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It is important as a teacher to be able to be aware of and recognize the diversity among my students. Students come from many different backgrounds and represent cultures from all around the world. While researching for this paper I hope to gain a better understanding of the family life, religions, food, customs and courtesies' of the of Bahraini-Arab and Japanese cultures and increase my ability to distinguish and appreciate cultural differences and similarities among my students.
Japan is an Island country located on the east side of Asia in the Pacific Ocean. Japan consists of four main islands, Honshu Island being the largest, Hokkaido to the north of Honshu, Kyushu on the west end of Honshu and Shikoku along the east side of Honshu. There are more than 4000 smaller islands surrounding these main islands.
There are about 127 million people living in the country of Japan. Its population is about 98.5 percent ethnic Japanese. (Culture Grams or NAJAS) Almost half of the population is concentrated in Tokyo, Osaka, and Nagoya. Japanese is the official language spoken in Japan however English is taught in all the secondary schools and is used in business. The cost of living in Japan is fairly high.
Japanese start dating at about 15 years old. The average age for marriage is 27 for men and 26 for women. In older generations and generations of the past arranged marriages were common and although it still happens today it is very rare.
The Japanese have strong family ties. Affection, togetherness and compatibility are less important than in other cultures but even so because of their strong sense of obligation and responsibility divorce and single parenthood is rare. Families in Japan usually consist of no more than three children usually less. The father is the head of the household and the mother is responsible for the children. Traditionally women did not work outside of the home but women make up about 50 percent of the workforce in Japan today.
Most Japanese families live in small high rise apartment or small home and it is not uncommon that 2 or 3 generations share the home or apartment. Because of the high cost of housing most families have only 2 to 3 rooms in their apartments; a small kitchen for cooking and 2 other rooms. The largest of the rooms is used for multiple purposes. During the day it will be used for eating meals, completing schoolwork, for family activities and entertaining guests. At bed time futons are taken from a cupboard and laid out on the floor and the room is used for sleeping.
It is customary for Japanese people to sit on cushions on the floor around a low table when they eat. It is also customary to use chopsticks. Although western fast food restaurants have become popular among the young people the Japanese diet most often consists of rice, seafood, vegetables, fruit and small amounts of meat. Most dishes have soy sauce or sweet sake in them. Miso soup, ramen, udon, and soba noodles are all favorites. A bowl of soup or noodles is held at chest level and it is okay to slurp directly from the bowl. Other favorite dishes include curried rice, raw fish, tofu and pork. Sushi is also a favorite food among Japanese people however it is expensive and usually reserved for special occasions.
The children in Japan are required to wear uniforms to school. Business men wear dark suits and ties. Working women wear conservative style dresses and slacks. Everyday clothing consists of styles similar to those in the United States. Traditional clothing such as Kimonos which are worn by men, women and children are only put on for special occasions, social events, holidays and festivals.
The most important holidays and festivals are celebrated together as a family. For new years day families attend festivals in their community. Special dishes are prepared and postcards are sent to friends and family. At midnight on December 31st Buddhist temples ring their bells 108 times to symbolize the 108 human sins. When they are through ringing the bell they feast on soba noodles. Giving money to children is another Japanese custom on New Year's Day. It is handed out in decorated envelops. It is also a custom to make mochi, rice cakes made from sticky rice on New Year's Day to be eaten throughout the month. They also pay special attention to the first time something is done in the year, such as watching the first sun rise, first dream, first tea ceremony, first shopping trip, etc.
Other holidays celebrated as a family include Golden Week which consists of 6 different celebrations including the emperor's birthday and children's day, and Obon, a Buddhist custom which honors deceased ancestors.
The Japanese people are very athletic and competitive. Their favorite sport is baseball and it is extremely competitive on every level. They also enjoy soccer, volleyball, tennis, skiing, and jogging. A favorite past time for Japanese families is watching television and movies. Karaoke houses and bars are also very popular with all ages.
Even though Shinto was the first religion in Japan Buddhism is also widely practiced. Shinto is based on mythology and stresses ones relationship with nature and has many Gods. They believe that there is spiritual essence in all things. Buddhists believe that peace and happiness can be achieved by renouncing ones attachment to worldly things.
Most Japanese observe ceremonies from both Shinto and Buddhism. It is common for it to be said that Shinto is for the living and Buddhism is for the dead. Many Japanese will have Shinto marriage ceremonies and visit Shinto shrines on special occasions such as the birth of a new baby. Funerals are most often Buddhist ceremonies. Japanese birth records indicate that 84% to 96% of the population is Shinto or Buddhist. However, when polled 70% of the population profess no religious membership.
Other customs and courtesies in Japan include giving gifts to host when visiting and giving and accepting gifts using both hands. Japanese remove their shoes when entering a home and many places of business also follow this practice. When greeting someone the Japanese bow to one another. To show respect one must bow lower than the other.
Yawning, blowing your nose and chewing gum in public are all considered ill-mannered in Japan. The Japanese point with their entire hand instead of one finger and when beckoning someone they wave all fingers with the palm of their hand face down.
Bahrain is an Island country located in the Middle East off the Eastern shore of Saudi Arabia in the Arabian Gulf. Bahrain consists of an archipelago of thirty three islands of which only three are inhabited. There are just over 1 million people living in the country of Bahrain. (moci.gov.bh) Its population is about 62 percent ethnic Bahraini. (Culture Grams) The other 38 percent are almost all non-citizen expatriate workers. 89 percent of Bahraini citizens live in urban areas. Arabic is the official language of Bahrain however English is also commonly used. Farsi, and many other languages are also used but not officially recognized. Many people living in Bahrain are bilingual or multilingual. The cost of living in Bahrain is very high.
Because a girl is looked down upon if she is in the company of men other than those related to her dating usually happens in secret as not to embarrass the family. Marriages are still arranged in Bahrain and those that are not must have parental permission. Very few people marry without family authorization. Most women marry in their late teens or early twenties. In Bahrain it is legal for a man to have up to four wives if he can provide for them equally.
The Bahrainis not only have strong family ties they also have strong extended family ties. Bahraini families are usually large with 6, 7 or more children. A personal Bahraini friend of mine Jalila, comes from a family of 17 children and her father has 4 wives. In Bahraini families the father has ultimate authority. Also great respect and loving treatment is shown to all the elderly members of a family.
Most Bahraini families live in large freestanding homes with outside courtyards or gardens. The homes are luxuriously decorated and furnished with floor cushions and traditional Arab furniture. It is very expensive to buy land in Bahrain so it is common for 3 generations of families to be living in the same house. My friend Jalila lives with her immediate family in the home of her father in law. She has a small apartment on the 4th floor of a 5 story villa just above and below her brother in laws and their families. All of the families share a common kitchen and eat their meals together.
Although western fast food restaurants have become popular among the young people the Bahraini diet most often consists of bread, rice, seafood, vegetables, fruit, lamb, chicken and beef. It is customary for Arab people to eat while seated on an Arabic sofa or cushions on the floor around a low table or no table using their hands; they tear off a piece of khubz (flatbread) and use it to scoop food. Everyone eats out of same dishes, devout Muslims do not use left hand to eat or drink.
Common Arab dishes like Beryani and Machbous contain spicy rice with meat, beans, and mixed vegetables. Kobouz, a cheese assortment, sweet tea and milk are also common at Bahraini meals. Fresh dates are eaten at every meal in the summer and half dried dates are eaten at meals during the rest of the year. Eating pork or products containing pork such as gelatin is forbidden because Muslims believe pigs or swine are unclean and as instructed in the Quran "not for human consumption".
The children in Bahrain are required to wear uniforms to school. School uniforms come in all styles and colors but are consistent in style and color throughout each school. Business men wear dark suits and ties. Traditional clothing such as a thobe, long white robe, gutra and agal, headdress are also commonly worn by business men and for other occasions as well. Although it is acceptable in Bahrain for women wear very conservative style dresses and slacks traditionally many wear abayas, long black robes when in public whether at work or on other errands. Though not required the most common head covering for women in Bahrain is the Hijab, a scarf wrapped about the head to cover their hair. Devout muslim women will wear a booshiya which covers the entire head including the face or a burkah a black veil that comes to the bottom of the nose. My own observations while living in Bahrain show that many of the younger generation of women are moving from the traditional clothing to styles similar to those in the United States. I often observe women with no traditional clothing or they wear their abayas open down the front so their fashionable clothing can be seen underneath. Many will wear western style clothes with just a hijab to cover their hair.
The most important holidays and festivals are celebrated together as a family. Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha are the most important holidays in Bahrain.
Eid al-Fitr marks the end of Ramadan. Ramadan is the ninth month in the Islamic calendar. During Ramadan, Muslims fast from sun up to sun down. During day light hours Muslims should not swallow anything. Smoking and sexual activity is also forbidden. During Ramadan many businesses change their hours to be closed during the day and open longer into the night. Many Bahrainis will eat large breakfasts before the sun rises and where possible sleep much of the day. At sunset the family gathers and waits together for the signal that the sun has set. Traditionally a date is the first thing to be consumed followed by iftar, a lavish evening feast eaten together as a family.
Eid al-Fitr is a religious holiday that officially last 3 days but often extends several days longer. During this time the Bahrainis indulge in the best foods and socialize with family and friends.
Eid al-Adha is celebrated about 3 months after Eid al-Fitr. Eid al-Adha is the festival of the sacrifice and celebrates Abraham's offer of his son as a sacrifice, because he believed that it was commanded of God. Abraham's son was spared and a lamb sacrificed in his place. The festival last 3-4 days and coincides with the end of Hajj. Animal sacrifices' are still practiced today among families who can afford it and the meat is donated to the needy.
Other holidays celebrated in Bahrain include new years day, Mohammad's birthday, Islamic new year, Ashura, and National Day.
Soccer is Bahrainis favorite sport. They also enjoy basketball and volleyball. There are organized leagues in these and other sports for men. Women and girls who want to participate in sports can do so only through a school connection. Bahrainis also enjoy many other activities like sailing, water skiing, fishing, horseback riding, desert camping, and tennis. Renting videos is also a favorite family activity.
More than 80% of Bahrain residents are Muslim. The Majority are Shi'a Muslims and the rest are Sunni Muslims. Muslims follow the laws set forth in the Quran, their holy book. Muslims live the "Five Pillars of Faith" as outlined in the Quran which are Shahada (Affirmation), Salat (Prayer), Zakat (Almsgiving), Siyam (Fasting), Hajj (Pilgrimage).
Shahada is a set saying proclaiming Muhammad as God's messenger. Salat is prayer. Muslims pray 5 times each day. These times change depending on the sun rise and sun set. Muslims can pray in their homes at work or go to a mosque to pray. There are numerous Shi'a and Sunni mosques throughout the country of Bahrain. A mosque is a place of worship. Unlike other countries Muslims in Bahrain can pray in any mosque regardless of the sect they are from. At the Bahrain DOD school where I work it is common for students to meet in a quiet hall at one end of the school to pray. They place their prayer rugs in a row and perform this ritual everyday during their lunch time. I have also seen prayers being offered in parks and businesses. Most malls, theaters and other recreational facilities provide prayer rooms for both men and women.
Zagat or almsgiving is the act of helping the poor and needy. It is required of all who are able to do so. Siyam or fasting is observed during Ramadan. Hajj is the pilgrimage Muslims make to the holy city of Mecca at least one time during their life.
Muslim law also prohibits drinking alcohol, using tobacco products, gambling and eating pork.
Other customs and courtesies found in the Bahraini Arab culture include bringing small gifts for the host or hostess at a social gathering. Handshakes are common when greeting one another and may last the length of the conversation. Good friends of same sex kiss a number of times on the right and left cheeks when greeting. It is disrespectful to show other's the bottom or the soles of your feet to another. Chewing gum is acceptable and it is common for Bahrainis to chew on cardamom seeds as well. Bahrainis Beckon to one another by waving all fingers with the palm facing up and bringing all the finger tips together facing up can mean ââ‚¬Å“wait,ââ‚¬Â ââ‚¬Å“let me finish,ââ‚¬Â or impatience.
Similarities in Bahraini-Arab and Japanese Cultures
I was surprised to find many similarities in the Bahraini-Arab and Japanese cultures. In both cultures I found that family ties are very strong and that respect and care shown toward the elderly was of utmost importance and in both culture the father is the head of the household and has ultimate authority. Because of the high cost of living in both countries it is common in both cultures for 3 generations of family members to be living in the same home or apartment. I also noted that family members closely rely on one another for support in many ways. For example I found that grandparents of both cultures would care for young children while their father and mother worked during the day. While working at a pre-school in Bahrain I had 3 students who were picked up by their Grandfathers. One grandfather told me that he also picked up the child's cousin from primary school and then spent an hour or so with them playing in the park.
I also found that both cultures commonly sit on the floor on cushions or use furniture that is very low near the floor, especially during meal times. Having lived in both Japan and Bahrain I have eaten in both Arab and Japanese homes and in both cases sat on floor cushions while I was entertained and of course in both cases I took a small gift for the hostess which is another courtesy they have in common.
The Japanese and Bahraini-Arab culture have many foods in common. Rice, seafood, vegetables, fruit and small amounts of meat are staples in both cultures. Also fast food restaurants are very popular especially in the younger generations in both cultures.
Both cultures enjoy playing soccer and both enjoy watching movies for entertainment. Very modest conservative dress is prevalent in both cultures as well as handshakes when greeting someone especially when conducting business.
The only thing in common that I could find concerning their religions was their places of worship. Although they are called by different names, mosques, shrines and temples all seen to fulfill the same purpose, that of worship. People go to these places of worship at their leisure or convenience to pray or give alms to their Gods.
Differences in Bahraini-Arab and Japanese Cultures
One of the first differences I noticed in these two cultures was their use of Pork. Japanese people commonly eat pork with their meals and Bahrainis that are Muslim are forbidden to eat pork. This difference is because of the religious views which are also very different. Most Bahrainis are Muslim and most Japanese are Shinto, Buddhist or both. Bahraini Arabs believe in one God. Most Japanese believe in many Gods. When Japanese are polled 70 % claim no religious affiliation however over 80% of Bahrainis claim to be practicing Muslims.
Japanese and Bahraini families have some noticeable differences. Families in Japan are very small in size usually having no more than 3 children and usually only 1 or 2. In Bahrain it is common to have families with more than 6 children. Also the homes they live in are very different. Homes in Japan are generally very small comprising of only 2 or 3 rooms. In Bahrain home are large and have numerous bedrooms besides rooms for entertaining guests and less formal rooms for gathering with family.
Another difference I found was what utensils they use to eat their food. In Japan the Japanese people use chopsticks most often to eat their meals. In Bahrain it is most common to eat with your hands using flatbread for scooping food. Devout Muslims use only their right hand.
Others differences I found were the use of gum, beckoning, and the use of traditional clothing. In Bahrain it is acceptable to chew gum in public. In Japan is it considered ill-mannered to chew gum in public. In both countries you beckon someone by waving all of your fingers. However in Japan the palm faces downward and in Bahrain the palm faces upward. The use of traditional clothing in Japan is usually reserved for holidays, festivals and special occasions. Sometimes you will see women employees wearing Kimonos in Hotels or at tourist attractions. Unlike Japan in Bahrain it is still common to see ordinary people wearing traditional clothing every day as they go about their daily lives.
The information I have learned concerning these two cultures can be very helpful. For example if I had students of the Muslim faith in my class I would be aware of their custom of fasting during Ramadan. During this month I would be careful not to have cooking activities or give out unnecessary snacks or treats if I had students that were fasting.
During the month of Ramadan I would also allow any students that were fasting to spend lunchtime in the library as not to cause discomfort in watching the other students eat.
Ramadan would also be a good time to study the Arab/Muslim culture and perhaps teach about their custom of Iftar and/or Eid al Fitr by having a feast at the end of the month were the children could taste dates and traditional Arab dishes.
Japan has many holidays that could be used in the classroom. For an art lesson students could make carp flag similar to those flown for Children's day in Japan or lanterns to celebrate Obon. Pottery is an art form found in both Arab and Japanese cultures and could easily be incorporated into a lesson for either culture.
Customs from around the world could be used to create the classroom rules. No gum chewing in school would come from Japan, keeping your feet on the floor as not to show the soles of your shoes (sitting in your seat properly) would hail from Bahrain. Showing respect for others I'm sure could apply to many different countries.