What are the key cultural differences between China and Japan?
Francesco Baldessari, Writer (2015-present)
I am Italian and I have been living in Japan since 1980. During those 37 years I have studied with Chinese, and I have been to China several times, the first I think it was in 1989, The last two years ago.
I have several Chinese friends of many years. Me and my friend Wen-yu Speak often of China and Japan.
I would like to tell my impressions, without going too deep because I don’t know China as well as I would like.
As far as I’m concerned, in many ways going to China feels like going home.
China’s cities have squares, streets have names, the numbering system works pretty much the same way, there are tables, chairs and beds. None of these things exists in Japan. Kotatsu and futon are very different in look and use, and they imply a completely different use of space.
Food in China, different as it is, is at least cooked, never raw.
The Chinese are far, far easier to deal with than the Japanese. They are more explicit and clear. You never have to wonder about what a Chinese thinks of you. In Japan you don’t really know.
In China making friends is easy. In 1989 I went by train from Hong Kong to Beijing and then on to Manchuria. I still remember the many conversations I had with Chinese travelers writing Chinese characters on a piece of paper getting drunk with Chinese vodka. I don’t think this would’ve happened in Japan. It happened all the time in China.
I love Japan, but it’s not an easy country to live in.
To me the Chinese are and always were human beings. Easy to get along with. Differences are usually somehow bridgeable.
With the Japanese sometimes you wonder whether they come from another planet. Likeable, but inscrutable.
I mean no disrespect to eitherside. I like and respect both nations for different reasons, but from a European perspective the Chinese are far easier to understand and get used to.
Karen Ma, Born in China, raised in Hong Kong and Japan, been in Beijing 6 plus years. Formerly a Mandarin teacher.
Japanese people are more reserved, having come from an island country, rather like the Brits. Chinese are more open, having come from a very large country where the people are not very homogeneous. But the downside is that the Chinese can be insular, rather like the Americans in a way. Here are some contrasts:
Japanese love and appreciate dainty things, and are great learners of foreign cultures. They also love quality, not quantity, and take great pride in their workmanship. Simplicity is the key to their aesthetics. They do tend to be very safety oriented though, and are less willing to take risks sometimes. They are very polite, but this can also mean they will always try to keep you at arm"s length.
Chinese prefer size and quantity to quality, and their taste can be a bit over the top at times. And because they are from a huge country with a large population, they can sometimes be a bit arrogant and self-absorbed. They can also come off as rude, offering opinions when not solicited. They are not so detailed oriented, and their workmanship can be a problem. But they will invite you to their home for a meal--something that doesn't happen very often in Japan.
As a Chinese-American journalist and author who lived in Japan for 15 years, I'd say there are many things I like about Japan. But I will add this one bit--the Japanese are very exclusive, and you can spend decades there and still being constantly reminded that you're always going to be an "outsider". In China though, it's often easier for foreigners to make friends.
Lisa Galarneau, Anthropologist
I dug this up from a blog post in 2005:
Differences Between China & Japan (observed during fairly brief travel in each country - in major cities mainly).
In Japan, workers wear name tags, not number tags. (no kidding, we were waited on by 'Number Six' and 'Number 15' in Beijing)
In China, there are at least 4 times more people working in any given store than necessary. The ice cream store in the mall had 6 scoopers, plus two people working the register.
In Japan, one can take photos without fear of arrest or property seizure.
In China, workers often stand in formation and are debriefed at the end of the day.
In Japan, one can cross the street without fear of death.
In China, old neighborhoods are wantonly ripped down with no public announcement, much to the surprise of the residents living there.
In Japan, it would be possible to eat off the floor of the subway.
In China, tour groups travel in well-orchestrated packs wearing identical baseball caps.
In Japan, "kitchens' are in the bedroom, instead of on the balcony.
In China, the shower is not distinguishable from the rest of the bathroom. And the washing machine is in there, too.
In Japan, one can drink the water and breathe the air.
In China, about half of all websites are inaccessible, including my blog. (though, strangely, I was able to access the back-end of my blog).
In Japan, people don't smile at you unless you smile first. But they also don't touch your child without asking.
In China, dwarves are given jobs luring people into icky Cantonese restaurants.
In Japan, sake is cheaper than Coca Cola.
In China, the freeway is shutdown at rush hour.