: honored customer. Through this act of humility, conflict is avoided. One’s ideas, opinions, or preferences are sacrificed in this process, but this is seen as less important than the cohesion of society through wa or harmony.

Americans, on the other hand, strongly believe in the importance of the individual. In the U.S. harmony is defined by the representation of an individual’s views and opinions as well as that individual’s participation in society. Naturally individuals will have different opinions and ideas but Americans believe society is that much stronger when opposing schools of thought are practiced in the same arena: the classroom, the lecture hall, or the United States Capitol. Conflict is not avoided in the U.S.; it is embraced. It presents a challenging hurdle to overcome but when it is overcome, the rewards are fruitful and society can become more cohesive because of it.

~~ William Breckenridge, Gonzaga University (WA), studying abroad at Akita International University