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Anger in Japan 2010/1/18 09:47
Hi everyone,

There are plenty of websites an books that say Japanese culture values harmony the most, and that individual feelings come second to this. I am interested in whether in real situations people are always peaceful and harmonious together, how they achieve this, and what happens when it goes wrong.

Yesterday tiredness and frustration at work lead me to express some frustrations and work which I don't normally do. I didn't yell or say anything hurtful, but I was abrupt and I imagine she could guess I was angry. I don't like how I handled the situation.

The problem occurred because I was 10 minutes late for work. The colleague called my boss to find out where I was and to get cover if I wasn't going to turn up. Being late was, of course, "my bad", but I was angry because I've never just "not turned up" like some of the other people I work with, and I've never allowed delays to impact my work activities. I'm not the hardest working person in the world but I take my job a lot more seriously than many of the others, and work hard to try and fit in culturally too. I was late because I was exhausted, because in the week I work late (getting home at half ten sometimes and unable to sleep until half eleven or twelve) and then at the weekend I need to be at work at half nine with up to an hour's journey from my house. I have no control over my schedule and am frequently scheduled to work as much as possible to maximise profit - this isn't ideal for me and also isn't great for the customers, as it makes it impossible to give them the best service. The company makes no effort to arrange any networking events or facilitate building relationships - most days I work with one other member of staff and between us we do everything necessary for the business to operate. It's almost as though the company isn't there.

So these are the real reasons behind my anger, and it was unfair to be angry with this other colleague who probably was justified in her concern. The whole thing has got me thinking about gaps in my knowledge about Japanese culture and conflict resolution, and also about how to handle this going forward.

I can only guess that the correct Japanese-style response to this situation would've actually been to apologise to the colleague straight away for having caused her to worry (and feel the need to call someone). Is this right?

Having got it wrong, what would someone do in Japanese culture to try and repair this relationship? Is it best to do something or nothing? Which is more appropriate? (or do Japanese people always get it right? :) )

Most importantly, how should I channel my frustrations in future so that they don't build and create these kinds of problems? Getting more sleep, taking time to reflect daily on how things are going, and perhaps getting more exercise would all be helpful. But I would also like to know how Japanese people channel their own frustrations and anger, and manage to retain superficial peace even when they have so many feelings bottled up inside. I suppose this would be the most valuable thing I could learn from this experience.

In moments of anger, how do you maintain your outer calm and what do you do to healthily deal with your own feelings?

I'd really appreciate your help.

by Shiori79  

. 2010/1/18 12:06
Appologize for not being at work at the time you were supposed to be and no being able to control your anger. Applogize sincerely and prove you mean it by your actions. Don't say the "real reason" why you were late. It would sound more like a lame excuse to others.
by Ikuyo Kuruyo (guest) rate this post as useful

... 2010/1/18 12:24
Apologize and move on.

By doing so, you exhibit your professionalism.
by kyototrans rate this post as useful

Thank you 2010/1/18 12:33
Thank you Ikuyo Kuruyo and Kyototrans. The apology makes sense to me. I only work at that office once a week - would it still be appropriate to apologise a week after the event? Of course I will bear this advice in mind and use it asap should anything similar occur in the future (and I hope it won't).

Do you have any suggestions for the other questions in my post, about how people channel their frustration healthily within Japanese culture. There's lots written all over the place about the unhealthy channelling of emotion and frustration in Japan (salaryman drinking, jumping under trains, overwork etc) but I'm sure there must be plenty of people who get it right and find a balance that works. And, how they manage to stay calm at frustrating times.

Thank you for all your help,

by Shiori79 rate this post as useful

anger 2010/1/18 13:09
Surely apologizing for being late at work as soon as one come to work is done in your country too? there is nothing typically Japanese about it!
And of course some Japanese get angry and yell at others, though it may happen more at home than in the office. Not everything in Japan is as smooth as the stereotypes makes it to be.
by Monkey see (guest) rate this post as useful

Monkey see 2010/1/18 13:37
Sure, people apologise when they're late in my own country but there's a great many things that are different there too. The context is entirely different. I won't get into the details but there's no way I would still be doing this job back in my home country.

by Shiori79 rate this post as useful

... 2010/1/18 13:51
But I would also like to know how Japanese people channel their own frustrations and anger, and manage to retain superficial peace even when they have so many feelings bottled up inside.

I am Japanese, and I know it does show when I'm frustrated or very much annoyed - so it's not that everything is smooth and on the surface everything looks harmonious all over in Japan. When it comes to keeping "superficial peace," I just try not to blurt things out by doing the well-know gimmicks like "count to ten before you say anything," particularly at work :)

Apart from that, talking things over with close friends (once the real rush of anger has settled, otherwise I would turn my friend into "dustbin"), or with family, or getting good sleep, I know them all to help. But I tell you, precisely because people try to avoid confrontations (at least traditionally) people do have a lot of bottled up frustrations that they can't say, and at times those express themselves in very, very wrong ways.
by AK rate this post as useful

differences 2010/1/18 13:57
Sure, people apologise when they're late in my own country but there's a great many things that are different there too. The context is entirely different.

I don't really see how this situation would be different in other countries. If you were late and visibly angry then apologize. Or did you just want to confirm that thats the procedure? In the future, call the office to inform them once you know you will be late.

I won't get into the details but there's no way I would still be doing this job back in my home country.

From your posts it sounds like you are frustrated and unhappy with your employer. Regardless of who's to blame in causing this, perhaps its time to move on to something or somewhere different.
by ... (guest) rate this post as useful

AK 2010/1/18 14:07
AK - thank you very much for sharing your perspective - I appreciate it. It's very helpful.
by Shiori79 rate this post as useful

Don't overthink 2010/1/18 14:50
Japan is not the mystical land they make it out to be in Hollywood movies!
People haven't transcended to a higher plain that provides constant tranquility and inner peace.

What many Japanese have mastered though is the art of "gaman": in many ways to the extent that it is detrimental.

So while on the surface many people may seem to have to innate ability to process and transform anger and aggression, it's really just a lot of people with pent up frustration and internal turmoil.

Unfortunately, Japan also has one of the highest rates of suicide among "developed" nations.
I think there is a direct correlation.

Thus, for your own well being, you should:
1) Remember that people will have different perceptions of "acceptable".
2) Strive to admit your own mistakes as soon as possible.
3) Let people know as soon as possible if you are offended by something.
4) You always need to be mindful "position" (respective age and hierarchal relationships), but never let that alone determine your thoughts or actions.

by kyototrans rate this post as useful

. 2010/1/18 15:05

Let me just put the "harmony" thing aside and get this straight.

You were angry for certain reasons. I understand that. But all your reasons were not at all your colleagues fault, am I right? If so, you can just go up to your colleague and say that you're sorry for the other day and that nothing was her fault and that you shouldn't have taken that attitude towards her (whatever you did/said). IMHO, I think that's what a lot of people would do in almost any country or culture.

Now, with your colleague aside, if you have problems with your work environment, you should discuss that with someone at work. I think that's what anyone would do in any country or culture including that in Japan.

You can talk to your colleague and ask for advise, or you can go straight to your boss. If that doesn't solve the problem, talk to the boss's boss, or the administration or the union if your company has one.

You can also try to find a friend or a nice cafe owner or a patient bartender to whom you can grumble about all the frustration in your life. Or you can do sports. These are handy ways to get rid of stress.

Now, here's where the harmony comes in. When talking to others, try not to get angry at them. Blaming someone doesn't solve the problem. Talk calmly and try to be specific about what you want. For example, instead of saying, "Hey, do something! I can't stand this any more!" try to say, "I have a problem and I wonder if you can help me. I'm having trouble finding time to sleep because I work so and so hours. All this is new to me."

But frankly, reading your schedule, it looks like a normal Japanese working schedule. It may be different from what you've been used to, but be prepared for a negative response. But then, that doesn't mean you shouldn't try. You should.
by Uco (guest) rate this post as useful

Work 2010/1/24 13:44
I have a sneaky suspision that I work for the same company as shiori and if I do you'd be better of going to a high building with a megaphone than trying to talk to our bosses. My dos is ok just be careful what you say to them as gossip gets around very quickly
by tokidoki (guest) rate this post as useful

Thank you 2010/1/26 11:01
Thank you to everyone for your input on this, I really appreciate it. It's enabled me to decide on a way forward to fix what has happened, and also provide a really valuable insight into how people deal with these situations here.

Thank you and take care,

by Shiori79 rate this post as useful

suicide rates 2008 stats 2010/1/27 10:47
Sorry to burst an old stereotype, but unless Finland, France and Denmark are NOT developed countries, then Japan is not number one.(This is according to WHO stats for 2008).
The gaman attitude as well as appreciation of natural beauty and sense of personal honor is calming as is evidenced by the longevity of Japan. Of course diet plays a good part but peacefulness is not just an illusion in much of Japan.

Link to stats-

by umikohime (guest) rate this post as useful

My experience 2010/1/27 15:28
I am a Japanese (native born) & retired senior manager who worked in Tokyo office of a US co.(sent from US).
My advise is that should've informed the office (your colleague or boss) of your whereabout.
2. apologize formerly to the co-worker with a small token present(i.e. a cake).
3. ask your boss if you can stay in a nearby hotel once or twice a week. I let my people do, if working hard long hours too many days. Does your boss work long hours, too?
4. ask your boss (of course, on his expense account) & co-workers to go out to (noisy crowded venues) drinking beer, Izakaya, or Karaoke for a fun night once or twice a month (don't be reserved or an introvert). You can bring up the work related issues or anything else, even about your boss which you can do this if you are drunk (pretend). This is an usual way of getting off anything bottled up inside. Act nothing happened next day. All forgiven blamed on alcohol but not forgetting your feelings or character. Establish bonds with your boss & co-workers,i.e. hobby,interest,etc.
4. Take helicopter views of your work, working environment.
5. Make your long term plans/goals, 5yrs, 10 yrs, etc. Move on if the current work does not fit in your plan. Without you knowing the company management is assessing your character, performance,loyalty,future or how long you may stay around(may be even taking bets).
I don't know your business sector or the size of your company but I observed many Japanese salarymen/OLs put in long hours but not too efficient in working. I had to remind them to finish within the normal work time & go home as many like to run up OT.
by AY (guest) rate this post as useful

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