Cultural Differences Between the USA and Japan

Updated on June 6, 2018
The Golden Pavilion in Kyoto
The Golden Pavilion in Kyoto

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.

Traditional Japanese wedding procession
Traditional Japanese wedding procession

Questions & Answers


      0 of 8192 characters used
      Post Comment

      • profile image


        25 hours ago

        hey jayson

      • profile image


        43 hours ago

        Thank you so much, I am doing an essay on Japanese culture and this really helps. I myself am a big fan of the culture and want to live there some day.

      • profile image


        2 days ago


      • profile image


        2 days ago

        to the name of hoe; what do you to go there for to have S** with japanese people TF dont make no sense B**** BTF

      • profile image


        2 days ago

        is good

      • profile image


        7 days ago

        I like it. TAKE ME THERE

      • profile image


        10 days ago

        I'm half Jap and lived in Yokohama for 20 something years and most of your assessments are true. But I don't agree on #6. My cousins lived on their own at the age of 27 or 28. However, their apartments are small but they are comfy. Both are single and both have girlfriends.

      • profile image

        Karen Leanne Sandberg 

        7 weeks ago

        How are better least tried Japanese depend their personality toward "under graduates have should Japanese simple ability like Middle High School similarity (Student College). Because Japanese more than hard explain why Foreigner humbleness being proud and Japanese spoken second their own continent how allowed them to speaking Japanese for travel tourists?

      • profile image


        8 weeks ago

        i used this information for school mhahahaha

      • profile image


        3 months ago

        The 2017 Global Gender Gap Report has been published FYI. Japan dropped from 101 to 149 and the US dropped from 22 to 49 within 5 years.

      • profile image

        Kaylie savage 

        5 months ago

        Well that sucks.....


      • profile image

        Young Pigeon G 

        5 months ago

        Helpful for my 5 page essay on japan

      • profile image


        5 months ago

        those are help full for school work

      • profile image

        You'll never know! 

        6 months ago

        This was helpful...

        Thank you!

        I don't know what I would do if I had to come up with this stuff by myself!

      • profile image

        not telling 

        6 months ago

        thank you i use for project!!!

      • profile image


        7 months ago

        Really helpful for my project. ('↻')

      • profile image


        10 months ago

        I am European & have lived in Japan for years. I love the culture, and in many ways have ceased to be European - I confuse Europeans actually because I don't act quite European anymore while an old Han Chinese couple adore me because I am proper.

        But for many Europeans (Americans included) Japan is quite a cultural shock. And a number of non-Japanese are considered foreigners, even if they have lived in Japan for a long while, not just because of their appearance but because they hang onto their European ideals & beliefs like glue.

        You can't be Japanese after all if you aren't Japanese and, in a way, it is more than just appearance. I have, after all, had a few laughs regarding naive American Japanese kids my age who think they'd be welcomed with open arms in Japan because they "look" Japanese when they are as Americanized as the European who lives next door.

      • profile image


        10 months ago

        im doing an essay for Germany this helped a lot

      • profile image


        10 months ago

        Thank you for this! My friend and I can't wait to use these facts on our Student Interest Project!

      • profile image


        11 months ago

        Im Japanese and dont agree with No.6.

        In big cities like Tokyo, If you were a 30 something years old guy (girls tend to be more spoiled in this case) still living with your parents,people would think you a bit weird.

        I started to live on my own at the age of 26,most of my friends would live alone as well.

        So, it depends.

      • profile image


        11 months ago

        I am doing an essay for school and this was really helpful :)

      • profile image


        12 months ago

        i'm doing a report for school on japan and this helped alot thank u


      • profile image


        13 months ago

        This is a well-informed and pretty accurate overview! I have something to say about the "lot of similarities", though. Having lived in Japan for four years, I would say that the similarities between Japan and the US are confined to modernity and technology. Japan being a first-world country is all that makes it seem similar. Much like South Korea. Japan has vending machines, convenience stores, modern infrastructure and everything else that keeps us from a "comfort shock" when we enter the country. The similarities stop there. Culture is radically different, from their approach to religion to the very way they communicate with each other. Their approach to difference, to dilemmas, to education; it's nothing we're used to in the "western world". A western tourist won't have the opportunity to measure the width of the gap between our cultures because the Japanese ideal of hospitality entails that everyone make an effort towards making things easier for their visitors.

      • profile image

        KEITO KITA 

        15 months ago

        Me as a Japanese, I think Japanese people are very friendly, polite, and kind. And Japan is the safest country for children. Only people who live in Tokyo are kinda cold damn ass.

      • profile image

        Alice Crowder 

        19 months ago

        works well enough for my essay

      • profile image


        19 months ago

        Very helpful on comparison of Japanese and American cultures. China comment is off-topic and ridiculous.

      • profile image

        Mostafa Tayefi 

        19 months ago

        I enjoy your article and its interesting comparisons.

      • profile image


        21 months ago

        interesting article!

      • profile image


        2 years ago

        thank you this was very helpful!

      • CYong74 profile image

        Kuan Leong Yong 

        2 years ago from Singapore

        Very shrewd observations!

      • Anya Wiles profile image

        Anya Wiles 

        2 years ago from New Zealand

        This was really interesting. Thank you for sharing

      • Darshan Dodiya profile image

        Darshan Dodia 

        3 years ago from India

        Very good article.. really interesting...

      • adevwriting profile image

        Arun Dev 

        3 years ago from United Countries of the World

        According to me Japan is a very nice country. It is also very helpful to many other countries. This was a very interesting hub.

      • bnayr profile image


        3 years ago from Manchester

        Thanks for sharing your tips. I am visiting Japan in September so this info will help a lot.:)

      • aesta1 profile image

        Mary Norton 

        3 years ago from Ontario, Canada

        Really interesting comparison. I find it fascinating.

      • profile image

        Austin Pickett 

        3 years ago

        Thanks for the information! This is a great article for those who are looking for the differences in cultural aspects between the United States and Japan.

      • poppyr profile image


        4 years ago from Tokyo, Japan

        Good article, and useful for people going to study or work there.

      • Diana Lee profile image

        Diana L Pierce 

        5 years ago from Potter County, Pa.

        This is interesting. My dad spent two years in Japan during the Korean war.

      • profile image


        5 years ago

        I like this hub a lot, keep them coming


      This website uses cookies

      As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

      For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at:

      Show Details
      HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
      LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
      Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
      AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
      HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
      HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
      Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
      CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
      Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the or domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
      Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
      Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
      Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
      Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
      Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
      VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
      PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
      Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
      MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
      Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
      Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
      Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
      Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
      ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
      Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)