Cultural Differences Between the U.S. and Japan

Problem: According to Edward Hall, the Japanese have a very high context culture and the United States has a relatively low context culture. Explain what this means and offer some possible implications for Americans conducting international business with the Japanese.

 Because Americans have such a low context culture and the Japanese have a very high one, it is often difficult for the two countries to communicate. For instance, the language barrier often comes into play. Quite often in international business transactions, the Japanese can speak English, but the Americans very rarely are able to speak Japan's native language. Learning more than one language is a very important part of education in most other countries, but the United States does not typically emphasize such an importance. Thus, when we engage in business with foreign countries, we tend to be at a disadvantage, particularly if we are trying to sell products.

Some of the barriers that we need to overcome seem rather overwhelming. The Japanese tend to value silence and expect others to be able to interpret their feelings and exactly what their silence means. For Americans, who are used to expressing themselves and saying what's on their mind, not being able to share their opinions is frustrating. The Japanese do business in a completely different manner than Americans do. We tend to come across with a dominating attitude, promoting our product or whatever we're endorsing emphatically and enthusiastically. The Japanese find this offensive; it doesn't fit in with their culture. We need to be kinder and gentler in our approaches. Also, trust is another big factor in conducting international business with high context cultures like Japan.

In another aspect, Japanese managers tend to be afraid of the market. They are apprehensive about promoting their companies, while managers in America are aggressive and have few, if any, qualms about stepping up to the plate to push their products onto the domestic and global markets.

There are definite differences between high and low context cultures, such as Japan and America, which are countries on opposite ends of the spectrum. However, they can overcome their diversity by learning about the different cultures with which they would conduct business. Since Japanese managers place so much significance on body language, more so than verbal communication, we as responsible managers going global with our businesses need to learn how to effectively communicate so as not to offend other cultures.