Intercultural Experience: a Culinary Dive into Japan and Korea

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Updated: Aug 26, 2023
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Asian Grocery Exploration

This past week, my girlfriend and I were brainstorming about where to immerse ourselves in a new situation, culturally speaking. We went to an international grocery store to pick up some ingredients for a Japanese recipe we had never tried. I have always enjoyed Asian cuisine but have never prepared any Asian foods at home. An excellent place to begin learning about a different culture was with its food. I found an unfamiliar recipe online from a credible source and decided to ask an international grocery employee to help gather the ingredients needed.

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Katsu Curry Introduction

Katsu curry or katsu ‘ka-ré,’ as the Japanese pronounce it, is a rich and flavorful dish consisting of pork or chicken cutlets (not unlike schnitzel) that are battered and dipped in crunchy breadcrumbs called panko, then fried and served with the Japanese style curry over rice.

When we arrived at the Better World Market, the Asian grocery we ventured into to procure our ingredients, I noticed that its customers were most of the Asian demographic. I could tell this particular store was one on which the local Asian community extensively relied to acquire any number of ingredients and products to suit their needs as authentically as possible. Almost every product was in another language. A lot of Japanese, Chinese, and Korean labels.

There was an entrance with Korean beauty products with eye-catching and pleasing packaging, a large area of fresh produce, fresh and frozen seafood, and even a café in the back where they served hot dishes. I was thrilled to see many products and fresh produce I had never seen before. I truly felt immersed in another cultural setting, between being surrounded by unfamiliar foods and hearing several languages spoken around me. It was a joy to experience.

I approached a checkout girl wearing rubber gloves, an added sanitation measure, something I learned is ubiquitous in Asian communities and not as common here. For example, while you might see someone behind the deli wearing hairnets and gloves, you do not typically see the checkout personnel at Kroger or Wal-Mart wearing gloves. This was my first and most immediate observation. The employee was incredibly genial and willing to help. Upon asking for help gathering ingredients, she told me that she was South Korean and that there were a few differences in how Koreans and Japanese prepare their Katsu curries.

She said that curry is a comfort dish, something Americans might compare to fried chicken and mac and cheese. She led me to an aisle where a specific Japanese-style curry mix and many other Japanese-style ingredients were located. I noticed various aisles specific to different styles of Asian cooking. One aisle was strictly Chinese cooking ingredients, while the next was Korean and the following Japanese. In Japan and Korea, the most common way to prepare the dish is to use curry rue blocks in boxes.

The Korean version is generally lighter and eaten with kimchi on top. She also suggested beef because it is her family’s favorite. It was comforting to have her assistance because I probably would have felt overwhelmed otherwise. Although she did not speak much English, we could communicate effectively. Some may perceive a more straightforward exchange of words as a barrier of sorts, but I found it quite the opposite. It was a jovial and informative conversation that I immensely enjoyed.

Understanding Through Hofstede’s Cultural Values

Before and after heading to the grocery, I researched how I might apply Hofstede’s cultural values system to my experience. I found a beneficial website called that allowed me to get a little insight into how different Asian cultures are reflected in Hofstede’s cultural values. The website provided a chart showing where different cultures stand in the different Hofstede dimensions using a scale of 1-100 in terms of relativity to other world cultures. Hofstede Insights is a company that aids in integrating global corporations that differ in cultural backgrounds.

One of the tools this website provides is the country comparison chart to score how much a particular dimension is reflected in each country. Because of my experience, I mainly focused on Japanese and Korean. This was very helpful because I could compare Japanese and Korean cultures side by side via values scaled on the chart. On this same website, I was also surprised to find an additional link to a website maintained by Prof. Hofstede and his children ( This was of help in further comprehending the 6-dimensions model of national culture.

It took much work for me to apply some of these cultural values to my observations because of the brevity of my experience. However, I still needed to learn more about the culture(s) I experienced. To begin with, ‘power distance,’ Japan scored 54. Hofstede’s insights consider this an ‘intermediate’ score. I learned that Japan is a somewhat hierarchical society. The Japanese know hierarchical roles within all social situations and behave according to this. It is worth noting that compared to other Asian cultures, Japan is not as high on the scale.

Differences in Power Distance and Individualism

My impression of Japan prior to learning this was that it was one of the most hierarchical, but that may be due to the way I have seen Japanese business people portrayed in American culture. I also learned that there is the belief that all are born of equal potential and that any individual can be successful at becoming anything they want as long as they work hard enough towards that goal. When examining the power distance dimension in South Korean culture, the chart scored 60, making it more of a high-power distance culture than Japan, but only slightly.

In terms of Individualism, South Korea showed a score of 18, making it a rather collectivistic society. On the other hand, Japan scored 46, making it a much more individualistic society than South Korea. While still much more collectivistic than the United States, which scores 91, it is much more of an individualist society than I assumed before learning this exciting detail. I learned an explanation for this is that Japanese culture lacks an extended family, which forms the foundation of more collectivistic cultures like China and Korea.

Another interesting detail I learned was that while the Japanese are more individualistic than other Asian societies, they are well-known for their loyalty to their companies. What makes this interesting is that this is an individualistic choice. By American standards, we perceive them as being collectivistic, but in the perspective of other Asian cultures, they are more similar to the Individualist cultures.

Masculinity, Uncertainty Avoidance, and Long-term Orientation

When looking at masculinity vs. femininity, I learned that Japan is one of the most Masculine cultures, with a score of 95. It is important to note that this lies more closely within their somewhat collectivistic tendencies. For example, a corporate team will work competitively long hours against their competitors. We see this little with individuals but instead in groups. South Korea, in contrast, shows a score of 39, making it a somewhat masculine but mostly feminine culture. This is closer to the way Americans consider the work vs. life balance.

Both cultures were similar in avoiding uncertainty when considering the uncertainty avoidance dimension. Japan and Korea have a score of 92 and 85, respectively. This is commonly attributed to Japan because of all its natural disasters. Uncertainty-avoidance cultures tend to believe in strict, intolerant rules. It makes me feel lucky to live within a culture that accepts unorthodox ideas that have led to many innovative discoveries and cultural changes. With a score of 46, the culture is still somewhat fearful of the unknown future.

Indulgence in Perspective

When applying long-term orientation to the cultures experienced, South Korea scored 100, making it one of the most practical and realistic cultures. The idea of a singular God is less common in South Korean culture than in Japanese. An exciting idea shared by both cultures was that in the corporate realm, companies are not concerned with making a profit every quarter for shareholders but instead lean more towards stakeholders and their societies for many generations.

With a score of 88, Japanese people see their lives as very short moments within the grand spectrum of time and human existence. Like South Koreans, they share many of the same beliefs of longevity as a whole rather than more individualistic Western cultures. For example, in the United States, we have a score of 26, considered a more ‘normative’ position regarding long-term orientation.

Within the 6th and final dimension, we look at indulgence, or the extent to which we try to control our desires and impulses. South Korea has a score of 29, and Japan a 42. Compared to the United States, they exhibit lower levels of indulgence behaviors. While overindulgence is somewhat frowned upon in Japan, it is even more so in South Korea. Here in the U.S., it is more acceptable. Perhaps the checkout girl at the Asian grocery perceived my girlfriend and me as overindulgent in purchasing multiple snacks aside from the ingredients we ventured to procure.

I would have held back a little in overindulging in so many sweets and goods had I paid particular attention to this prior. I also exercised too much restraint when communicating to avoid offending my experience. I will try a Korean recipe next time and have more conversations. I was so nervous that I did not even ask the girl her name. It is exciting how much I learned about the culture(s) just by deciding to try out a recipe. I will take everything I learned into consideration when interacting with people of different cultural backgrounds again.


  1. Floyd, K. Interpersonal Communication. [VitalSource]. Retrieved from
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Intercultural Experience: A Culinary Dive into Japan and Korea. (2023, Aug 26). Retrieved from