6 Of The Biggest Cultural Shocks For British Expatriates When Moving To Japan

If you’re a UK native moving to Japan for work, family, or just for a change of scene or a new adventure, then you’ve got a lot to look forward to. Japan is a fantastic country with a rich culture and unique customs, well-known for its technology, enticing food, stunning urban and rural landscapes, and friendly people.

As an island nation on the edge of its continent with a strong trading culture and sense of independence, Japan is in many ways a mirror to Britain, both geographically and culturally. But, as with any major international move, there are bound to be some cultural differences that you will need to navigate in order to feel at home. In this article, we will look at six of the biggest cultural shocks faced by many British expatriates moving to Japan, so you can be better prepared for your adventure.

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1. Bowing Culture

One of the most noticeable cultural differences between the UK and Japan is their bowing culture. People bow to show respect, gratitude, or apology, and even simply in greeting. Bowing is an essential aspect of communication in public and the workplace, so expatriates should take the time to learn the appropriate bowing etiquette. For example, the longer and deeper the bow, the greater the respect shown. It’s worth noting that a brief and informal nod of the head is considered acceptable when greeting friends.

2. Punctuality

In Japan, punctuality is very highly valued. Being late, even by a few minutes, can be seen as extremely disrespectful. Trains and buses tend to run like clockwork and appointments and meetings start on time, so expatriates should make every effort to be on time. Make sure to call ahead with an apology and a simple explanation if you are running late.

3. Group-Oriented Culture

Japanese culture is group or community-oriented, and decisions are often made through group consensus rather than individual initiative. This can be frustrating for expatriates who are used to a more individualistic culture, in which a leader assumes authority in most group and workplace situations. Japan values harmony and collaborative teamwork over individual success. Therefore, when working with Japanese colleagues, it's important to communicate effectively and be a team player.

4. Work Culture

Japanese work culture is famous for its long hours and dedication to the company. In some ways, this is similar to the big-city corporate work culture of the European and American financial sectors, although some expatriates who are used to more flexible working conditions may find it challenging to adjust to the high-pressure work environment and the expectation to work overtime.

It's not uncommon to see people staying at the office late into the night or even sleeping on trains and buses due to exhaustion. To adapt to the work culture, expatriates should focus on time management and taking breaks to avoid burnout.

5. Cuisine

Japanese food is delicious, but it can also be quite different from what expatriates are used to, coming from an Anglo/American/European culinary background. The different flavours and textures may take some getting used to. Additionally, there are cultural customs around dining, such as removing shoes before entering a restaurant, that expatriates will need to learn if not familiar with already. However, with time and an open mind, expatriates will likely discover new foods that they love.

6. Toilets

Japanese toilets are a technological marvel, and expatriates may find them a pleasant surprise. They often have heated seats, bidet sprays, and automatic flushing systems. Many also have sound-masking features to ensure privacy and prevent embarrassment. It is essential to read a guide to Japanese toilets before using them, so you are prepared for the variety of functions available.

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Moving to Japan can be a thrilling experience, but it does involve adapting to a new culture. By researching and understanding the various cultural differences, expatriates can make the transition smoother and more enjoyable. If you’re planning on moving to Japan and need support making the physical transition, please get in touch with Galleon International today.

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