1. Social Structure – In China the social structure is formal and hierarchical. You know where you fit in the structure and you abide by the rules there. There is no crossing into other areas. In America, it is much more loose and informal. It is not uncommon to see those of various social levels socializing and knowing each other. There are very few lines that socially are not allowed to be crossed. This can cause problems in business relationships if the visiting culture is unaware of it.
2. Confrontation/Conflict – If you are planning on conducting business in China or expecting an extended stay, it might be useful to know that the direct way that most Americans approach issues is not the way to go in China. Direct conflict or confrontation over issues is highly frowned upon. Doesn’t matter that the “truth” needs to be spoken, respect and honor to each person supersedes that. To prove a point and show yourself in the right even over business issues is considered shameful and should be avoided.
3. Self – The Chinese looks more at the group collective than at individualism. America has become known for its push of individualism which has been a source of conflict with other cultures that look collectively. A person from China is more prone to look at how their acts affect the whole instead of how it affects them personally. They are more willing to give up and sacrifice for the greater good. America’s individualism has been its backbone and the reason for its success as a world power, but when visiting China it needs to be reined in.
4. Face/Reputation – Reputation of the individual is very important in China. If an action will humiliate someone or ruin a reputation, it is avoided. When shame occurs, the person sacrifices their job or whatever it is that will heal the shame. In America, reputations come and go overnight and in the end usually does not matter. The end result is more of the focus. A person is more likely to overlook a reputation to get the job done.
5. Business Relations – When doing business in China, be prepared for much socializing. Business becomes secondary as the parties get to know each better. If it delays a contract, that is perfectly acceptable as long as the correct social time is allotted for. In America, business associates are usually more aloof. There might be some social gathering but the business is more important and the socializing will be sacrificed to get the job done if needed. Though there seems to be shift in America regarding this. The recognition of networking is becoming more pronounced.
6. Morals – Chinese society places high values on the morals of their people. Marriage is not encouraged until the late twenties. In fact, dating is discouraged early in a young adult’s life and proprieties are expected to be held up. The American culture is much more relaxed and some could even argue that there needs to be more moral emphasize.
7. Recognition of the Dead – One of the time honored traditions of the Chinese is the recognition of the dead. Once a year, all members of a family visit the gravesites of each ancestor and pay their respects. Honoring ancestors is very important in Chinese culture. This is in direct contrast to most Americans who rarely know where the majority of their ancestors are laid to rest. This might be due to the fact that most Americans are immigrants who either have lost the information on grave locations or the locations are in foreign countries. China’s culture is much older and the percentage of immigration is far less.
8. Humility – Humility is a revered virtue in Chinese culture. The success of one’s business or personal life is downplayed while in America the successes are lauded. Most Americans in the fast business world consider humility a sign of weakness. This can be an issue that hurts inter-cultural relations. Be very sensitive to comments and actions in the presence of another culture.
9. Time Sensitivity – Crossing cultures for business can be frustrating when it interferes with getting the job done. Most Americans are very time sensitive when it comes to meetings and deadlines. If the meeting was to commence at 2:00, then all parties are to be present at that time. The Chinese do not view time as an absolute but more as a suggestion. Concern is not expressed for a meeting starting late or ending at a different time. The same can be applied to deadlines. If a report is due on Friday, an American would be waiting for that report to be received before end of business day. The Chinese would not worry if it showed up several days later.
10. Respect – Being sensitive to another person’s needs is very important in Chinese culture. It is expected that you will respect the other person and treat them well. Their needs are met at each encounter. This is a characteristic that unfortunately has fallen on the wayside in most American circles.
Japan is often considered more "Western" in culture than other Asian countries. Compared to the United States, there are certainly a lot of similarities. But Japan and the U.S. do have many cultural differences as well. Though no people can be generalized as a whole, and, like America, culture can very from region to region, here are some things that stick out to American expatriates living in Japan.
1. Japanese attitudes toward religion: not Christian, and it's not important anyway. The vast majority of Japanese people identify as Shintoist or Buddhist, or both at the same time. Though Christian missionaries have been present in Japan for hundreds of years, there has been little effect on Japan's religious identity and philosophy. Therefore, issues that are based in typical debate in the Abrahamic faiths, such as gay marriage or teaching creationism in schools, lack a religious foundation in Japan. Japanese people's approach to Shinto and Buddhism is also largely reserved to traditions, celebrations and superstitions more than strong spiritual belief. For example, in America, a politician's religious affiliation may become the cause of heavy debate, but there are few such issues in Japan.
2. Japanese people tend to be more formal. This one is a generalization that depends on which region of Japan we are referring to, but overall Japan, especially Tokyo, is known for being "colder" than most areas of the United States. People stand a relatively far distance apart when speaking, and last names with honorifics are used. An example can be seen in different approaches to customer service. In America, ideal customer service is usually warm and friendly. In Japan, it is formal and unobtrusive. Waiters don't usually stop by tables to ask customers how the food is and what their weekend plans are, and strangers won't often chat while waiting for the bus. Physically touching is also more sparse in Japan than it is in America.
3.Japanese people are nationalistic but overall not very political. Politicians in Japan have a shockingly low approval rate. Politicians are quick to resign after making mistakes, causing Japan to switch Prime Ministers almost once a year since 2005. Japan has a Parliament system with many parties, and politicians don't tend to win with a majority vote. In fact, Japanese people have a notoriously low voting rate. On the other hand, Japanese people tend to have a lot of love for their country, and celebrate their unique history, language and culture in a way not dissimilar to Americans.
4. Though America is made up of people from many different countries, Japan is overwhelmingly Japanese. The population of Japan is about 98% ethnic Japanese, and the biggest minority groups are Korean and Chinese people. Because most Japanese citizens have an identical ethnic and national identity, seeing people who don't appear to be of East Asian descent can lead to instant assumptions of being a foreigner, whether tourist or temporary resident. This can affect society in the sense that because Japanese people view their culture as homogeneous, it is expected that everyone understands the traditions and rules of society.
5. Japanese people bow. Though well known that many Asian countries bow instead of shaking hands, Japanese people bow in more situations than just greetings. Bowing can be done in apologizing and thanking as well. Though in business people might bow deeply to a 45 degree angle, most bows are a casual bob of the head and slight incline of the back. However, Japanese people are well aware that foreigners usually shake hands and might readily offer their hands in greeting instead.
6. Japanese people will often live with their parents until they get married. There is much less social stigma about an unmarried person living with Mom and Dad after college. In fact, it isn't unheard of for newlyweds to live with one partner's parents until they can find a place of their own.
7. No tipping in Japan! Tipping is not done or rare at best. It can even be insulting to tip, as though its an affront on the employee's salary. If you leave a few bills on the table after eating out, prepare to have the waiter run after you with your "forgotten" item. In America, tips are, in philosophy, meant to show appreciation for good service. Considering that many jobs such as waiters that are usually tipped get paid minimum wage or less, tipping has become a necessity.
8. Space in Japan is more precious. Because Japan is an island country and only about the size of California, and much of the land it has is mountainous terrain, what land there is is precious and often expensive. Sizes of apartments and houses are usually much smaller, and yards are often tiny if they exist at all. Still, Japanese people have learned to adapt in ways to maximize space, but it can nonetheless be shocking for an American who might take space for granted.
9. Americans tend to be more direct and blunt, whereas Japanese people are more subtle. Being too direct in Japan can be considered rude. This can be seen in body language, too. People in the U.S. are taught to look directly in someone's eyes when speaking or listening to show they are actively participating in the conversation. In Japan, extended eye contact can be uncomfortable between people who aren't close, and eyes are often adverted. Japanese people also tend to be more reserved than Americans, and share less personal or sensitive information, often even with close friends.
10. Gender roles are strict. In 2012, Japan ranked an embarrassing 101st on the Global Gender Gap Report, which measured women's equality. America ranked 22nd. There are very few female politicians and CEOs. When women join companies, they are often expected to quit when they get married to become housewives and stay-at-home mothers. The concept of masculinity can also be very strict, though among youth culture - typically university age or younger - there is some gender androgyny celebrated in fashion, appearances and roles.
11. In Japan, social hierarchy is important. The junior/senior relationship is very important in Japan. A company employee who is younger and probably hasn't worked at the company as long as his older coworker will be a "junior" to the "senior." It is the same for students, especially in school clubs. In theory, the senior is a mentor for the junior, and it is the junior's duty to help out the senior and the other members of the group. These roles aren't non-existent in America, but roles are often based on personal accomplishments, and they aren't always respected as a rule, either.
12. Japan is a collectivist culture, whereas the United States is more individualistic. Japanese culture is focused on groups and communities. Satisfaction and pride is meant to be found within the group you belong to. In the United States, people tend to find satisfaction in their own accomplishments, and focus on their own aspirations. An example of this is that in Japanese business culture, employees tend to work for one company for their entire lives. Company loyalty is valued, and promotions are often given on a seniority basis. In America, people focus on their careers independent from the companies they work for, and will often change companies a number of times throughout their professional lives. Promotions are supposed to be given on a basis of merit. In Japan, this can also influence a mindset of how people live in society. People tend to follow rules more seriously, from something as simple as trying not to litter - which makes big cities like Tokyo surprisingly clean.