Japan and Australia: 4 ‘gaps’

There’s something different about the usage of ‘gap’ in Japanese, or gyappu, as it becomes in Japanese English/English Japanese, but it still basically means gap. I think it’s usually only used for mental or theoretical gaps, as opposed to physical ones? If you know better, please correct me.

1. NationalismFlag_of_Japan.svg

Japan loves Japan. Australia loves to have a go at itself, and to be honest, to be nationalistic about Australia is to be bloody un-Australian.

This is not talking so much about individuals as things like media: TV and education. I realised a couple of days ago, meeting a newbie who only teaches in a language school and really wants to move to the public school system, that being in that system does give you some insight into said system and its values: What Japan wants Japan to be. Basically they want to conserve their traditional culture, which makes sense in this time of globalisation and technology. To generalise, they learn a lot more about Japan than about any other country.

Recently I was a judge at an English speech contest in my area, where the kids wrote their own speeches. Ostensibly. Well, they didn’t edit their own speeches. Most of the speeches’ messages could be divided as follows:

  1. I will try hard. 頑張ります。Example summary: Two years ago I joined the softball club because my friends were joining. I wasn’t very good at softball, and at one point, we lost a match. Then my senior encouraged me with some inspiring words, so now I’m going to try hard.
  2. Peace.
  3. Japan is amazing. (our manners, our samurais, etc.)

For sure, Japan is an interesting place, but the Australian in me finds this kind of speech nauseating. I’m from a background that when we saw Americans at the Olympics sing their anthem with their hands over their hearts, someone in the room would say, ‘Pass me a bucket!’ (Japan loves America too, but let’s not go into that here.)

When the Australian rowing team won a while ago, we all noticed that they didn’t all know the words to the Australian national anthem. This was a bit embarrassing, but I guess you can say that it isn’t a big part of life in Australia.

2. Face and modesty

Saving face is really important here. There’s an idea here that it’s OK to lie about your mistakes/crimes to protect the reputation of your company/country. Of course, it’s an unspoken idea, and of course, not everyone thinks it’s OK. But in Australia, you know how the Japanese refuse to stop whaling? Do they say it’s scientific?  Well. Yep.

So for your company or country, you might lie about food safety, or it might be about presenting Japan as the good guys all the time, and just not educating its people about things like war crimes. I’ve been surprised about some Japanese friends’ opinions on Korea or China.

At the other end of the scale, while you have to protect your company or country, you shouldn’t be openly proud of yourself or your family, and when people find out about something great one of you has done, while glowing inside, you’re supposed to say, ‘oh no, no, it was nothing, my son never does his homework.’ I found it quite strange when I got a newly-married colleague to show me a photo of his wife, and I said, ‘She’s beautiful!’ and he said, ‘Oh, no, she’s not as beautiful as X.’

Australia’s just kind of opposite. We aren’t a fan of ‘the man’ in work or government, in general, and I think there’s a fair bit of cultural shame, about indigenous Australia and Australia’s recent treatment of asylum seekers and other countries in the Asia-Pacific region, for example. Of course, there are exceptions, but I think the majority are appalled at what’s going on in the name of protecting our ‘sovereign borders’ and even more so at attempts to prevent our knowing about it. 

On the other hand, when someone praises our family, we smile and say ‘thank you.’ For ourself, well, that’s up to the individual, but if you argue too much, it’s rude, as if you think the other person doesn’t know what they’re talking about.

3. Winning

Is Everything.

When you lose a match in Japan, it’s OK to cry. On TV. I haven’t seen many Japanese people cry, but the one time I saw high school boys crying, they’d lost a baseball game.

Maybe Australia got this from the Brits: When you lose, it’s OK to look disappointed, but crying is not on. This would make you a sore loser and a bad sport. Wanting to win is fine, but whatever the outcome at the end, you have to acknowledge the other player/team. We usually shake hands and say ‘good game.’

4. Homophobia

There’s plenty of homophobia in both Australia and Japan, but it takes different forms.

When I came to Japan I was surprised to see high school boys sitting on each other’s laps and walking around with their hands in each other’s pockets: generally there is a lot more physical contact between boys and men here.

I can’t imagine seeing that in a high school in Australia because apart from when they’re playing sport, Australian boys and men don’t really touch each other and it seems (straight) male-male contact is often awkward because of this homophobic vibe. I guess there are ritualistic handshakes and friendly punches, but that’s about it usually for men wanting to physically express affection towards other men.

But in Japan, that awkwardness isn’t there when it comes to male-male contact. There’s also the public bathing culture where it’s normal to be naked with others of your sex, which is definitely not the case in Australia. However, there is very little physical contact between the sexes in Japan. Separation of the sexes is another thing that’s noticeably different here, but this post is getting happily long enough without going into that for now.

I have never met a Japanese person who openly identifies as LGBT. This is probably because of working in the conservative environments of companies and the public school system, and being in the country. I know there are communities, but in the Japan I’ve seen, the only representations have been TV personalities, and generally comedians who are either crossdressers or stylised ‘gay’ personalities. This article conveys the situation well, I think.

Other than going, “Did you know that woman [on TV] is really a man?” it’s not something that’s really talked about here. I guess that’s the same in conservative Australia, too. People like to see things as binary, to use a loaded word, and nothing else is happening.

So there are four of many differences between Japan and Oz. Maybe sometime I should tackle similarities?

Thanks for reading.


One thought on “Japan and Australia: 4 ‘gaps’

  1. Thanks, Cathy. I knew a little of some of those concepts but you have articulated them very well. I think I understand a bit more about Japanese society and also about your reaction to it. Nicely written.


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