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Quick Facts and Tips: Japan and Cultural Considerations

Japan is a nation of approximately 127 million people, the ninth largest population in the world. The climate varies from tropical in the southern regions to cool and temperate in the north, and the terrain is mostly rugged and mountainous. Japan is the third largest economy following the US and China, and the second most technologically powerful economy in the world after the US. According to the United Nations and World Health Organization estimates, Japan has the highest life expectancy of any country in the world. Communities and lifestyles vary, including large cities, metropolitan, suburban, and also rural communities.

The islands of Japan lie in a volcanic zone on the Pacific Ring of Fire and are home to many dormant and some active volcanoes. Japan experiences about 1,500 seismic occurrences (mostly tremors) every year. Other natural hazards include tsunamis and typhoons. Japan has experienced destructive earthquakes, often resulting in tsunamis, several times each century. The 1923 Tokyo earthquake killed over 140,000 people. The most recent major quakes are the 2004 Chuetsu earthquake and the 2011 Sendai earthquake. Current estimates place the death toll resulting from the 2011 Sendai earthquake near 4,500 and at least 9,000 others are still missing. There are also concerns regarding the possibility of further harm from complications at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant.

It is anticipated the numbers will continue to change over the coming weeks. The people of Japan are diligent and hard-working people. Typically, the Japanese can be a reserved people; they may appear not to express emotion during the crisis, even if they have suffered a great loss. As in many cultures, males tend to keep their feelings to themselves, whereas females may express themselves more. They feel comfortable with familiar people in the communities they belong to and may express their emotions to close families and friends but are not as likely to express themselves publicly. Expressing strong personal opinions is not common as in western countries and modesty is the prevailing attitude. Therefore, Japanese people may not explicitly express their psychological distress. To some, seeking and receiving psychological help may be a source of shame and stigma. When offered support, Japanese people tend to decline the offer at first (a sign of modesty and humility) but will often accept the offer after insistence.

Developed by Elina Saeki, Doctoral Candidate in School Psychology and Dr. Shane Jimerson, Professor at the University of California, Santa Barbara for the National Association of School Psychologists.

Japanese translation (with English included) (PDF)