Friday, July 30, 2010


It has been a little over a week since I returned state-side and thanks to the "requested" essay required by YFU, I have been thinking about my experiences. The essay has requested us to write about our experience as an  exchange student and to avoid summarizing my experiences, I will discuss the major differences I observed between America in Japan. In a nutshell, those differences amount to a desire for harmony. This included somewhat of a lack of individual expression, because the Japanese seem to feel more comfortable in groups.One of the first things I noticed in Japan was polar opposite existance of individual expression. The majority of the population is non-confrontational and feels taboo to discuss opinionated issues, such as politics and usually even feels uncomfortable to slap a controversial sticker on their modest car. Anything that could potentially dissagree with another person's views or beliefs is avoided in conversation. When the Japanese have a problem at a restaurant for example, they will not make a scene and simply will not return. In America, customers openly express their problem, demand a refund and new food and probably will not come back. The polar opposite on the spectrum of Japanese harmony and modesty can be observed just meters away from the towering hives swarming with businessmen, in a little city called Harajuku. Here, highschoolers and twenty-something year olds crowd the fashion-forward shopping district in costumes that seem alien anywhere else. It's understandable the students whom have spent the majority of their lives in uniforms want to express themselves as loudly as possible. From what I have observed, the individuals well being  is less emphasized than the overall well being of the group. This group mentality can be observed through the ubiquitous uniforms for virtually every school and occupation, the existence of public bathes and onsens, and of course smaller details like the naked car bumpers. Even the Japanese name puts the family name before the individuals given name. The group, whether it be the workplace, school or family has a much higher importance to the Japanese than the individual mentality. As I was discussing this with my host mom, she shared her thoughts as to why this might be. She believed this was due to the fact that the majority of the Japanese have relied on farming to support themselves, as thus has to work together and coexist in order to survive. Or also possibly the fact that Japan has spent so much time being isolated from interaction with other countries. Contrastingly, America was settled primarily through the use of hunting for food rather than farming and claiming land through force and fence. Another interesting point I saw was that in Japanese schools, there is a system in place that allows students to stay with their same class (kumi) throughout their entire school career. They rarely leave their kumis to attend different classes and even say "tadaima" (I'm home) when they return to their classroom. This system has resulted in a second family for most Japanese students, where as in America, we enjoy choosing different classes based on our own interests, rather than staying together with the same students. As far as academics are concerned, Japanese students whom are so famous for their grades rarely show off or bring up their scores. In America, we can't wait to show off to our friends that we passed the brutal math test or we made it onto the honor roll (which an equivalent doesn't exist for in Japan, as far as I know). Today, individuality and the personal expression of it feels like an inherent, unwritten right for Americans. We proudly display everything from our patriotism to our moral, religious and political beliefs freely. We can't seem to go anywhere without them, judging by our cars. We have graded debates in school, something Japanese schools could hardly dream of, and in general, we love a good fight. Americans are very competitive compared to the Japanese, who value harmony and co-existence more than a fight. These differences in behavior have shaped the different mentalities of each nation.

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