“Whenever my students ask why I teach Japanese or the differences between our cultures, I figured I’d give them something to read about, a guide. I love history and culture. Two of my favorites in world history were that of Europe’s and Japan’s. I fantasized about being a French or British duchess or one of the 47 ronins in the Genroku Akō Vendetta (元禄赤穂事件). Writing this would surely wring my brain but I guess it’ll be worth it. Enjoy!” ~Mitzi T. Perez
DIFFERENCES & SIMILARITIES
The average Japanese monthly income is 5 times more than that of a Filipino’s. Therefore, they are by all sense richer than us. Yet, they are very courteous. Rich and poor alike commingle with each other effortlessly and sincerely. The Japanese are different. Their history and culture refined them. Most of them are humble. Regardless of status, majority are polite and reverent.
Filipinos have an ill-placed fear for the rich and belittle those beneath their status. They usually stay within their own class. This attitude can be observed in most countries who became colonies of foreign conquerors and those who were under monarchial rule.
For reference, please check: WORLWIDE PAYSCALE
* Dining Habits
Filipinos love to relax after achieving fullness. We normally eat until we are more than just satisfied. In contrast, the Japanese maintains 80% fullness with a diet that focuses on balance. The later is similar to us, we give importance to balanced meals. The current merging of cultures adapted sweets and ice creams in both diets as Westerners do.
The Japanese have long used chopsticks like the Chinese. Filipinos, originally ate with hands but later adapted the use of utensils after Spanish arrival.
The Japanese were able to preserve their Shinto matrimonial tradition. Brides wear kimono while grooms sport the Hakama with the ceremony held in a Shinto Shrine.
Pre-colonial Filipino Wedding
Precolonial Filipino weddings were beautiful three-day affairs, officiated by the datu (king) or babaylan (priest). On the first day, the couple would ask for the babaylan’s blessings as they held hands over a bowl of rice. On the 3rd day, their necks and hands are bound by a cord of their entwined hair.
After declaring their love three times and eating rice from a common bowl, they will gulp it down with the blood mixed with water which the priest took from their chest. Though beautiful and symbolically romantic, this practice has been long lost. Filipinos opt for church weddings after Spanish colonization centuries ago.
Church weddings had become popular in both countries that many young couples tie the knot the Christian way regardless of their religious upbringing.
Unlike Japan and the rest of the modern world, the Philippines does not have divorce.
Filipinos love festivities like fiestas, birthdays, noche buenas and media noches. These customs are part of the country’s religious belief. We fill the table with so much food that it can feed a family for over a week on that single day.
Popular dishes include: lechón (whole roasted pig), longganisa (Philippine sausage), tapa (cured beef), torta (omelette), adobo (chicken and/or pork braised in garlic, vinegar, oil and soy sauce, or cooked until dry), kaldereta (meat in tomato sauce stew), mechado (larded beef in soy and tomato sauce), puchero (beef in bananas and tomato sauce), afritada (chicken and/or pork simmered in a tomato sauce with vegetables), kare-kare (oxtail and vegetables cooked in peanut sauce), pinakbet (kabocha squash, eggplant, beans, okra, and tomato stew flavored with shrimp paste), crispy pata (deep-fried pig’s leg), hamonado (pork sweetened in pineapple sauce), sinigang (meat or seafood in sour broth), pancit (noodles / for longevity), and lumpia (fresh or fried spring rolls).
Most of these dishes are of Spanish and Chinese origin except for bagoong. Sadly, some spend more than they can afford during these occasions.
Japanese,simply go to shrines on their birthdays or just don’t celebrate at all. They do celebrate Shichi-Go-San (七五三 / Seven-Five-Three), for children who reach these ages. This is held annually on November 15 to celebrate their growth and well-being.
For those who reach 20 years old, there’s the Coming of Age Day (成人の日/ Seijin no Hi). This is annually held on the second Monday of January, to congratulate and encourage those who reached adulthood. There are no celebrations in between.
Japanese New Year is held sacred and symbolic. Most Japanese go to shrines and temples to give thanks for the previous year and ask for blessings for the new one.
For New Year Feast, they only have Osechi–ryōri (御節料理 or お節料). For reference: Osechi
This consists of traditional Japanese New Year food. Each dish in the osechi holds a special meaning, prepared and eaten for good luck.
These traditions started in the Heian Period (794-1185AD) and still observed today.
* Language & Grammar
For me, Filipino and English languages are two of the most beautiful and romantic languages in the world. There are plenty of word choices that help speakers soften or sugarcoat their messages. Both follow a pattern wherein we can play around with adjectives and modifiers because of the verb’s position.
Japanese language is not as flexible. The grammar pattern limits subtleties which makes it too frank or direct. It tends to be too literal unlike other languages. This brought about stereotyping, communication gaps and cultural misconceptions. The use of the final verb forms ending in -masu or -desu (or -mashou or -deshou) addressed this. Further, the use of honorifics like -san, -chan and -ku, helped soften it. These made the language safe and always polite.
Both the Japanese and Filipinos, like most Asians, sprung out from strong family ties. Most were raised in joints families over the centuries. This is still inherent in Filipino culture that when one goes to their hometown, most people there are either close or distant relatives. Their lineage, still traceable for as far back as 5-8 generations. Filipinos dedicatedly care for their elderly, no matter what their staus or capacity might be. This is a lifetime commitment.
In Japan, ancestors and offspring are linked together by genealogy (keizu). It is not based on mere blood inheritance and succession, but rather a bond of relationship inherent in the maintenance and continuance of the family as an institution.The family was institutionalized during the Tokugawa period. However, after WWII, the restoration of Japan forced many youths to move to urban areas. Urbanization led to the centralization of economics , eduction and industry in major cities.This brought forth the decline of the extended family system in Japan.The nuclear family became dominant in the 1970s -80’s. Joint families are still present but very rare.
A few traditional families observe katokusozoku or succession to family headship. It aims at the continuation of the family as an institution. The patriarch decides in advance which child will succeed him in the event of his death. If he has no offspring, the patriarch adopts both a boy as his successor and a girl as the successor’s wife.
*Spirituality & Religion
Hakone Jinja in Kanagawa
Shinto and Buddism dominate Japan. This is proven by the numerous shrines throughout Japan along with how their festivals are celebrated. Weddings are usally done in Shinto Shrines while burials are officiated by Buddist monks. Amazingly, both these religions merged themselves together in unity. Buddist teachings are observed while the Shinto belief that kami (神 / ancestors or gods) and people exist and share the same world. This belief has brought about the great importance given to the presevation of Japan’s nature and historical landmarks.
As early as the 1570s, there were 40 Catholic churches in Kyushu with 100,000 Christians ranging from commoners to lords. Their increasing number and the conversion missions to Kyoto brought about the ban and persecution of the missionaries among them was St. Francis Xavier. The Tokugawa period continued the ban and persecuted more believers and missionaries among them was the first Filipino saint, Lorenzo Ruiz in Nagasaki during the 17th century. The Meiji Restoration, in the late 1800,s lifted the ban against Christianity and today there are about 3 million Christians in Japan, mostly in Nagasaki.
In the past decades, irreligion became more common. The Japanese became more practical and busy that religion is no longer a priority in daily life. Some percieve God or Buddha, as objective beings or mere illusions. Prince Ito Hirobumi, reportedly said: “I regard religion itself as quite unnecessary for a nation’s life; science is far above superstition, and what is religion – Buddhism or Christianity – but superstition, and therefore a possible source of weakness to a nation? I do not regret the tendency to free thought and atheism, which is almost universal in Japan because I do not regard it as a source of danger to the community”
Mag-ao Church in Iloilo
Filipinos have been Christians for almost five centuries after Christianity was first introduced by the Spanish in 1521. Although, currently, there are various sects and denominations that cater to our people’s faith. Precolonial Filipinos practiced animism, like many other cultures. This is the belief that animals, plants, thunder, rocks and other objects possess spirits and influence human life. Traces of Hindu-Buddism were also discovered to have existed in the country as early as 900AD. Islam, on the other hand, was brought by Muslims from the Persian Gulf in the 14th century. The Arabian trader, Karim ul’ Makhdum was the first to introduce Islam in Sulu and Jolo in 1380AD. Later, the first mosque was built in Simunul in Mindanao. Currently, religious differences over the centuries still separate the country into 2 groups: Muslims in Mindanao and Christians in Luzon and Visayas.
There is a uniformity in the value of Education for both Japanese and Filipino cultures. The previous adaptation of the K-12 curriculum in the Philippine educational system, had bridged the systemic gap.
Education in Japan was brought by the Chinese during the 6-15th century with Kyoto being the center where royalties and court members were educated. The teaching was based on Buddism, Chinese writings, beliefs and Confusianism.
It spread during the arrival of European powers which introduced learning about the West, Christian religion, language and classical music. However, the Edo period established true educational reform in Japan which was centered on political philisophy. By the 1860’s, almost half of boys and 15% of girls recieved schooling that made Japan competitive in this area. These figures were closely similar with that of European countries.
Rangaku (蘭學/ 蘭学), “Dutch Learning” or “Western Learning” was always given importance after the first arrival of Europeans in Japan. This became inherent throughout the centuries, mirrored from the majority of Japanese seeking to pursue higher learning abroad. This is supported by Kaizen, the philisophy of self-improvement in all aspects of life.
Precolonial Philippines taught children vocational courses in crafts, hunting, music and herbal medicine which was passed on to countless generations and still exist in indigenous tribes today. Spanish arrival reformed the literacy rate in the Philippines that was centered on Catholicism, Latin, industrial and agricultural reforms. The Educational Decree of 1863 provided free public education in the Philippines, mandating at least one primary school for boys and one for girls in each town. The value of foreign education was also introduced but was available only to the rich Spanish or burgeoning group of Filipino intellectuals: the Ilustrados (‘enlightened ones’). Sadly, education was inaccesible to the underpriviledged.
True reform came during the American period. English, Science, Math and modern ideologies were taught. These opened the minds of Filipinos of man’s equality and capacity to improve themselves notwithstanding the soceital class they belonged to.
Consequentially, both cultures reflect the disparity of educational attainment based on social status and financial background.
Chinese and Indian philosphies dominated Asia during the first century. Belief in Karma, reincarnation and the intertwined relationship between the physical and the unseen universe are still reflected in most Asian cultures now. Christianity and Islam later added themselves as major Asian influences in the 7th century However, the influence of the later two were not as powerful as that of the former.
Later, the arrival of Europeans, introduced Greek and other Western philosophies that geared our thinking to becoming intellectually practical and realistic.
This holds true for both Japan and the Philippines.
Legends say that Japan originated from the sun goddess from whom the first emperor, Jimmu descended. However, as early as the Edo Period, the emperor’s power had become symbolic. Shoguns or feudal lords from a succession of clans ruled the districts. Feudalism was abolished in 1868 when Emperor Meiji came into power.
Currently, Japan has Constitutional Monarchy and Parliamentary government with 522 legislative members. Please see: History of Japan
In the Philippines, one barangay or village was ruled by a datu who were considered royalty. This rank was either passed down by lineage or won through battle. When the Spanish arrived, a Gobernador-Heneral or viceroy had absolute power over the archipelago. He represented the King of Spain in the Philippines. The First Philippine Republic was formed as part of the Filipino Revolution against Spain. Sadly, it showcased the native’s unpreparedness in running the country. Americans took control after Spanish power was ousted. Filipinos were then politically educated and prepared to take over during the Commonwealth Period.
The 3rd Republic of the Philippines, with proactive Filipino governance, came to be in 1946 after World War II. Over the decades however, Philipine politics became rigged with drama and corruption. The government is divided into three branches: Executive (President), Legislative (Congress: Senate and House of Representatives with 309 members) and Judiciary. Please see: Political History of the Philippines
* Economics (Current)
As of 2015, Japan’s GDP ranked 3rd in the world. However, since Japan’s economy is mature, the GDP growth rate only ranks 175th in the world. Data shows that from 1990 to 2011, Japan’s economic growth rate was less than 1% until 2011. The causes are linked to the three main drivers of growth: capital, labor and total factor productivity (TFP).
Massive population decline since the 90’s play a major factor as workers’ input in production is measured in the average hours worked by people engaged according to their skill level. In recent years, workers are placed in fields that don’t match their skill set to compensate for the workforce deficiency in the country.
The solution, foreign investments in developing countries. The Japanese had been proactive in supporting global economic growth over the past decade. They are key players in developing countries and the rising Asian economies. On this note, thank you.
Unlike Japan, the Philippine economy is still emerging according to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) with an annual GDP growth rate of 7.2%. The excessive human resource, due to overpopulation, has become one of the important “income-generating” engines of the country.
There are still so much comparison but overall, the friendship between these two cultures is inspiring.
I teach but I learn from my students too. Books simply don’t justify or satisfy the need for learning. It should never stop. Learning about different cultures is a channel that helps us better understand our humanity with all its strengths and flaws. It gives us the opportunity to evolve as human beings – to embrace the useful and let go of what we don’t need.
“Culture defines who we are. Language and action express it.”