During the last weeks the people in North Africa and the Middle East have shown that freedom and democracy are universal. They even inspired the protests in the Midwest against the attack upon collective bargaining rights.
We should not ignore traditions, commons, etc., all these unwritten rules of societies are relevant and important. You mentioned Japan and the post-war conflict between what I incorrectly call Samurai ethics (the sensei-student relation, sacrificing yourself for the common good, etc.) which we can witness right now during the catastophe over there and Western individualism has been quite interesting.
Furthermore there is nothing more awkward than being in a new place and not being aware of the local customs. When I have been in Ireland and bought a drink in a pub I naturally wanted to add a tip but that's not how the game works over there.
But these particularities are always overshadowed by universals like freedom, self-determination, democracy, life in dignity. We are first and above all human and only secondly part of this or that culture.