I’m off to Tokyo in a month for my annual vacation in paradise. I still write my blog every day while in Japan. It is a pleasure for me, like coffee and dessert.
Japan is a really different world. We will have three guests this year, as is usually the case. I make a point never to express my views on Japanese behavior. After 45 years of annual visits to Japan, I am still in the learning mode. Every year I learn something new. Sometimes minor, like the way each individual has their own favorite place to view cherry blossoms or major like the way Japanese measured time before 1870. The day was based on the sun. Time began at sunrise and stopped at sunset with high noon as the only stable element. In Summer the amount of time from sunrise to noon was measured with long 'hours'. In Winter the hours were very short.
My experiences in Japan have led me to take the Sapir-Whorf view of society. A culture is a total and inclusive system. That is certainly my experience in Japan. So explaining anything to a visitor would be futile.
Start with the language. All words have a high level of ambiguity. As a result writing a legal document or a law allows for a vast range of interpretation. And it means the Japanese can be together for hours making puns. Being part of a gathering making puns is one of the Japanese favorite entertainments.
The meaning of a sentence has a great deal to do with the context in which it is spoken. The Japanese pay very close attention to the posture and movements of a person speaking because it bears directly on the meaning of what they are saying.
Japanese will do anything to avoid saying ‘no’ and they will be evasive as possible to avoid giving a negative answer. The reason is that Japanese society values harmony almost above all other values. That puts anger out of the question in nearly all situations. In 45 years I have only seen one angry Japanese. It was motorcyclist who almost got hit by a taxi.
All of this is relevant to me because I give business advice to my clients in Japan. The advice has to be coherent to them. Marketing is most effective along the lines of contact with fellow college friends and peers. Especially when sports were a common experience. People rarely make friends with strangers, so marketing has a different context.
Japanese value harmony so highly, there is little litigation. I have never met a lawyer in Japan. In San Francisco I meet them by the dozens every month.