Let me talk about what Japan is like.
When asking Swiss people their images about Japan, they say always “it’s a country of another world, far away from here”. Indeed, it takes about 12 hours by direct plane, and the time difference is 7 hours in sommer, 8 hours in winter. Japan is an island nation and extends 3.000km from tip to tip. The country is made up of four main islands (Hokkaidoo, Honshuu, Shikoku, Kyuusyuu) and together with more than 3.000 smaller islands. The area of Japan is about nine times of the Switzerland and the Switzerland seems to be a little bit smaller than the area of Kyuushuu. The population is about 128 million, which is the tenth in the world and 17 times of that of the Switzerland. Compared to the population, the area is the 61st small in the world, This means that more people are concentrated in smaller areas, especially in cities. There are many cities with a population over a million, and for example the capital, Tokyo has a population of 12 million 630,000.
Compared to here Switzerland, the housing situation in japanese cities are not very good as you imagine. People live in very small houses and apartments, and must have their shoes off when they are inside. The traditional way to sleep is not on beds, but on mattresses which are called “futon”. These futons are usually placed inside a wardrobe, and are taken out when sleeping. The advantage of this is that it makes cleaning much easier, and has maximum benefit over the small living area. And commuting situation is not good, either. It is often that they take more than one hour to go to the office. Trains are full every morning and station employees are on the platform to push people into the train. However People keep rules to wait on the decided line and get in the train in order. Trains are very clean, come on time and stop on the decided line with an error margin of only a few centimeters. This shows Scrupulosity of Japanese people, and this means also that there are the customs to use crowded trains with less troubles and as comfortably as possible.
Japanese climate is characterized by four distinctly varied seasons. Hot summer, cold winer, pleasant spring and autumn come after every 3 months. There are probably few countries whose regional climatic differences are as pronounced as Japan’s. For example Hokkaido has an annual average of around 10 degrees, around 15 degrees for Tokyo, and around 23 degrees for Okinawa, which is a southern island of Japan. In spring April, cherry blossoms are full-bloomed and people enjoy a picnic with delicious foods and sake under the cherry trees. They are full-bloomed for only a few weeks and scatter after, but they are really beautiful. From June to early July is the rainy season and it rains and rains accompanied by high humidity. In summer people enjoy bathing on the beach and Okinawa is popular with its beautiful sea and beach. in autumn we can see many colorful leaves as well as Switzerland and there is a custom in this season to enjoy seeing moon with sake and japanese cakes. During the summer and autumn, three to five typhoons crash come near Japan or crash into its shores and sometimes cause serious damage. Japan has also many mountains and it snows in winter like Switzerland. The Olympics has been held two times, in Sapporo and Nagano. Recently, the number of foreign tourists who come to Japan to ski seems to have increased. Japan”s nature is characterized by about 60 active volcanoes and famous Mt. Fuji is also a volcano. Due to these volcanoes, large earthquakes occur. Severe damage has been caused by them in the past. Schools and local districts conduct training to prevent disaster. Here, people will be given training on how to react to an earthquake. The government is undertaking the creation of a system to prevent disaster in an event of a disaster. However volcanoes bring us not only a bad aspect but also a good aspect; natural hot spa which is called “onsen” in japanese. Japanese love onsen and there are many famous hot-spa spots. It is really relaxing and it makes our skins very smooth and we say that it can heal the sickness.
Talking about Japanese industry, the famous are electronic machinery and appliance, precision machinery, and automobile. There are many world-wide famous companies, for example Sonny, Panasonic, Hitachi, JVC, Seiko Citizen, Nikon, Canon, Olympus, Toyota, Nissan, Honda, etc. These industries had the philosophy “high quality and low price”, and became mainsprings of marvelous economic growth after the wars. And It is said that it was supported by Japanese diligence and deftness of hands. Recently japanese computer games, for example Nintendo, became also popular. Japanese words like Anime and Manga are used in the world. I’m surprised that there are many japanese anime fans also in Switzerland, especially among young people.
Japan has become famous for its high technology, and many high and huge buildings are in cities, but at the same time has old traditional culture. Old towns such as Kyoto and Nara have many historical shrines and temples, with gardens artistically designed. These traditional architectures have simplicity and sophisticated beauty. Maybe you can feel the spirit of “zen” there , which became popular in Europe. And there are various traditional cultures and public entertainments, for example the tea ceremony, the flower arrangement, calligraphy, the kabuki, the japanese dance, the japanese picture like ukiyoe, and martial arts, like the judo, and the Karate, etc.
The speciality in gastronomic culture in Japan is seafood. Japan is surrounded by the sea, therefore we can eat fresh, delicious seafoods. If you come to Japan, I would like you to try seafoods which are very fresh, good and cheap compared with Switzerland.
At last, let me talk about the Japanese character. There are several typical characters which are said about Japanese. I know a joke about one of them.
A ship sank, and multinational people took the accident boat. But It is out of capacity and some of them must get off ,if not, the boat sinks.
Then, people said to an American, “You can become a hero”. The American did a heroic pose and made a dive into the sea.
Next, it was said to a British, “You are a gentleman”.
The British made a dive into the sea with a nod.
The people said to a German, “You must get off, because that’s the order of the captain”. The German made a dive into the sea consenting.
And people said to a Japanese, “All other men jumped into it. “
Then, the Japanese looked around and made a dive into the sea.
As this joke shows, people have the image about Japanese, that they decide the behavior based on the judgment of others. This means also that Japanese think the harmony of the group more important than their own intention or desire, and I think that this is right more or less. However on the other hand, Japanese think the harmony of the group so important that they have the tendency to avoid the confrontation of opinion and not to express a direct opinion, and not to give a clear-cut yes or no answer. This tendency can cause the misunderstanding and the failure in international diplomacy and international business. And they also say that Japanese distinguish clearly “in-group” and “out-group”. The “in-group” means the people of the same belonging, like their family, friends, and colleagues of the same company etc. They use the super-polite form to talk with someone of the out-group to show the respect. And Japanese don’t like to boast themselves or their “in-group” people, and talk about them to the people of “out-group” by the very modest expression. For example, husbands say to someone of the out-group about their wives “my foolish wife” and they give a present which they chose to the other saying “this is a boring thing”. They don’t really mean what they say, and the conversation partner also knows it. Japanese show the respect to the other by being modest in such a way. Because of these characters, Japanese are said to be very polite and moderate race, but this means also that the relative consideration is strong and they don”t accept the people of “out-group” easily. Japan is an island nation and has a period of about 300 years where it was isolated from the outside world in its history. Therefore the contact with foreign countries was less than european countries. Such a geographic and historical background may have influenced the formation of these characters of Japanese.