The title above is taken from an article I read in America some years
ago. This article was showing an American view of Sweden, and the article
writer thought our culture reminded of Japan. Is it really true? Well,
having lived in all three places, Sweden, America and Japan, I fully understand
the view that Swedes and Japanese have many similarities compared to American
Then, what are those similarities? We both like to eat raw fish, but
there is still a major difference here. Swedes eat pickled fish and raw
vegetables, while Japanese eat raw fish and pickled vegetables.
The main similarity that is puzzling Americans is that both these weird
people seems all willing to work hard without getting paid for it. They
are both prepared to work hard because it is the honorable thing to do,
and to work for the best of the group without asking for individual awards.
There is also a strong sense of being modest in both countries, and not
trying to stick out as an individual.
Swedish and Japanese companies both have a non-firing policy. People
work practically their whole life for one company who takes care of their
employees. Neither in Sweden nor Japan there is a formal life time employment,
but it practically works that way, although the system to achieve it is
different. In Japan it is more based on tradition, while in Sweden it is
based on very strict job security laws.
Working for a Swedish-Japanese joint venture company I can say that the
mix of Swedish and Japanese staff works very well at an office. The management
style is very different between Japanese and Swedish companies. The Japanese
manager is more authoritarian, while the Swedish manager is more like a
friend and an equal. The Japanese manager tell people how to do things.
The Swedish manager tell people what to do, not how. The Japanese staff
are quickly adopting to the Swedish style in the company, and many of them
do not want to go back to a Japanese company again.
After 3.5 years in Japan I have got the opinion that the Japanese are
much less different from other people than the Japanese people themselves
think they are. For example, Japanese people always talk about how group
oriented they are. They are, it is true, but I also meet a lot of individualism
in Japan. The difference between individuals in each country is larger
than the general difference between two cultures.
I can even find examples where Sweden is more group oriented than Japan.
The workers unions and other kinds of interest groups are more strong in
Sweden. The Swedes always try to belong to a group who takes care of them.
I have been active in the sport orienteering for more than 20 years in
different countries. In Sweden everything, like registration for meets
etc. is organized by the club for all their members. In Japan each individual
have to take care of that themselves.
However, for Swedes living in Sweden Japan is perceived as something
very distant and very strange. I think most Swedes know too little about
Japan to see the similarities, all they know is what is strange.
Japanese-Swedish friendship associations in both countries can have a
mission to fulfill here. They could work to make people in general understand
that it is far more that unites people than keeps them apart. For me, the
main problem living in Japan, or in any other country, is the language
barrier. Behind that barrier people are surprisingly similar. They feel
the same fear and pain, the same happiness and love.