While reading this article I found these two quotes interesting:
The Japanese are very sensitive – too sensitive at times – to personality and atmosphere differences. On this basis they may discriminate against people, including some in Japan, who somehow are seen as different. But the same sensitivity can also give the foreigner a curiosity value which can result in privileges not given to other Japanese.
But for Westerners he writes:
Our non-Japanese cultures are sensitive to religious and political differences, too sensitive at times. On this basis our societies can also discriminate, sometimes ruthlessly. Theirs does not, or at least much less. One way or another it all balances out. But for our racial discrimination fanatics our biases have to dominate, or else.
These two statements explained a lot to me. Japanese friends I know are sensitive to the mood of the situation and will notice things that I often miss. In the same way, they may be offended in ways that Westerners might not notice.
On the other hand, Westerners seem to be sensitive to differences in religion and race more than other people so they’re more likely to be offended by comments and jokes that seem perfectly normal in Japanese culture.
It’s interesting how different cultures are sensitive to different things.