Around the world in eight issues: Japan-United States

Maho Nishimura is a junior law major from Tokyo, Japan.

What were you expecting before you came to the US?

Before I came here, I had the impression that in the US, people were very easygoing and enjoy life a lot. Rules about vacation are strict in Japan, so I had the impression that workers get a lot of time off in America.

I expected other things of America, too, like lots of junk food and Starbucks. I was also worried about how common guns are in America.

What was it like when you did come to the US?

It is true that Americans get more vacation than us, and have more free time in the day. And Americans are very friendly. For a while, I was surprised when people would greet me and say hello.

I also expected American junk food every day, but Andrew Commons is very good and has Asian food and South American food, which is nice.

I was surprised to find that in the US, everyone likes big-scale parties. Because students live in dorms, they are able to attend big, late-night parties. At Waseda [University], people do not live on campus, so we cannot have parties in that way.

What is a big difference between Japan and the US?

College life is a big difference. In Japan, we don’t have assignments every class, so we don’t have much work; just a final paper or test. We say that it is hard to get into university, but easy to graduate. High school is very difficult in Japan because we need to attend cram school where we study until midnight to get into university. But university is not that hard, so it can be difficult for students to get used to the American college style, especially as we’re doing it in English.

Another big difference is work. In Japan, we only get a few days of vacation per year, and we work very long hours. My father would get up at about 6:30 a.m. and would not return home until around 10:30 p.m. It can be very stressful.

A similarity?

I honestly have trouble thinking of a similarity. The cultures are pretty different.


Andrea Kahlow is a senior East Asian Studies major from River Falls, WI.

What were you expecting before you went to Japan?

I had actually visited Japan before my study abroad experience and it was a while ago. I can’t really remember what my expectations were before that.

I did have expectations of Waseda University, though. Even though people told me that it was a big school and it is difficult to integrate well, I was confident that I would be able to hang out with people. I did expect it to be big, and I expected the classes to be big, because that’s what people had told me. I guess I expected it to be similar to Lawrence, where everyone is motivated and passionate about their majors, because Waseda is a really good school in Japan.

What was it like when you did go to Japan?

My expectations of the university were not quite correct. The Waseda campus is about as big as Lawrence, although it’s built up more, and there are around 50,000 students. It is a really beautiful campus, too. It is also not true that everyone is passionate about their majors. It isn’t necessarily your major that is going to help you get a job; most of the jobs that Japanese students get are not related to their majors, and it’s just the Waseda name that matters.

Waseda is also a commuter college, so it can be very hard to socialize. No one lives on campus, and, if you did want to socialize, you had to go to bars and risk missing your last train home. I was lucky that I still knew students who had studied at Lawrence during my sophomore year and were still at Waseda.

A lot of the perceptions Americans have of Japanese culture are actually of very small subcultures. Lolita fashion can only be found in a couple places in Tokyo. Even things that are popular in the US like anime or manga are not very popular in Japan. I know more about anime and manga than a number of the Waseda students.

What do you think is a big difference between Japan and the US?

There’s the stereotype of the Japanese being very polite, and it is in some way true. I had been to South Korea before I went to Japan, and I remember thinking, “oh, these people suppress their emotions so much,” and then I went to Japan, and it was more extreme. But this is compared to the US, where we show our emotions so much more.

In Korea, there is no taboo against physical contact among girls or among guys, although inter-gender contact is still discouraged. I got used to girls and guys walking arm in arm, or always touching each other in some way. But in Japan there is none of that, even among people of the same gender.

What is a big similarity?

A shared love for Starbucks! I think the emphasis on having a successful career is very similar. Other than that, the Japanese and the Americans do very similar things for fun: eating out, going to parks, seeing films, shopping. Other than some obvious differences, the societies are fairly similar.