Japan’s Context

Lesson 2: Topic 2 of 19

By contrast, Japan is a high context culture, pretty much in its entirety. Without a great influx of immigrants, the national culture is quite stable. Exacting family and institutional rules keep order and ensure that the status quo is maintained. An effort to fit in is considered admirable and even mature. Gestures, tones, mode of dress, and subtle facial expressions all carry meaning.

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Many Japanese in business are not unaware of low context culture issues, but this does not mean that they would easily adapt to westerners or others with different expectations. A Japanese host at a restaurant may place an order for the entire party, generously choosing foods he believes will be enjoyed, and will discreetly pay for the whole meal, as well. Guests from low context cultures might feel some offense at this denial of their individual food choices. But a guest would do well to refrain from vocalizing any of these thoughts. A complainer would show the host and others who understand the high context scenario that they are inconsiderate and ill-mannered.

If you should ever find yourself in such a situation, keep in mind that meals are important opportunities for connecting with others. It’s always helpful to assume that new acquaintances are doing their best to honor everyone, unless there is blatant evidence to the contrary. Choose to believe the best about your hosts!