Japanese Mentality

Japan is an island nation. This has contributed to the development of a unique mentality among the Japanese. But the Meiji Reform around 1868, which led to the abolition of the Sh-gunate, also created room for Japan to orient itself along Western lines. One might think that Japan is culturally and technologically isolated because of its insularity, but the opposite is true: precisely because of its insularity, Japan has always been open to impulses that move the country forward. After World War II, Japan was shaped technologically, economically and culturally primarily by US influences. In the Japanese tradition, everything flows into one another: There is no division between good and evil, no absolute justice; rather, Japanese people always strive for harmonious coexistence.

Japanese peculiarities begin even before the greeting. In Japanese cities, it is not at all easy to find a given address. There are no street names, only blocks of houses, which are numbered according to their date of construction, not their location.

When you have found your interlocutor, the greeting follows: instead of shaking hands, you bow to each other with your backs stretched out. Lower-ranking people bow more deeply than higher-ranking people. The bowing angle also depends on the occasion. On neutral occasions, short, implied bows are sufficient; a 15° bow expresses special politeness; requests and formal apologies are introduced with bows of 30°. The duration of the bow is also considered a show of respect. Young people bow to older people, women to men, students to teachers, sellers to buyers. Often buyers do not bow at all, but only nod briefly. Direct eye contact is considered impolite and is therefore avoided. Younger, internationally experienced business people, however, have started shaking hands.

Business cards are presented with both hands, looked at symbolically and then visibly placed in front of them. Do not put business cards in your jacket pocket under any circumstances.

Both the work discipline and the loyalty of the Japanese to their employers are above average. However, the legendary lifelong employment relationship can no longer be taken for granted. The high level of loyalty to the employer is also supported by a traditional group dynamic. Many companies have a company anthem that everyone sings together when they start work in the morning. Japanese companies, the “kaisha,” also involve their employees in decision making to a greater extent than Central European companies. This also contributes to a shared corporate culture and a willingness to work harder for the company. The company is a community. For all their commitment to their company, the Japanese always feel like group members, not individuals. “Self” in Japanese translates as “own share” and refers to the community. Justice is the community will, and this is represented by the ruler.

Japanese people are very friendly and polite with each other and with foreigners. They show particular consideration for one another. This can be attributed to the fact that the Japanese live in a strong dependence on the community. This politeness is reflected in a differentiated and complex language, the “keigo,” with which Japanese can vary according to hierarchical dependencies. With the keigo, fine gradations between the more formal “you” and the less formal “you” can be applied, which is difficult for foreigners to master. Despite all friendliness, laughter is avoided by Japanese in public spaces and on business occasions.

Unlike Central Europeans, Japanese people do not ask themselves why. Unlike Central Europeans, Japanese do not know the struggle for truth. They accept the conditions that surround them; rules and hierarchies and form are accepted and applied without exception. They pay high deference to their teachers. “Learning” in Japan means “imitation.” Imitating their teachers, copying their role models also had an impact in the industry of the 1960s, when European and US products, e.g. cameras, consumer electronics, and cars, were simply copied. For Japanese, it was a distinction that they could imitate their role models so well.

Since the long economic recession, there is no longer a self-evident way of life in Japan. Individual responsibility for life plans is now in demand. Consistently, more and more Japanese, especially younger Japanese, are turning away from the Japanese tradition of community and taking their fate into their own hands. Apparently, a cultural change has begun in Japan.

Japanese are keen to save the face of their discussion partners. They attach great importance to the unspoken and the unscripted, while the spoken tends to remain on the surface. In order for the unspoken and unwritten to be understood, the intensity of the relationship is important to the Japanese. Japanese people would never openly criticize. They would also never make a request clearly. They would merely hint at both so that their opposite number would not be embarrassed by having to refuse the request if necessary. Refusing a request is also not proper for a Japanese person; in such a situation, Japanese would rather express their concerns by hesitating or by saying “I will think about it” or “if possible”. Thus, Japanese maintain an extremely obliging facade to preserve harmony in any case. It is not easy to see the contradiction between what Japanese people say (“tatemae”) and what they think (“honne”). Part of this facade is to never openly show existing racial gradations. Koreans are considered inferior people in Japan. There are also “impure” professions, the “burakumin,” which include tanners and gravediggers, who are necessary in society but whose professionals and descendants can never enter higher social functions.

Japan is struck by earthquakes and tsunamis. Often entire cities have been destroyed. Early buildings made of wood and paper withstood earthquakes better, but were vulnerable to fires. Tokyo burned down completely several times. The Japanese always start from scratch. They have accepted transience as the way of things. The cycle of destruction and new beginnings has become a cult of nature and fertility in Japanese tradition. This mentality also carries over to the business mentality of the Japanese, who hold on to nothing and, despite all tradition, keep an eye on change and opportunities for improvement. The awareness of transience is also the source of creativity in Japan.

Japanese people like to help others, but do not allow themselves to be helped. Accepting help from others would hurt their pride. When Japanese are defeated, they blame the cause on force majeure, against which they are powerless. In this way, they can maintain their pride. Japanese always emerge stronger from defeats.

The knight caste of Japan has produced samurai fighters with their bujutsu martial arts. Bujutsu is about techniques of survival and killing. In the 12th century AD, the nobility and samurai warlords began training ninja fighters and using them as spies. The ninja were able to move invisibly and silently to carry out missions with as little conflict as possible.

Non-samurai were forbidden to carry weapons in Japan from the 17th century. Therefore, Japanese from the common caste in the underground developed unarmed martial arts such as karate, judo, jiu-jitsu, aikido and kendo for defense, developing not only physical but also mental skills. With low-violence Aikido, even armed samurai could be overcome and put on the right path with a minimum of effort. Aikido, like Jiu-Jitsu, is a low-violence martial art. Judo dispenses with attacks entirely and deals with throws and falling and rolling. Most of these Japanese martial arts are aimed at redirecting the opponent’s forces for one’s own goals without applying great force themselves. The fighters watch their opponents carefully, try with empathy to anticipate their attacks and redirect their forces. A prerequisite for success in combat for the Japanese is to concentrate fully on the moment. To do this, fighters must rid themselves of all mental baggage. “Mu”, the void, allows Japanese fighters to be fully present and focused on what is happening in the fight. Finally, respect for the opponent is also a prerequisite for giving full effort and not overestimating oneself.

These skills of non-violent fighting, which have been practiced openly again in Japan since 1951, are also taught in Japanese universities for use in negotiations. In the process, the Japanese learn about their own strengths and train their dexterity, coordination, concentration and reaction. So there’s no harm in studying Japanese martial arts if you want to negotiate with Japanese people.

Look also to the British mentality, the Swiss mentality, the Austrian mentality, the Spanish mentality, the Dutch mentality, the Scandinavian mentality, the French mentality, the Turkish mentality, the US-American mentality, the Italian mentality, the Latin American mentality, the Indian mentality, the Chinese mentality, the Russian mentality, and the Arab mentality.


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