Have you ever laughed at a joke even though you don't find it funny, because the teller made a great effort telling it and you shudders to think how you would feel if your interlocutor exhibited completely no reaction? If the answer is yes, the concept is as much operative for you as it is in Chinese culture.
For what its worth, I don't think this is a good or a bad thing. While it can certainly have its problems, I also think its a key ingredient in why many macro-scale societal issues in Japan (mega cities, public transportation, crime, etc.) simply seem to work better, more efficiently, and with less friction than Western counterparts (particularly the US).
Being conservative about your culture, or not wanting to buck the trend probably has a lot more to do with appetite for risk (which in turn likely has more to do with poverty, and the lack of immigrants) than it has to do with a notion of “face saving”.
Let me clarify. I’m not saying additional “face saving” isn’t a thing in Asian cultures. My point is that it’s a lazy and easy fallback in Western discourse to explain a variety of differences.
I assume Boeing is arguing because they either believe they did nothing wrong (sense of justice) or they will get in trouble for admitting they were wrong (sense of security). There are probably other possibilities.
Those are very different than saving face. That has more to do with maintaining your own personal standing with your community (sense of pride and self-worth).
I don't think Boeing is refusing to take blame because they are worried that their standing within their community is at risk.
In that case I think it’s a meaningless distinction. Because it doesn’t say anything about the individual behavior, but rather, how the 2 societies handle wrongdoing. Japanese society handles wrongdoing by “shunning” the wrongdoer from police company. American society handles it by suing the person.
But either way, face saving has been redefined not by the action, but rather by the consequence of the action, which makes it a fairly meaningless difference in my opinion.
Most commentators will present the reason why China cannot back down as the government not wanting to lose face, while presenting the reasons Trump does not want to back down in very different language (not wanting a loss, for example), although they’re the same thing. The former is presented as a cultural trait, while the latter as an objective outcome.
The reality is that Xi can not afford to “lose face” not because of cultural reasons, but because it would greatly undermine his strength and power.