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Japan Social Aspects

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The Japanese culture is unlike any other in the world. It has long been known for it's excellence in education and it's strong background of family and religion. The Japanese way of life is an assortment of art, literature, music and more; it is nothing short of spectacular. I will explain about some of the different aspects of the Japanese life style as well as take a cultural look into the life of the Japanese.

Finding a place to live in Japan isn't easy. Limited supply and high demand result in tiny, hutch size homes with high rent rates. On average, dwellings in Japan have 91.92 square meters (about 989 square feet) of floor space, which is not very much compared to the average house sold in the United States. By Western standards, the Japanese home is very small. In the major cities, most families live in tiny apartments. One third of the housing in Tokyo averages only 121 square feet while the average Japanese home is 989. Land is hard to find and thus extremely expensive. For this reason there are many cultural differences between west and east.

The Japanese do not entertain in their homes as they feel that their houses are not worthy enough to bring in visitors. In fact, typical entertaining for men is in a convenient city location, generally, close to where they work. In the cities, it is not at all unusual for people to travel at least one and a half hours to work in each direction.

Good table manners and good manners in general is a key to the Japanese lifestyle. Eating is considered a very formal activity and is treated with the greatest amount of prestige. Just after you sit down at a table, you are given a hot (or sometimes in the summer cold) damp, white towel called an o-shibori. In a restaurant it is generally wrapped in plastic or is often served on a small oblong tray specifically made to place the o-shibori on. The towel is used to wipe your hands. In less formal situations, Japanese men often wash their faces with the towels, but it is best not to do this. After use, the towel is placed back on the tray. The o-shibori does not stay on the table throughout the meal and often napkins are not supplied. It is customary to keep a tissue or a handkerchief with you at all times.

In Japan, homes are very private and it is not polite to just drop by without invitation. If you are just making an errand, do not expect to go right into the house, but stay at the door or in the entrance area called the genkan. All shoes, which are worn outside, are taken off in the genkan and you are provided your own guest slippers to be worn inside the house. You do not wear these slippers in a tatami room and you remove them at the entrance to the tatami room, even if you have bare feet. In addition, you do not wear these slippers in the room for the toilet. There are special slippers designated for use while in the toilet room. This is also a signal to someone else that the toilet is occupied.

In a Japanese home, you should always announce when you are leaving the house or when you have returned. In return, the people in the house wish you good well or receive you into the home with a greeting. As a courtesy, "good-night" (Cone ban wa) and "good morning" (Ohio gosi mas) salutations are always said.

Bowing is a representation of humility. You promote, honor, and respect the other person by humbly lowering yourself. The lower you bow, the more you are honoring or respecting the other party or person. As an American or westerner you are not expected to initiate a bow, however a bow should always be returned (except from personnel at department stores and restaurants who bow to welcome you, and to whom you can nod in return if you like). To not bow in return is similar to refusing a handshake.

Communication in Japan is not always verbal as it usually is in the United States. The Japanese believe silence is just as important as speaking and they often use silence as a designated moment to comprehend what was just communicated. It is a moment to think and an opportunity to respond in a well thought out manner. In the West, silence is considered as an awkward moment and we try to mask its uncomfortable feeling with words. In Japan it is best not to try to break the silence, as you might appear insincere. It would be better to relax and appear patient with your Japanese counterpart. You should be considering the value of what has been said.

What is not said can be just as important as what is said. If one point is said, the listener is expected to understand the others points that are not said. You must read in between the lines or pick up on what has been implied. Often the subject of a sentence is not stated in so many words; it is just understood "who" or "what" is being referred to.

In general, the Japanese are much more self conscious of their appearance in public than we are in the United States. This self-conscious attitude is very evident when they leave their homes for a quick shopping trip or the day's work. Most Japanese would rather spend money on clothing than on food. In the large cities such as Tokyo, your clothing serves as a sign of social status and wealth. Young secretaries will save months of salary just for the perfect designer purse that they can wear on the bus or train to work each day. The dress apparel and styles are also more formal and conservative unlike the more unusual dress styles in western society. In general, women do not wear sleeveless tops, shorts, or revealing styles. When going to work, most women do not wear slacks or pants. To blend in to a typical businessman's setting, you would wear dark two-piece suits with plain white shirts and a conservative tie. Adults rarely wear bright elaborate colors and bold designs. Such attire tends to make you stand out from the crowd or group, and this is not



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