A student asked me recently about what Canadians may think of Japanese character. She meant “character” as in personality, not as in a TV or anime character. She also asked what the character of a Canadian is like.
First i must say that this question asks me to generalize two very large and diverse groups of people. i don’t like doing this because it suggests that whatever i say may be thought of as being true in all cases. Of course, this is not possible.
What do i think about the character of Japanese people?
i have close associations with many people from a good mix of society, i have lawyer friends, an accountant, doctors, teachers of various traditional arts and culture as well as many sempai and kohai, a monk, parents of many of my students, etc. What i can say is that the use of “honne and tatemae” makes most people feel that everyone is friendly and polite, unfortunately it is difficult for me to know how people really think, in a sense people hide their true character, and only display one part of themselves publicly. So generally i would have to say that everyone is friendly and polite although i still often feel confused.
Even more confusing however was the great earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disaster that happened 2 years ago. When things are in chaos i imagined that i could learn more about people’s true character. From this experience, i might say that Japanese people are very well organized and tend to follow directions well. People are very community oriented and make many decisions thinking very much about what effect their choices will have on their communities. On the surface people could be said to be friendly and polite, considerate, and supportive, however is this “honne” or “tatemae”?
I know of some people who feel that they wanted to make certain choices but could not because of the pressure of their communities. i’ve seen situations where others were blamed for making certain decisions about safety which may give their family a bad image.
Finally i can say that even in such an extreme situation, there were so many different choices and people, it would be reasonable to say that people’s characters were diverse and that would likely be true in any country.
What are Canadians like?
This is an easy question for me. i would say that since Canada is a salad bowl of so many countries, Canadian character would be as diverse as all the different people from different cultures that live there. People bring their own cultures to Canada and share it and also learn about other cultures not their own. In the end we have people who are very diverse, but simply due to the expanded knowledge and experience through shared culture, Canadians are more interested, and tolerant of diversity then most other countries i would say. However at the same time, being in an environment of such diversity also creates opportunity for the opposite. Racial, religious or political intolerance is much more obvious in Canada than say in Japan.
In the end
In the end, people are people and have very different characters, they express their characters through their cultures. Looking at modern Japanese culture, i think that a good image seems to be very important, and everyone’s character is expressed through this idea. By contrast Canadians aren’t image conscious in quite the same way when they express themselves, so we have more upfront confrontations, and direct expressions which can be stressful sometimes.