Culture Lesson # 2- Wa

The value of wa. One of the most important of the Japanese values. It means living in harmony with others. Wa must be achieved at all costs and one will sacrifice individual need for group need in order to achieve wa.

Spouse’s company provides relocation benefits to employees and one of them is culture training. According to my relocation counselor, most Americans need a “sales pitch” on taking the culture training course. I did not need said sales pitch because I know how ignorant I am of other cultures. The following example shows the value of understanding another’s culture, your role within that culture, and the value of wa.

If you read the entries below, you know that at this point in my story, I’m now facing a 6 week wait on the “critical to implementation of my move strategy” Iphone. Fast forward 2 weeks, I’ve gotten my alien registration card, Visa and my relocation expert and I are pounding the pavement to the Soft bank store for the Iphone. 3000 Lb gorilla- my affectionate name for the tiny Japanese woman helping me navigate through this move- has a contact in the Soft bank store for her relocating clients. I’ll call him “the Donald” because he runs his own small empire within the Soft bank store.

I’m a southerner. Inherently I’m polite. It’s how we are raised. The concept of wa goes hand in hand with my being polite in this situation where my preference was to fall on the floor, kick my legs and flail my arms. There is no excuse for rudeness- ever. There’s no excuse to be rude to the Donald when he told me that a) I can only get one phone because I don’t have alien registration cards for the kids and b) the wait can be as long as 8 weeks and c) the phones might actually get rationed and finally d) it will take a couple of hours to get the approval for us to get even one phone.

Instead, I smiled. I was polite. It’s just the way it is. “Be the river flowing around the rock” I told myself. I talked with the Donald about his dual Japanese citizenship- American and Japanese. He lived in the US for many years. Japan forces all holders of dual citizenship to choose one at the age of 21. The Donald chose Japan because of his family. Now his father asks him things like, “If America and Japan went to war, who would you fight for?” and “If the Americans wanted you to sell Japanese secrets, would you do it” in order to test his loyalty to Japan. This questioning by his father the Donald doesn’t understand. We laughed.

In the midst of my “crisis” the Donald and I had an interesting conversation about being of dual cultures and the conflict it creates. I sympathized with his forced choice and he in turn sympathized with my dilemma. I could have kicked and screamed and fought furiously against the “system” instead the Donald and I enjoyed eachother’s company during the time we spent commiserating the circumstances in which we found ourselves. Two days later, the Donald called to inform me of the arrival of our 3 new Iphones, 3 complimentary Ishuffles, and 3 complimentary electronic photo frames.

The value of wa.

This entry was posted in Culture Lessons, Moving to Japan and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Culture Lesson # 2- Wa

  1. It’s amazing how if you can just find something in common with an “official”, and talk to them on a human level (not just about the business you’re trying to conduct), they often become a lot more helpful. In Africa – where business tends to be conducted more slowly – this is especially important. I think a lot of Westerners get impatient with this, but really if you’re going to be impersonal all the time, you might as well not meet with people in person. Just do everything via the Internet.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s