This paper contains a transcript of an interview that I carried out with someone from a cultural background substantially different to my own. My family roots are Ecuadorian, although I was born and raised in the US; and my interviewee, Andrea, who gave me permission to use her first name, was born and raised in Japan, and has only been in the US for five months. This is her first trip outside her country. She is 18 years old, and has one brother. Until coming to study in the US, she was living with her two parents and her brother. She has grandparents from her mother’s side and an uncle. The interview took place in a cafe at a health club, and took around an hour.
The Questions and Answers Between Myself and My Interviewee
Question 1: “How do you like being in America, is it different to what you had expected?”
“I really like it here, and although I miss my family and friends back in Tokyo, people have been so friendly, and there are so many wonderful things to do, that I do not feel alone at all. In some ways it is different to what I had expected. Let me elaborate: until I came, I only new about the US from films and the internet, as well as from two girl friends who studied at NYU, and I was aware of all the opportunities here and the great American achievements. What I had not expected was the amount of crime and the safety precautions you have to take, even in public areas. I do not feel nearly as safe here.”
Question 2: “What would you say are the main cultural differences between Japan and the US?”
“In Japan, everyone behaves in a much more formal manner. For example, when speaking to each other, people stay comparatively further apart. This difference was a shock to me when I first arrived. In addition to this, touching each other, such as holding hands, is not so common in my country. And people are not so friendly with strangers. For example, here, strangers may get taking to each other on a bus, or a waiter may come by your table to see if you like the food – these things are rare in Japan.”
Question 3: “Are there any special things that you have done here that you have not done before in Japan?”
“Yes, I have taken up ballroom dancing! I was so taken with your fabulous TV show, Dancing With The Stars, that I checked out a local Arthur Murray school. We do have ballroom dancing in Japan, but here it is much stronger, and you have so many celebrities taking part. Things like this are much more fun here, in my country they are a bit formal, and it is difficult to go alone as a single.”
Question 4: “What would you say is the main difference between Japanese and American politics?”
“In my country, we are not very political, and the approval rate of politicians is incredibly low. I see that here in the US, politicians make terrible mistakes and sometimes act against the interests of the people and the country, and yet they are allowed to continue in their post. This is very different in Japan, as politicians resign quickly in these cases. Even our prime ministers change practically once every twelve months. Our Parliament system comprises a large number of parties, and the politicians do not usually attain a majority vote. Another difference between Japan and the US is that not many Japanese people vote. I have been quite shocked at the political scandals here, and know that punishments would be severe in my country, which is a good thing.”
How the Interview Went
I was feeling very confident during the interview, and I think that a lot of my positive attitude was down to the fact that Andrea was very polite and respectful, and this put me at ease. Before conducting the interview I had read three articles on Japanese culture. I now understand that traditionally, people from Japan give huge importance to the wa concept. This principle involves striving for an air of harmony when you are with other people, and the measure of the greater common good is of prime importance. This life principle came out in the interview, as Andrea wanted to help me in every way she could to make the interview and my project a success. There was no time when the interview was difficult, although I was in slight shock as am not used to people being so polite, respectful and accommodating.
Reviewing Aspects of the Interview
I could see that Andrea’s impressions and perceptions of life in the US were to do with the fact that she had not traveled outside Japan before. She had not been in countries like here where the crime rate is high, and so that was a shock to her, as were the way that politicians here behave, which is not unlike many other countries. Japan is a rare exception with the way that politicians fall on their swords.
I think that the experiences of the interview linked to some part of this course via the nature of the Japanese culture, that is to say, the characteristics such as the wa concept and features such as the formal behavior of the Japanese, and the way in which they behave towards strangers.
My impressions, feelings and reactions to your partners’ comments and behaviors are that I fully understand where she is coming from. I have looked at what we discussed through the perspective of a Japanese person, and not from my own viewpoint and life experiences. Both myself and the interviewee enjoyed the experience and established a friendship. I personally learned a lot from this assignment, and it has made me understand the need to think outside the box when intercultural matters are at stake.