Japanese Mentality

In my first Japan column, I gave a brief introduction to the country, noting that if you follow my tips, you don’t really have to worry about Japan’s notorious expensiveness. Now, let’s discuss the Japanese mentality.

In western society’s mentality, the main modern virtue is to be assertive and stand up for yourself. The good side of this is that in our modern society, those who want to mistreat others really have to watch their steps, resulting in a society with democracy and emancipation as its core values, and a certain bias for initiative and creativity on the work-floor. This mentality makes western societies as strong as they are.

However, there’s also a bad side to this. Assertive behavior can be rude and even aggressive. Independent behavior can be egocentric and even egoistic. And making a complaint can be considered acting spoiled. That’s the key to understanding Japanese mentality, because this is exactly how a Japanese person would see it. In the eyes of the Japanese, all these types of behavior are seen as being childish and weak. In the Japanese culture, hospitality, obedience, and tolerance are the proper ways to express your power and pride. So compared to a Japanese person, a westerner is an overheated and egocentric whiner acting plain rude all the time, thus acting like a baby.

I think both sides have their pros and cons, but either way, this Japanese mentality gives travelers a very pleasant atmosphere. A guest is treated as a king. When you ask someone on the street for help, chances are he or she will help you until you really feel embarrassed by so much kindness. And don’t worry about being wrong. When you introduce yourself, all Japanese will shake hands with you. When two Japanese people meet, they never do. They bow. But with you they’ll shake hands, to express they are willing to adjust. They know you are alien to their country and thus tolerate your clumsy behavior.

You’ll find out the people in Japan are extremely nice and helpful. Add to that the fact that they absolutely don’t harass you for money, because first, it’s below their dignity, and second, the people over there are in no way poorer than you are, so they simply don’t need to. Also, Japan is a really safe country. There is crime – the famous Yakuza really does exist and is powerful – but those guys certainly won’t make trouble with a backpacker. They are far too powerful for that. Street robbery in Japan is rare.

However, beware if you decide to find a part-time job to finance your travels (for example, by teaching English as a lot of travelers do): you will have to learn to be just as obedient, docile and punctual as any Japanese worker. And for the western mind, that may be difficult.