Adapting to Cultural Differences-Abe’s Visit to the UK and Australia

for July, 2014

Adapting to Cultural Differences-Abe’s Visit to the UK and Australia

Posted on 25 July 2014 in Cultural Awareness -
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I was interested to see how Prime Minister Abe’s recent trip to Australia differed from his visit to the UK in May. Political agenda and geographical differences aside, there were some interesting moments where Abe had to adapt accordingly to different cultural expectations of behaviour. In the UK, I saw him at an “Invest in Japan” seminar and also at a Dinner hosted by the City of London Corporation at the Guildhall-both very formal and business orientated. The Guildhall was grand and historical and the correct formalities were followed with great pomp and circumstance. Abe mirrored this with a fairly formal Japanese speech introduced with the required humourous reference to alcohol we Brits seem to appreciate plus a mention of our traditions and our long, shared history. He then opened the floor to questions, one of which I thought was slightly inappropriate and indicative of our ” need to be heard” individualistic culture. Finally, he was presented with a “made in Britain” silver horse statue, representing his birth year in the Japanese Zodiac.

Now skip to Australia, where he gave a warm speech in Parliament in English honouring their ancestors, used a rugby scrum analogy and even mentioned WWII. On the subsequent tour with their Prime Minister Tony Abbott, he engaged in jocular banter and drank Australian wine. He was presented with a gift of Australian made RM Williams boots-proudly displayed by both men in a pose that caused consternation in some quarters about the overt display of machismo. I thought Abe looked slightly uncomfortable in this pose- the Japanese representation of macho-ness is very different-but he was certainly able to adapt to this more relaxed attitude to state visits.

In both contexts, the tone of his speeches engaged their audiences well using cultural assumptions of what would appeal to them. Stereotypes are never true across the board in such diverse societies. However, when operating in different cultures, it is essential to have a general overview and understanding, so that presentations and behaviour can be tailored accordingly. Naturally Abe had the support of briefings and PR machines, which I am sure, for a seemingly introverted man, helped him immensely on these visits.

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Football Fans Cleaning Stadiums & Students Cleaning Toilets: What does it tell us about Japanese culture?

Posted on 7 July 2014 in Cultural Awareness, Inter-Cultural Training -
Class in Japan2

Having taught in Japanese schools, it came as no surprise to me that the Japanese football fans were cleaning up after themselves in the stadium in Brazil. Every day, children had to clean the school, including the toilets. I recently told some British primary children about it. Although they recognised that it would foster pride, they still couldn’t totally understand it. For the Japanese, this kind of behaviour is natural and is evident in all parts of society. When I first got to Japan, at 7am one Sunday morning, an old man knocked on my door gesturing to me wildly. I was expected to come and clean the steps in my apartment building along with the whole community! I know several friends who were expected to come in early to their office jobs to help clean and keep the place tidy-notably it was only the women though. I even had it written in my contract when working for the Japanese Government to keep my desk tidy.

This sense of social responsibility stems from the expectations of respect and consideration for others. These traits are woven into all aspects of Japan’s group orientated society. Every group member has a responsibility to help it run smoothly. It is often expected that individual needs are second to that of the group and the Japanese learn to cover up real feelings to maintain harmony. It would be unusual for any Japanese child to have refused to clean because it is “not fair”-a phrase I often hear from my own children. It is not fair to put other people out by not pulling your weight. Consideration for others is so important and they expect others to do the same.

As you can imagine, this culture conflicts with western individualism. If expectations of what behaviour is considered respectful are not communicated, frustrations and distrust can arise. As always, understanding and adaptation are the key. We can learn lots from their wonderful culture as shown in Brazil. I don’t think we will ever see British children cleaning school toilets though!

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