If you’re a salaryman in Japan, there could be a possible international relocation in your future, especially if you work for a global company like OSG USA, 7-11, Toyota, or Nissan. Toyota, for example, has a 1-year international relocation program to the USA. But many companies transfer their employees for 2 – 5 years at a time. They do this so that employees can learn, broaden their horizons, improve their English-language skills, and collaborate with their peers in the USA.

Most employees are very excited when they first hear about such an opportunity. They will get to travel, meet a new culture, improve their English, and hopefully, get a raise in salary and possible higher positions when they come back from living abroad. What many companies do not consider is the fact that a change in culture can have a dramatic impact on an employee and his or her family.

In this article, we want to bring up some basic cultural differences between Japan and the USA. We hope that these will lessen the shock when you finally move to the US.

10 Surprising Cultural Differences Between Japan & the US

  1. This one might seem silly, but it won’t be when you have angry Americans honking at you when you don’t turn right on red. Of course, to be able to drive here, you’ll have to take a driving test and pass it, but it’s also really hard to remember that you can take a right on red when you’ve never been allowed to do it before. So don’t forget, right on red is okay!
  2. Yards. Big ones! We’ve got ‘em. Yards so big you can play a game of baseball in them. Size and space in general is going to be a huge shock. In Japan, due to the lack of space, people do not have yards. Actually, they barely have dining rooms and kitchens either. Let’s put home size on another tab.
  3. You’ll feel like you’ve hit the jackpot when it comes to space. Japan’s Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism says that a single person living alone in the city should have a minimum of 25 square meters (roughly 250 square feet – or, as we say, a box) and a maximum of 40 square meters (roughly 400 square feet – a slightly bigger box). Yikes! When the Japanese move to Texas (or anywhere in the midwest) they are going to feel like they can make 10 snow angels in their huge yards and have 10 picnics on the ground in their huge Texas living rooms. Welcome! They say everything is bigger here… probably because there’s so much room.
  4. Getting sucked in to Netflix, Hulu and Amazon Prime. Watch out! We have great shows in the US, and you will eventually be under their spell and not realize that you’ve watched 2 seasons of some show in just 2 days… where did my weekend go? We hear this from almost every country, actually. The US, for some reason, produces/creates great TV.
  5. We have a lot of libraries. These are a huge center of communities. You can bring your children for story time, you can rent books, CDs, movies, magazines and more. IF you’re going to be in the US for even just a year, make sure to get a library card to enjoy all that your local library has to offer.
  6. Huge grocery stories and food. Once again, everything is larger here. And you’ll be seeing more shelves, higher shelves, and huge boxes with food in it. You probably don’t have as many options in Japan for the following: cereal, ice cream, cheeses, different types of milk (oat, skim, 2%, almond, etc). Also, food and serving sizes are larger. A large drink at McDonald’s is 32 ounces in the US, yet in Japan, it is about 20 ounces.
  7. You’ll be shocked by everyone inviting you into their home, and making sure you keep your shoes on.
  8. Be warned, the Japanese Americans, or someone, has made up things like a ‘California Roll’ and various other ‘rolls’ that do not actually exist in Japan. You’ll have to go to the Japanese part of town in a big city to find actual Japanese food. If you eat the Americanized version (just like the Japanized versions of American food in Japan), it will NOT taste like Japanese food. I’ve heard Japanese say that it has more salt and sugar than the real deal. Not surprising.
  9. Guns. Americans have them. Roughly 30% of Americans own guns according to a Gallup Poll. 40-45% are Republicans or Conservatives and just 14-16% are Democrats or Liberals. Compare that with Japan’s 377,000 total registered firearms in the entire country in 2017. I will say, that I did not come from a home with a gun, and I have still never seen one in real life, except when it was in the holster of a policeman, and I am from the Bible belt, where supposedly that’s all we do is own guns and shoot guns. Not me though.
  10. I have heard the Japanese say, and I would agree, that Americans are too sensitive, and since they are always trying to be politically correct, that it’s hard to have a conversation about anything interesting: differences in races, politics, learn about each other’s religion, etc. This has led some Japanese to refrain from talking in depth with Americans, as the Americans seem to get offended quickly and often. I have also heard Europeans say the same about Americans.

If you, your employer, or your employees would like to either learn Japanese with live instructors in your office, home or online, Fluency Corp would love to get you fluent. Or maybe you need a cultural and communication consultation because there are two cultures (American/Japanese) in the office and everyone is having some challenges working together. Or maybe you just want to engage everyone more and create an open dialogue. If yes to any of the above, get in touch!