In this article I will present a very bried look at Japanese and Danish culture. This post will serve as an introduction for anyone who might be unfamilliar with either culture, and therefore as a building block for the rest of the articles on cultural comparison in this blog.
Danish Culture At a Glance
Danish culture is characterised by equality, modesty, and a lack of formality.
Denmark is a society which places great emphasis on caring for the weak. It is a welfare society characterised by a very high tax rate and numerous free benefits offered by the state and available to all. It is also a society which values spare time and comfortable living very highly.
Everyone in Denmark expects to have their opinion or position heard. Status and rank do not carry the same weight as in other places, and the Danes expect to be involved and to be able to criticise their leaders. Business meetings in Denmark are characterised by genuine discussion, where everyone expects to contribute to the decision making process. Danish communication is very direct and informal and in most circumstances things are conducted on a first name basis.
However, despite this informality most relationships are kept at arm’s length. Showing excessive emotion is often looked down upon, even amongst close acquaintances and it can be fairly difficult to get close to a Dane.
Although this has begun to change, the modesty aspect is also very important in Danish culture, and boasting, showing off, or even drawing a lot of attention to yourself may be frowned upon.
In Denmark there is complete equality amongst the genders and women expect to be treated with the same respect as men in all circumstances. Traditional gender roles are far less pronounced than in other countries, and it is common for men to take paternity leave (one of the many benefits of the welfare state) and care for the children.
Japanese Culture At a Glance
The Japanese culture is very complex and contains a wide range of influences. It is shaped by the search for “wa”, a term that loosely translates to “harmony“. Japanese culture is group oriented, ritualistic, and relies more on unspoken, indirect communication. Concepts such as saving face or avoiding shame and understanding your position in a relationship or hierarchy are key aspects in Japanese interaction.
Striving for harmony is at the core of Japanese culture, particularly when speaking of group harmony. From a young age, children are taught to be cooperative and non-disruptive, and to show respect. The Japanese are therefore usually polite and non-confrontational, preferring to maintain harmony rather than to offend someone.
The Japanese are also very group oriented, both in their personal and professional lives. They focus on building relationships and placing the good of the group above individual aspirations. Knowing your position within a group and addressing others appropriately is a key concept for maintaining harmony. Also, while striving for excellence is a primary motivational factor in Japan, the development of personal skills is often seen as the duty of an individual towards the group.
Communication in Japan is much more “high context”. High context communication relies on unspoken signals, including tone of voice, facial expressions, context within which something is said, and intuitive understanding. Once again, the emphasis is on maintaining group harmony, and therefore the Japanese are reluctant to openly contradict someone or to refuse a request. This has been the cause of many misunderstandings in dealings between Westerners and the Japanese.
The concept of saving face or avoiding shame is very important to the Japanese, and there are many things that can cause a loss of face. They therefore try to avoid giving open criticism, blatant displays of authority, and direct contradictions or rejections.
The Japanese also value status and social rank. One’s age and position are very important in determining how people communicate and how situations are resolved. Typically, the inferior partner (and it is very important to know exactly where you stand) will defer to the superior partner so as to maintain harmony.
Finally, although this has begun to change, gender roles in Japanese culture are still very pronounced, with the man being the primary provider and the woman being the primary caretaker. This is particularly true in rural areas. Furthermore, the business world is still very much a man’s world, and it is not easy for Japanese business women to climb up the hierarchy.
This concludes the quick look at Japanese and Danish culture. In future posts I will expand upon these concepts and look deeper so as to understand how to make cross-cultural interactions work.
A Study on Japanese Culture and Styles of Business Negotiation, http://www.kwintessential.co.uk/resources/global-etiquette/japan-country-profiles.html, accessed November 2012
Mark Lim Shan-Loong (2000), Tradition and Change, Examining Gender Roles in Japan, http://marklsl.tripod.com/Writings/japan.htm
The Basics of Japanese Culture, http://iml.jou.ufl.edu/projects/Spring01/Newsome/culture.html, accessed November 2012
The Cultural Values of Japan, http://www.howto.co.uk/abroad/japanese-people/the_cultural_values_of_japan/, accessed November 2012