What every Indian should know about Japan

Japanese culture

The pursuit of harmony

The Japanese have a strong need for harmony. They only feel good when everything is in order. That is why in Japan there are written and unwritten rules for almost everything: How do I wrap a present, how do I bow to whom, how do I serve tea? For such questions of etiquette, there are an infinite number of high-volume guides in bookshops, even if the topics sometimes seem absurd in Western eyes.

For example, there are several guides to "koen-debyuu". They give a young mother tips on going to the park for the first time with her baby so that she can join the clique of other mothers. Which clothes are right, which topics of conversation and which words? Everything should be carefully planned.

Japan's first constitution, a set of laws from the year 604 AD, regulated questions of manners and politeness in order to create harmony - at that time exclusively within the upper class.

The samurai warrior caste, which ruled Japan for a long time, also attached great importance to etiquette. That should maintain the social order and thus secure one's own hierarchical rank. The aristocrats set themselves apart from the common people through behavior, clothing and language.

A sense of community over everything

Closely related to the pursuit of harmony is the typical Japanese need to want to belong to a group. The aim is not to attract attention at any cost. That is why social classification is the most important lesson in kindergarten and later in six-year elementary school.

Within kindergarten groups and school classes, other groups are formed for a limited period of time, which are put together in a relatively random manner. Friendships are not taken into account. For example, these groups clean up together, take care of lunch or study together.

Above all, the school stands as a large group to which the students should feel they belong. That's why they wear school uniforms and sing the school song on certain occasions.

Holiday courses ("gasshuku") also promote the sense of community, which exceptionally is not about performance, but solely about strengthening the group.

Welcome to exam hell

In everyday school life, however, the pressure to perform is omnipresent. Teachers and parents expect the child to have a career in a large company. Only someone who has studied at a good university can do that. Because - like almost everything in Japan - the educational institutions are also arranged in a hierarchical order, the name of the university is more important than the subject studied.

Since the places at these elite training centers are limited, there is an entrance exam - by far not the first Japanese students have to take. Many small applicants have to pass an exam for popular kindergartens because their graduates are more likely to switch to a good elementary school.

By the middle school at the latest, the "shiken jigoku", the test hell, has everyone firmly under control. Above all, it means learning by heart in order to be able to switch to a good high school with the appropriate results and from there to an elite university. In view of the immense pressure - many Japanese children are only children and their parents' only hope - the number of school dropouts is also growing.

Group work in the company

Anyone who has gone through the hell of exams at school can look forward to a relatively relaxed course of study. After that, the graduate of an elite university has a good chance of being accepted into the next group: the big company. There - in small companies this is seldom the case - a man traditionally remains employed all his life.

The new employees, the "kohai", are welcomed with a festive admission ceremony and then complete a kind of basic training during which they go through all departments. This is how they should get to know the company and its ideology. The "kohai" are based on the tried and tested behavior of the "senpai", their older colleagues.

As a rule, employees also work together in groups within departments. That is why it is very important that the harmony is right. To maintain social contacts, you often go out after work.

Now, however, more employees than in the 1980s and 1990s pay attention to a balance between work and leisure. At that time, many fathers left the house early six days a week and did not return until around midnight, so that they could only see their children on Sundays. In individual cases this even led to "karoshi", death from overwork.

Career as a woman?

Typically in Japan the man still has a career, while the woman stops working when she gets married or when the first child is away. Although many women have also studied, the companies often only hire them for light jobs because, in their opinion, it is not worthwhile to familiarize them with.

This difference between the sexes is also clear in language usage: the employee is the "sarariman" (from English salary = salary), the employee was until recently the "ofisu garu" (office girl). Today she is more respectfully called "ofisu redi" (office lady). Of course, the "sarariman" deserves more accordingly.

But equality is also increasing in Japan. Dual-income households are no longer uncommon, even if this is partly due to the strained financial situation in Japan. Some companies are now even setting up day nurseries.

With such offers one tries to stop the decline in the birth rate. Because the more women work, the fewer children they have - this is no different in Japan than anywhere else in the world.

Pocket money for the husband

Even in the family, the first group in their lives, Japanese children learn the basic rules of social coexistence and, above all, the hierarchy. For example, older siblings must treat them more respectfully than younger ones.

In Japan, marriage was often a purely one-of-a-kind community in the 1980s and 1990s. Since the father mostly worked six days a week from early in the morning until late at night, the couple saw very little. Only when the man retired did many divorce because then it became clear how little they harmonized.

But many marriages are still being arranged today. Then a matchmaker makes a proposal, which both sides can, however, refuse without further ado.

In marriages between a Japanese woman and a foreign man, the first big problem usually arises with the payroll: Japanese women are used to having their husbands full income, checking accounts and giving him pocket money. A small part of Japanese culture with great potential for controversy.