Japan Customs

Gaining Respect in Japan

How do you get respect in Japan?

Step one: get really really old. At least become the oldest person in the room, and you can claim the rank of senpai, and refer to everyone else as the lesser ranked “kohai’ to reinforce the idea of hierarchy, and your superiority in everyone’s mind.
Step two: get an entry level position at a company everyone has heard about, doesn’t matter what you do there, as long as the company is famous
Step three: Make any demands or claims you want and people will listen to you and at least pretend what you say is correct and the best plan possible. As long as they are ranked below you within your company or younger than you, they are required by Japanese law to listen to you.

I started thinking about how respect usually only goes one way in Japan after reading about an elderly woman breaking a high school student’s nose with an umbrella when he wouldn’t give up his priority seat on the bus. I wasn’t there, I don’t know if that was an old lady who could probably run a marathon, or really needed to sit down, but she had the strength to break a kid’s nose. Does a lady willing to break a kid’s nose over a seat, really deserve the seat? I can’t respect a lady like that, so why should that kid who wouldn’t give up his seat?

When I had a Japanese boss, sometimes, he would say something that other employees and myself knew to be 100% incorrect, yet we couldn’t correct him because he had the superior position in the company. And many of my Japanese friends complain about exactly the same thing. It’s as if age and rank makes a person immune to criticism, and thus gives them unlimited powers to complain about and disrespect people considered below them in the social and workplace hierarchy. I have a lot of examples, but it just seems that respect in Japan is largely based on status, and status is based on who has been around longer usually.

Personal status is also largely determined by what groups you belonged to. I asked a Japanese acquaintance, Arai-san, what was more impressive to him and most Japanese people, a person who worked an entry level position with a big famous company, or someone who was the owner and founder of his own small, but successful business. He said definitely the guy with a no name position at a famous company. It’s an interesting difference of cultural perspectives. I am impressed by a person’s creativity, originality, and ability to be successful through his own independence, whereas Japanese are impressed by someone with a connection to a large company they consider prestigious.
Respect is determined by belonging to a “prestigious” group and then your position within that group.
There are of course many more cultural factors determining how much respect a person deserves in Japan. So how do you get respect in Japan?