Thoughts on Japanese and Western Public Relations differences

In regards to some of the cultural differences between Japan and Overseas public relations (PR) there have been a few common points I came across while reading various articles (business, academic, and social media-related articles), which I thought would be interesting to list.


To believe that something is news-worthy, one must believe that there is truly something great or exceptional about the topic that must be publicly shared. Perhaps this may be difficult for people and companies coming from a culture based on modesty.

From my impression, it seems that the Japanese mentality in regard to their products, their services, and such are generally modest. Japanese people, on a global level, are relatively modest especially when compared to, for example, American people who tend to fall on the other end of the spectrum. American and other western companies are quick to use words like “Best” and “Leading,” which often have empty meanings unless proven here in Japan. Granted, even if some products and services were the best among others, I don`t think that Japanese people would claim such titles for themselves, simply for the sake of modesty. 

Western companies that try to enter the Japanese market often face the challenge of knowing how and when to downplay their products and services in an already world-leading market. 

There are of course many industries in Japan, but I had a look at work recruitment services from various foreign recruitment agencies to see if I could find some examples of what I read in other articles of boastful language. Sure enough, I did find them. 

In a culture that prizes young university graduates as fresh recruits, recruitment agencies serve as a leeway for people who are no longer fresh graduates yet wish to change their careers. Naturally, such an industry has become over-saturated and highly competitive in time as the number of non-fresh job hunters increased. Despite this, Hays uses words like “leading”, “expert” and titles like “market leaders” to describe its recruitment services. 

The company introduction of the recruiting agency Michael Page is strikingly similar to that of Hays in using words like “leading.” Whether or not this is statistically true would require a careful study of hard numbers, which would be difficult to provide. 

Generalist vs Specialist 

Gathered from my readings as well is the idea that in-house PR work is approached through a generalist mindset rather than that of a specialist`s. In America, managerial PR work often requires graduate degrees and professional work experience whereas in Japan such PR position placements are decided on a rotation system. Perhaps every three or so years, new placements are made for such positions with workers not being particularly invested in the field itself and without any academic background or experience related to PR. As a result, in-house PR teams in Japanese companies may lack the strong communication skills to effectively convey the strong points of their company on a global level which is worrisome in an ever-increasingly globalized world. This is where PR agencies, especially global PR agencies, can step-in and provide their expertise. It is also curious to note from my findings that some of the leading PR agencies in Japan are foreign companies. 


I briefly mentioned that in America, there are many graduate programs for PR studies. Out of curiosity, I wondered how many universities in Japan offered a masters program in media, journalism, and/or public relations. It is difficult to gauge through a simple google search, but as the results were few and vague, it is my impression that perhaps a graduate degree in any of those fields seem unprofitable and/or unpopular.

Among the results I found on google, I chose to use the website, which is a university search engine supported by the Asian Students Cultural Association and Benesee Corporation. I did a simple search on their engine for graduate degrees in media, and I was returned with 21 universities, which was a combination of journalism and mass media courses. Whether or not public relations is included in that is unclear. There were no courses specifically for public relations either. 

Closing Thoughts

There have been many Western influences coming into Japan, especially from America. You could easily step into a big city like Tokyo and see such influences. However, there are some aspects of Japanese culture, like public relations, that remain virtually untouched by outside influences. Whether this is beneficial for Japan is not for me to decide. From my American point of view, there seems to be more global activity coming from Japan, and the world can only know this through the delivering of information. Whether it be crises management or truly believing that something is news-worthy enough to tell the world, there has certainly been activity. It`s exciting, and I`d like to see how the culture of information and the culture of Japan change together in the future.