From the Nihonjin Perspective

When my university organization was given the opportunity to talk about a topic I find fascinating, I immediately volunteered to be one of our speakers.

The presentation was on understanding the Japanese people and putting together an overview of their culture and society. It was difficult to decide on which information to share, since condensing a dynamic and ancient civilization into twenty or so slides risks oversimplification. I found out though that when you’re really into something, preparing a report, painstakingly cross-checking information, and practicing spiels under your breath become fun. If I’m ever employed someday, I hope I get a job I would be willing to lose sleep for, the kind I would gladly spend my free time on – because the opportunity to influence policy is infinitely more engaging than any anime episode.

Since the report was a collaborative effort, I learned many new concepts from the people I wrote it with. I’ll write here about the ones I found most interesting:

1. To the Japanese, the most important thing is maintaining ‘wa’ or group harmony. This is probably the origin of the famous saying that, “The nail that sticks out will get hammered down.” It’s vital to make a person feel at ease – that’s why strong dissenting opinions are frowned upon, especially when they’re not expressed politely.

2. Using a finger to gesture is impolite. When pointing, do so with your entire hand – using a pen or chopsticks would be just as rude as using just your finger. When asking a person to approach, raise your hand as though waving and flap your fingers up and down. It is suggestive to beckon someone forward with just a finger. Avoid this if you don’t want any jaws to drop.

3. Japan is the 11th most populous nation in the world, but almost a quarter or its people are over the age of 65. By contrast, only a little over 20% are under the age of 24. So Japan has both a declining birth rate and an aging population. As a fan of Arashi – a boy band with an average age of 31 years, with none of the members married yet – I have a vague idea of why this is happening.

4. Japanese women cover their mouths when they laugh due to an old Buddhist tradition of hiding bone. I used to think that Japanese women simply try to fight their laughter – in case it gets too noisy – so this piece of info was eye-opening for me.

5. A quarter of Japan’s total population lives in the Greater Tokyo Area, and 91% live in cities. I used to disapprove of Japanese dramas documenting very little about the countryside – everything was about urban life. Seeing these facts, however, made me realize that the media can’t help focusing most of its attention on Tokyo, because that’s where most people live.

It would be great if I’m admitted into an International Relations program for my graduate studies.


2 thoughts on “From the Nihonjin Perspective

  1. Definitely agree with #1. Always wondered about #4, but assumed it had something to do with crooked teeth ;-(
    Goodluck on grad school! There are lots of good programs on international relations in Tokyo 😉


    1. I’d always thought they liked crooked teeth though. I saw on a web article somewhere that this business for making straight teeth crooked was booming in Tokyo. Hm.

      Thanks very much! I hope I get to visit Tokyo sometime soon~


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